Pressed Into Defeat

FAYETTEVILLE -- Repeatedly, the Arkansas player trying to inbound the basketball scrambled from one side of the baseline to the other.

With a grimace, with a look of confusion or despair, the Razorback saw nothing but a swarm of Tennessee orange blanketing his teammates.

And eventually, more often than not in the first 10 minutes of Saturday's second half, he committed a turnover.

Those scenes defined Arkansas' 83-72 loss to Tennessee, a defeat that leaves a Southeastern Conference Tournament championship as the Razorbacks' only route to the NCAA Tournament.

"It looked like the old Tennessee back in November and December," said Tennessee guard Chris Lofton, who torched Arkansas for a game-high 31 points. "We got steals off the press, and we were making great plays, getting into transition and getting easy buckets."

Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, they looked like the old Arkansas (16-12, 5-9) back in January and early February that committed more than 15 turnovers in six straight games.

Once again, the Razorbacks faltered against full-court pressure, committing 24 turnovers.

The problem arose early in the season in the Old Spice Classic and at Missouri.

It arose for the first time in Bud Walton Arena on Feb. 3 when Kentucky devastated the Hogs with a flurry of early second-half turnovers. For the second time at home, before an announced crowd of 17,268, the Hogs seemed unable to handle an opponent's athleticism.

"We panicked when they pressed in the second half," Arkansas forward Sonny Weems said. "We just froze up a little bit."

In the first half, the Volunteers didn't press often. And when they did, the Razorbacks fought to get open, calmly passing the ball to each other and triggering fast breaks.

"We've done it before and we've really had good success with press breaks," Arkansas coach Stan Heath said.

But the Hogs experienced plenty of difficulties in breaking Tennessee's frantic pressure while committing 17 turnovers in the second half. Eleven came in the first 10 minutes after halftime.

All of a sudden, Arkansas became stagnant. Razorbacks point guard Gary Ervin didn't move to get open. Nobody picked for him. Help from his teammates came either late or not at all, and Arkansas' post players had trouble shedding their defender.

Mainly, Arkansas looked like a team that had never dealt with full-court pressure.

"They jumped into it quick in the second half," Ervin said. "After they got some steals, we just got a little rattled."

Instead of setting screens for one another, the Hogs tried to go at it alone.

That was done by design, Heath said.

"We didn't screen for the guards at all," Heath said. "We worked to get open. When it's one-on-one coverage, sometimes you just have to work to get open. You have to make the passes. You have to make the catches. You have to be strong with the ball."

The Razorbacks weren't powerful with the ball, though, and they never recovered.

Four turnovers on five possessions -- two by Darian Townes and one each by Ervin and Sean McCurdy -- had turned a 40-38 Arkansas advantage into a 44-40 deficit.

Later in the half, Tennessee used another turnover-flurry to reclaim the lead. The Volunteers went up 60-53 after five Arkansas turnovers in six possessions -- three by Townes, one by Steven Hill and one by Charles Thomas.

Tennessee used its press to force 11 turnovers when Arkansas was trying to inbound the ball. It was the fourth time this season the Volunteers' full-court defense posted double-digit numbers in forced turnovers.

By the time Michael Washington committed the Hogs' final turnover, several fans started booing. The chorus of boos became louder after the final whistle.

After all, they're used to the Arkansas teams of old that used to frustrate and baffle opponents like Tennessee did Saturday.

"It's almost like sharks in the water," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. "When you get one turnover, when you get one little bite, all of a sudden the players start seeing blood in the water, and it's a feeding frenzy."

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