BASKETBALL: Razorbacks Stunned By Loss

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Both hands placed on the back of his head, both of his eyes opened wide, Darian Townes slowly trudged toward the Arkansas locker room in Coleman Coliseum.

Alabama students peppered Townes with insults after Arkansas' 59-56 loss Wednesday night to the Crimson Tide, but his demeanor never changed. He stared straight ahead and kept walking, seemingly dazed from a defeat that added yet another blemish onto Arkansas' increasingly damaged NCAA Tournament resume.

Or perhaps he was just pondering what type of tongue-lashing he was about to receive from Arkansas coach John Pelphrey. After all, the Razorbacks had just lost to an Alabama team that began the night tied for last place in the SEC Western Division.

"There's nothing I'm happy with right now," Pelphrey said. "We surely didn't do much tonight to get in (Alabama's) way. ... It's disappointing, and it's hurtful."

Less than three weeks ago, this kind of pain was unimaginable. The Razorbacks (18-9, 7-6) drilled three straight opponents in Bud Walton Arena and entered their recent road stretch with visions of a national ranking. Instead, the Hogs left Tuscaloosa losers of four of their past five games, devastated from an effort Pelphrey said "certainly could be a tie" for their worst this season.

Arkansas' mind-boggling shooting performance provided the main source of its pain.

The Razorbacks shot 36.1 percent from the floor, tying their worst percentage all season, and missed 18 of their 21 tries from 3-point range. Their 56 points marked their second-lowest total this season, their lowest since SEC play started. They misfired on seven of their 16 free throws. And Alabama (15-13, 4-9) forced their top two scorers, senior Sonny Weems and sophomore Patrick Beverley, to miss 18 of their 26 shot attempts.

Not that Pelphrey was thrilled with his defensive effort, either.

"The play was just terrible, at both ends of the floor," Pelphrey said. "There were very few bright spots. Bizarre stuff took place out there that I can't even begin to explain."

Arkansas senior Gary Ervin tried. He said the Hogs didn't work hard enough for quality shots, and the evidence out on the court validated his assessment. The Razorbacks looked stagnant. They threw lazy passes. They settled for contested, low-percentage attempts early in the shot clock.

They showed little thirst for offensive rebounds, and they never handled the Crimson Tide's half-court pressure. Alabama coach Mark Gottfried said Alabama strived to make the Razorbacks "earn their baskets," but Ervin admitted the Hogs helped the Crimson Tide far too often.

"When you're taking tough shots with people in your face constantly, it's going to be hard," Ervin said. "We have to look in the mirror. It's all about taking smart shots."

Despite all the inept offense, despite separate scoring droughts of 3:21, 4:29 and 5:44, the Hogs had their chances to win. But ultimately, Alabama came up with more hustle plays than the Razorbacks. Richard Hendrix's steal, dive on the floor and pass to Senario Hillman resulted in a dunk that put the Crimson Tide up 53-48 with 2:19 left.

Afterward, the Razorbacks struggled to cope with the magnitude of the loss, of the past three weeks, actually. An SEC season that started so promising has quickly unraveled. With its win Wednesday night, Mississippi State clinched at least a share of the Western Division championship. But Arkansas has more pressing matters to tend to, like taking care of No. 14 Vanderbilt on Saturday, like trying to jump-start an end-of-the-season charge.

"If we keep losing, we're not going to the NCAA Tournament," Ervin said. "It's sad that we've put ourselves in this situation like last year."

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