ATLANTA — Arkansas assistant coach Rob Evans remembers the disappointment, the dejection he felt outside the Arkansas locker room on Feb. 13 in Knoxville, Tenn.
Evans had just witness a 93-71 Razorbacks loss at Tennessee, and the way the defeat unfolded in the second half maddened him.
Arkansas trailed by just four points at halftime, and then, it all fell apart.
"We played pretty well in the first half," Evans said. "But in the second half, they gave us a good punch, and we didn't fight back. We have to show a lot more fight if we want to win this time."
The Hogs' quarterfinal victory over Vanderbilt on Friday in the Southeastern Conference Tournament earned them another opportunity to face the Volunteers, at noon today in a semifinal contest.
Top-seeded Tennessee (29-3) nearly lost on Friday, struggling with South Carolina until senior guard Chris Lofton nailed a 3-pointer with about 10 seconds left. But just because Tennessee had trouble on Friday, that doesn't mean the Hogs are expecting Saturday to be easier than their mid-February trip to Knoxville.
Arkansas senior point guard Gary Ervin distinctly recalls the 31-point outburst by Vols guard JaJuan Smith.
"We have to control their runs," Ervin said. "The game got out of hand fast."
Razorbacks coach John Pelphrey had nothing but praise for the Volunteers when asked after Arkansas' win.
"I think Tennessee is awesome," Pelphrey said. "They put as much pressure on you as any other team. They're probably a No. 1 seed, a top-four or top-five team in the country, and we're excited to have a chance to play them."
He didn't shoot often. But when Ervin did attempt to score, he made the most of his opportunities.
Ervin tied for team-high honors with senior center Darian Townes by scoring 18 points, connecting on five of his seven shots and all seven of his free throws. His 3-pointer with 7:18 left was perhaps his most important.
He gave Arkansas a 63-58 lead and halted Vanderbilt's building momentum. Other than that, he helped Arkansas consistently break the Commodores' press and he made smart decisions.
"I think my teammates did a great job of trusting me," Ervin said. "I'm a fifth-year senior, a leader, and they just trusted me to make the plays. That meant a lot."
Sophomore guard Patrick Beverley had his jaw dislocated for the second time this season. The first time was on Jan. 13 against Alabama, and Beverley played through the pain then. He did the same late in Friday's contest.
With 1:35 left, Vanderbilt's Ross Neltner had a shot blocked by Steven Hill. Beverley quickly grabbed the ball but was hit hard by Neltner, who fouled out on the play. His jaw came out of place but he didn't leave the floor.
"He wouldn't come out of the game," Pelphrey said.
Too Many Fouls
A recurring problem for the Razorbacks emerged again Friday as the Hogs committed 23 fouls. Hill, Charles Thomas, Michael Washington and Sonny Weems each committed two fouls in the first half.
Washington was actually credited with three first-half fouls, but his third should have gone to Vincent Hunter. Washington wasn't even on the court at the time.
"We need to stop fouling, simple as that," Townes said.
Sophomore guard Stefan Welsh provided valuable offense early in the game, making his first four shots, including three 3-pointers, and scoring 11 of Arkansas' first 17 points. "He gave us a huge lift," Pelphrey said. ... Two entire sections of the Georgia Dome were filled with Arkansas fans and one fan even brought a sign that read, "Bud Walton Arena East." ... Former Arkansas player Corliss Williamson was honored at halftime.
Notes from the Georgia Dome
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