ATLANTA — Right in front of him, Arkansas competed hard against No. 6 Florida's backups until the final moment of its 77-56 loss Sunday.
But Stefan Welsh never saw any of the final minute of the Southeastern Conference Tournament title game, which ended with Sonny Weems blocking a shot at the buzzer. He just sat on the end of the Arkansas bench, both of his hands lifting his jersey above his eyes, trembling from the tears he was hiding.
After four grueling games, in four tiresome days, Welsh couldn't help the emotional release.
With boisterous chants of "It's great, to be, a Florida Gator!"
bellowing from most of the Georgia Dome crowd of 15,428, Patrick Beverley embraced Welsh.
"We need to know there's no shame in going out like we did," Beverley said.
Especially since the Razorbacks learned later in the day that they'd earned an NCAA Tournament at-large berth.
Despite Sunday's loss, Arkansas squeaked into the field of 65 as the East Bracket's No. 12 seed and will take play No. 5 USC on Friday in Spokane, Wash.
The Hogs enter their second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance as one of the hottest teams in the country, though they were humbled Sunday by the defending national champions.
So many factors played into the defeat, which halted Arkansas'
five-game winning streak and dropped the Razorbacks to 21-13.
Florida's post players pretty much did whatever they wanted. Beverley and Gary Ervin each struggled for the first time in the SEC Tournament. The Razorbacks, at times, looked sluggish throughout their fourth contest in as many days.
And, most importantly, Arkansas experienced its worst shooting
performance this season. The Razorbacks connected on just 23 of their 64 shots (35.9 percent).
"There's no way to explain it," said Sonny Weems, who combined with Beverley and Welsh to miss all of their 15 attempts from 3-point range. "More of those shots usually go in. It's not like they were bad shots."
The Hogs' coach disagreed somewhat with Weems' final assessment.
Early on, Stan Heath watched painfully as his Razorbacks fired up shot after shot from behind the 3-point line. On most of its possessions, Arkansas didn't work the ball around much. They settled for the first decent look, whether it was closely contested or not.
The result was a 1-for-15 first-half effort from 3-point range, a mark that eventually finished at 3-for-24.
"We were impatient," Heath said. "We took some quick ones, some fast ones. You know, for the first time (in the tournament) we really played young. We played immature.
"We got down a little bit, and we were trying to get back into the
game as quick as possible."
Adamantly, the Razorbacks refused to blame their shooting troubles on tired legs.
"That's not an excuse," Beverley said. "I won't use it as an excuse."
For a while, despite their ineptitude from beyond the 3-point arc, the Hogs stayed close. They trailed just 30-27 with 3:48 left in the first half.
But the Gators' swagger — "it's real impressive," Weems said — and the Hogs' continued shooting struggles were far too much.
Ten minutes into the second half, Florida had increased its lead to 17.
"You know, we kept talking about just taking it possession by
posession and not trying to get it all back at once," Heath said.
"That's where Florida wants you. The minute you're playing into their hands, you take hurried shots, you miss them, you turn it over and they make you pay."
Down But Not Out
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