Hogs vs. Dogs III

Arkansas (20-12) and Mississippi State (18-12) - who have split two games this season - will play a third one on Saturday that could have an NCAA Tournament berth there for the winner.

ATLANTA — The Arkansas and Mississippi State basketball teams each spent a considerable amount of energy while winning games Friday at the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

The Razorbacks fought back from an eight-point deficit to squeak past Vanderbilt in the quarterfinals. The Bulldogs outlasted Kentucky for a two-point victory in overtime.

And less than a day later, the Razorbacks and Bulldogs must recharge for another grueling game. They meet today in the SEC semifinals at noon in the Georgia Dome.

"I think both teams are going to have to put their games behind them quickly," Arkansas coach Stan Heath said. "It's going to be a war. The last time, we had a little scuffle. It'll be interesting to see what the intensity level is like this time, and how both teams respond to that."

Despite their drained physical condition, both teams should possess ample motivation for today's contest.

Most importantly, Arkansas could seal an NCAA Tournament at-large berth with a victory. At the same time, Mississippi State could feel the same way.

Heath argued Friday after the Hogs' 72-71 victory over Vanderbilt that his team deserved a berth regardless of today's outcome. In fact, Arkansas' projected RPI rose to 38, according to realtimerpi.com late Friday night.

Don't confuse that as a sign the Razorbacks will take Mississippi State lightly, though.

"Absolutely, no question about it (I think we should be in)," Heath said. "Anybody who has been watching this team ... there is no way you can look at it and say that this team does not belong in the 65.

"But we still have some basketball to play and we don't want to leave anything to chance. Winning (the tournament) is the only thing that guarantees you that spot."

The other motivating factor for both teams certainly revolves around the brief shoving match on Feb. 28 during Arkansas' nine-point victory in Fayetteville.

In that game, Gary Ervin drove into the lane and got fouled by Mississippi State's Charles Rhodes. Ervin and Rhodes exchanged unpleasant comments and pushed each other. Steven Hill stepped in and started to yell at Rhodes. Patrick Beverley charged at Rhodes and was restrained by teammates.

It's an incident no one has forgotten.

"Oh yeah, it'll be on our minds," Arkansas forward Sonny Weems said. "It'll be a real physical game."

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