Arkansas has found its identity. Without the ball, the Hogs love to harass their opponents. With it, they love to push tempo. And in attempting to halt the Volunteers' 28-game winning streak in Thompson-Boling Arena, the Razorbacks will not waver from that foundation.
"I don't want to change our pace," Pelphrey said. "I don't want to play slower, I don't want to get cautious."
Bold strategy considering the task the Hogs face tonight as they start a brutal stretch of four of their next five games away from Fayetteville. Pelphrey voiced confidence this week that the Razorbacks could handle a frantic pace as long as they exhibited intelligence and timely restraint.
But only one team, Texas, has beaten the Volunteers this season by using an up-and-down style.
The Volunteers, paced by sharp-shooting senior guard Chris Lofton, lead the Southeastern Conference in scoring average during league play. And the fate Florida met in its 104-82 loss at Tennessee on Feb. 5 serves as a warning of sorts. The Gators burst out to an 18-3 lead, only to watch in disbelief as the Vols tallied 101 points in the game's last 34 minutes.
That's where Arkansas must be smart, point guard Gary Ervin said, echoing Pelphrey's approach.
"We play the same style of play, but at the same time, they're at home, so they can take a lot of bad shots, and still be in the game," Ervin said. "We have to play a smart game. If we get out in transition, and we don't have a dunk or a layup, we should pull it out and run our offense."
Even throughout their recent four-game winning streak, the Razorbacks have maddened Pelphrey, at times, with their offensive decision-making. They have made the kind of choices that would almost certainly doom them tonight.
Too many quick pull-up jumpers. Too many forced passes. Too many out-of-control drives. And any of those happenings tonight would fuel fast breaks in the other direction.
"I think if we don't convert some 2-on-1s and 3-on-2s, and they're able to get stops on that, then it creates 2-on-1s and 3-on-2s back the other way, where they're outstanding," Pelphrey said. "They're just tremendous at getting 3-point shots in transition."
So while Arkansas wants to run, the Razorbacks can't get caught up in a nonstop "track meet," as senior Sonny Weems suspects could break out. Pelphrey realizes the Hogs are capable of piling up points — they looked quite comfortable scoring 94 in a late November victory over Missouri.
But they want to control tempo, not keep up Tennessee's idea of it.
Earlier this season, South Carolina proved it could be done. Two days before the Gamecocks upset Arkansas on Jan. 16 in Bud Walton Arena, coach Dave Odom talked about wanting the up-tempo nature of the game to be "one-sided."
He wanted no fast breaks for Arkansas, but many for his own team. The Gamecocks didn't get as many fast break baskets as Odom had hoped for, but they kept Arkansas' pace with the ball to a crawl.
Similar execution of a similar game plan would give the Razorbacks the best chance of handing Tennessee a road loss for the first time since March 1, 2006.
"Hopefully, the fast breaks will at least just cancel each other out," Ervin said. "If they're scoring and we're scoring, it's just going to come down to who's getting the most stops, and that's where we feel we can win. With our defense."
ARKANSAS AT NO. 4 TENNESSEE
WHEN: 7:05 p.m. TV: Raycom (Cox Ch. 7/707HD)
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
COACHES: Arkansas, John Pelphrey (17-5, 1st season; 97-72, 6 seasons); Tennessee, Bruce Pearl (67-21, 3rd season; 384-105, 16 seasons)
SERIES: Tennessee leads 12-11 (6-2 in Knoxville)
LAST MEETING: Tennessee beat Arkansas 83-72 on Feb. 24, 2007 in Fayetteville
Arkansas at No. 4 Tennessee
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