ATLANTA — They didn't waste time this week talking much about NCAA Tournament berths, bubbles or bracketologies. They didn't draw up scenarios, didn't ponder what-if this and what-if that. They didn't compare at-large résumés.
The Arkansas Razorbacks did, however, reminisce. They thought back to last year's Southeastern Conference Tournament, to last year's improbable run to the NCAA Tournament, and realized the valuable lesson that was learned.
If the Hogs (20-10) want to defeat Vanderbilt at 2:15 today in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament, they know they can't get caught up in looking ahead.
They must enjoy the moment, senior point guard Gary Ervin said, and leave the Georgia Dome court Friday afternoon having used up every ounce of energy. That's all.
No confusion there, Ervin said.
"You don't want to put too much pressure on yourself," Ervin said. "I think that's something we did a great job of (in last year's SEC Tournament). We just went out to have fun and play basketball like we know how to play. You go out there and play with intensity and have fun and that makes things a lot easier.
"When you're like, 'I have to win,' that's when you play not to lose instead of playing to win."
Of course, that way of thinking is far easier said than done. In the back of the Razorbacks' minds, the stakes of today's contest must be tough to ignore.
The Hogs aren't guaranteed of an NCAA Tournament spot. Sure, it would likely take a truly pitiful showing today for Arkansas to be omitted from the field of 65. But, as Razorback fans have seen the last few years, Arkansas is just as capable of struggling in Atlanta as it is of ripping off victories.
Sophomore guard Patrick Beverley said he wasn't just focusing on enjoying himself Friday. He wants what Arkansas couldn't accomplish last season, even after beating South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State.
"We're not there to play for the NCAA Tournament," Beverley said. "We're not even thinking about that. We're there to win the SEC Tournament. We got so close last year, and we really want to go back and do well again this year."
To do so, the Razorbacks must again down the Commodores in the quarterfinal round — in last year's event, the Hogs squeaked past Vandy by one pointin the quarters. On the surface, the draw seems like a break for Arkansas, which beat Vanderbilt 78-73 on March 1 in Fayetteville.
Arkansas has defeated Vanderbilt four consecutive times — twice in Fayetteville, once in Nashville and once in Atlanta.
"The venue hasn't made much difference," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "They've pretty much had their way with us. Last year, they were a horrible matchup for us. This year, I don't feel like the matchup is as bad."
That's because A.J. Ogilvy, Vanderbilt's freshman center from Australia, is now the second scoring option to Shan Foster, the SEC Player of the Year. Before, Vanderbilt didn't possess the bulk to bang with the Razorbacks. Now, they have at least one inside presence.
Won't matter, Ervin said, as long as the Hogs focus on fun and not potential failure.
"We've been in this situation (before)," Ervin said. "We know how it feels to be playing for an NCAA tourney spot. ... We know what's at stake. At the same time, that's not something you want to put in your mind right away going out there because you're putting yourself in a pressure situation."
VANDERBILT VS. ARKANSAS
WHEN: 2:15 p.m. TV: Raycom (Cox Ch. 7)
WHERE: Georgia Dome, Atlanta
RECORDS: Vanderbilt 26-6, Arkansas 20-10
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: Vanderbilt, Kevin Stallings (169-114, 9th season; 292-177, 16 seasons), Arkansas, John Pelphrey (20-10, 1st season; 100-77, 6 seasons)
SERIES: Arkansas leads 14-7
LAST MEETING: Arkansas beat Vanderbilt 78-73 on March 1 in Fayetteville
UA head coach John Pelphrey and Razorback assistant Rob Evans watch Vanderbilt's 93-82 win over Auburn on Thursday.
Arkansas vs. Vandy
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