BASKETBALL: Arkansas Not Tough Enough

OXFORD, Miss. — They said this trip to Tad Smith Coliseum would be different. They said they'd display increased energy. They said they'd scrap. They said they'd fight.

The Arkansas Razorbacks couldn't back up their talk.

On Ole Miss' Senior Night, the Hogs wasted a chance to solidify their NCAA Tournament status with an 81-72 loss. And they did so Tuesday because they couldn't match the Rebels' collective grit.

"We just weren't able to be tough at the right times, whether it was for a loose ball or for an offensive rebound," Arkansas coach John Pelphrey said. "We lost some plays on toughness. Then when we had our chances to get the lead to a one-possession game, we just couldn't play well enough to make the shot.

"They made the timely plays we couldn't make."

The evening wasn't a total disaster like Arkansas' loss on Feb. 27 at Alabama. The Razorbacks did spoil an opportunity to impress a national television audience, as well as two of the NCAA Tournament committee's 10 members who watched from press row.

But Pelphrey didn't think the Razorbacks showed up flat. He didn't believe the Hogs underestimated Ole Miss. He credited his team for dishing out 16 assists and committing a season-low nine turnovers, helping to make up for Sonny Weems going scoreless the first 36 minutes.

Far too often, though, his Razorbacks (19-10, 8-7) were shoved aside by more physical, more determined Rebels. Ole Miss senior Dwayne Curtis had game-highs of 23 points and 11 rebounds, constantly using his 280-pound frame to his advantage. And the Rebels simply seemed stronger in all aspects of their 20th win this season.

These three second-half plays epitomized Arkansas' inconsistent effort:

• Curtis overpowered Charles Thomas for an offensive rebound and scored to give Ole Miss a 54-45 lead.

• Ole Miss' Eniel Polynice jumped over Michael Washington for another offensive rebound, and his putback put the Rebels up 63-51.

• With the Hogs trailing 74-68 in the final minute, Gary Ervin had the ball slapped out of hands by Rebels guard Chris Warren.

"You just have to give (Ole Miss) credit," Ervin said. "They did a lot of great things on the defensive end. And they just scrapped. They got a lot of loose balls when we threw it down in the paint or penetrated."

The defeat marked Arkansas' fifth straight away from Fayetteville and its 11th in 12 tries in Oxford. The loss also kept Ole Miss' slim NCAA Tournament hopes alive.

As the Rebels walked into the locker room, they chanted, "We're still in it." Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said he believed his Rebels still deserve at-large consideration because they truly grasped the stakes of Tuesday's game.

"We're certainly playing with a sense of urgency," Kennedy said. "I hoped we would because these are urgent times."

The Razorbacks appeared urgent when they connected on five of their first eight shots and took an 11-8 lead. But a 10-0 Ole Miss run halted Arkansas' momentum. And when David Huertas drilled a 3-pointer to put Ole Miss up 35-23, the Hogs seemed on the brink of being blown out, again, in Oxford.

Ole Miss' lead dwindled to four points by halftime, but the Razorbacks never could string together a long stretch of intense, physical play. Yet another erratic performance away from Bud Walton Arena meant Pelphrey wasn't in the mood to rank the performance with other efforts on the road.

"(I put it) with the rest of them. It's a loss," Pelphrey said. "I'm not interested in these guys playing up to their potential. I want them to play above it."

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