Razorbacks Finish First Half Strong

FAYETTEVILLE — Four consecutive victories seemed preposterous to John Pelphrey amidst the fallout of Arkansas' Jan. 19 loss at Georgia, which dropped the Razorbacks to 2-2 in Southeastern Conference play.

Seriously, 5-3 at this point, may've made sense to Arkansas' first-year coach. A more practical guess was 4-4.

But the Razorbacks defied his realistic, so he thought, expectations. They capped their recent four-game tear by holding off Ole Miss on Saturday, making a renewed case to appear in college basketball's national rankings that come out today.

"After being 2-2, if you told me we'd be 6-2, I'd say, ‘You're crazy,'" Pelphrey said. "We'll take it right now. But certainly, we'd like to have competed better in a couple of games. I think we're capable of that, but we can't do anything about that either. The only thing we can control is how we show up (today) for practice."

All involved in the Arkansas basketball program identify the Hogs' lackluster effort in Athens, Ga., and subsequent 1:30 a.m. practice mere hours later, as the season's turning point. Back then, during a home loss to South Carolina and an uninspired performance at Georgia, effort was erratic. Intensity was spotty. Desire was unsteady, and cohesiveness was fickle.

But in a 15-day span, the Hogs put all those memories behind them, not that they can't resurface. Arkansas (17-5, 6-2) has a difficult week ahead, traveling to No. 7 Tennessee on Wednesday and Western Division-leading Mississippi State on Saturday.

Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy thinks the Razorbacks can handle the challenges, though. Especially if Razorback senior Sonny Weems, averaging 19.5 points in conference contests, can continue his SEC scoring spree.

"Sonny Weems has taken his game to another level," Kennedy said. "And obviously with that, their team has gone to another level. They're a very talented team. John's done a great job. I think they're playing as well as anybody in our league."

Weems, always toeing the line between confident and cocky, doesn't disagree with Kennedy.

"We want to take the SEC West, and it's going to be a battle between us and Mississippi State," Weems said. "(The winning streak) boosts our confidence way up. We can play with any team in the nation."

Pelphrey wouldn't argue with Weems about games played in Bud Walton Arena. The Razorbacks fuel off the crowd's energy in a positive manner and make merely executing tough for opponents. But Pelphrey still isn't convinced the Hogs can perform the same in similarly hostile environments away from Fayetteville.

A 6-2 start is nice and all, and it included road victories at Auburn and LSU. But the atmospheres in Knoxville, Tenn., and Starkville, Miss., this week will be nothing like the subdued, poorly attended ones in Auburn, Ala., and Baton Rouge, La.

Plus, trips to normally raucous arenas at Kentucky, Alabama and Ole Miss still await.

"That's one thing that we need to really pay attention to here," Pelphrey said. "Because we were playing at home, maybe we were able to overcome some (poor play). This next stretch of games being on the road, we don't have that luxury. We're going to have to play much, much better basketball."

And the Razorbacks can't get caught up in looking ahead. Their coach surely won't.

"I'm not going to look at (the second half of the SEC) in terms of eight games," Pelphrey said. "My whole thing is, you have to look at the next one. If I look at all eight of them, I'll get overwhelmed and paralyzed and I won't do my job. It's one deal at a time. I know that sounds like coach-speak, but that's reality."



WHEN: 7:05 p.m. TV: Raycom (Cox Ch. 7)

WHERE: Thompson-Boling Arena, Knoxville, Tenn.

RECORDS: Arkansas 17-5, 6-2 Southeastern Conference; Tennessee 21-2, 8-1

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

SERIES: Tennessee leads 12-11

LAST MEETING: Tennessee beat Arkansas 83-72 on Feb. 24, 2007 in Fayetteville

Arkansas Remaining Schedule

Date Opponent

Feb. 13 at Tennessee

Feb. 16 at Mississippi State

Feb. 20 LSU

Feb. 23 at Kentucky

Feb. 27 at Alabama

March 1 Vanderbilt

March 4 at Ole Miss

March 8 Auburn

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