The Razorbacks will bring an 11-3 record into their Southeastern Conference opener Thursday night at Auburn and, like last season, they have put themselves in position for an NCAA Tournament berth.
But also like last season, the Hogs squandered a few opportunities.
Arkansas dropped nonconference contests last season to Missouri, Texas Tech and Texas. This season, the Razorbacks fell to Providence, Oklahoma and Appalachian State.
The Hogs offset the 2006-07 setbacks with quality wins against Southern Illinois, West Virginia and Oral Roberts. With their 85-78 victory Saturday night over Baylor in Dallas, the Razorbacks have now done the same this season. They now possess potentially résumé-building nonconference victories over Virginia Commonwealth, Oral Roberts and Baylor.
First-year coach John Pelphrey said he witnessed a significant maturation in Saturday night's second half, encouraging him for the grueling 16-game conference stretch that begins in Auburn, Ala. The Razorbacks provided last season's coach, Stan Heath, with similar inspiration by winning its final four nonconference contests.
Unfortunately, Pelphrey is still dealing with many of the same problems Heath encountered. Take Saturday night's first half, for instance. Arkansas allowed five completely uncontested Baylor layups. The Razorbacks committed a handful of needless turnovers. And the Hogs bickered at times with one another on the court.
"It's a focus thing," Pelphrey said. "It was frustrating over there because I wanted to get it under control, do things the right way, not foul, get it up the floor, not give the ball back to them. When you're in a timeout, and you say, ‘OK, this is how we're going to play it,' and you go out the next play and we don't, there's nothing more infuriating as a coach.
Either I'm not communicating the right way or they don't care. That's what was going on. But finally those guys started focusing."
Pelphrey said Arkansas, after listening to its animated coach throughout the evening, "played the right way" for the last 15 minutes, and Baylor coach Scott Drew agreed. Drew watched his Bears falter down the stretch as the Razorbacks, for the most part, hustled consistently and made intelligent decisions.
"I thought they really rose to the occasion," Drew said. "They played like a team that has been to back to back (NCAA Tournaments)."
Arkansas senior Sonny Weems, who exploded for 18 of his team-high 21 points in Saturday night's second half, said he expected the Razorbacks to capitalize on the momentum. He also adamantly stated that Pelphrey's fiery personality has rubbed off on them.
"When the head coach is into the game like that, it make us feel good inside," Weems said. "We know he's just trying to motivate us a little bit."
o o o
Auburn is now 9-3 after an 80-57 home loss to Xavier on Sunday.
"We really couldn't stop them," Auburn head coach Jeff Lebo said. "They were hitting every shot. They were 16-of-26 from 3-point range, and they were perfect from the free throw line. We have to work on making our shots inside and outside."
ARKANSAS AT AUBURN
WHEN: 8 p.m. TV: ESPN2 (Cox Ch. 24)
WHERE: Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum, Auburn, Ala.
RADIO: KXIO-FM 106.9; KEZA-FM 107.9; KKEG-FM 92.1; KFPW-AM 1230; KQBK-FM 104.7; KHGG-AM 1580; KHGG-FM 103.1; KDYN-AM 1540; KDYN-FM 96.7; KTTG-FM 96.3
RECORDS: Arkansas 11-3, Auburn 9-3
SERIES: Arkansas leads 20-13
On To The SEC
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