The Razorbacks didn't expect to just coast by in their first-round NCAA Tournament games the past two seasons. They didn't think winning in the postseason was easy. But they didn't exactly perform with a sense of urgency, either.
That shouldn't be a problem tonight for the eighth-seeded Hogs when they take on ninth-seeded Indiana in an East Regional game in the RBC Center. Arkansas has six seniors, six players who will never wear a Razorback jersey again after their next defeat.
And they all realize the magnitude of their final loss.
"We've gone through a lot of ups and downs," Arkansas senior Sonny Weems said Thursday in Raleigh, N.C. "We've fought, we've cried, we've sweated."
They've also underperformed in postseason play, and that reality has motivated the Razorbacks this week while preparing for Eric Gordon, D.J. White and the rest of Dan Dakich's Hoosiers.
Formally, the Hogs haven't addressed their recent NCAA Tournament woes, which include five straight defeats since a 1999 victory over Siena. Arkansas coach John Pelphrey said there was nothing to be gained from dwelling on the past.
"We haven't talked about that," Pelphrey said. "There have been some conversations over the course of the season. But the guys understand this is the last go-around for them."
The seniors realize what went wrong the last two seasons, as well. In the 2006 loss in Dallas, Arkansas never established tempo and watched Bucknell drill 11 shots from 3-point range, many that went in as the shot clock expired.
Senior forward Charles Thomas said that defeat was all about "underestimating their opponent."
Last season's defeat to USC had more to do with a general lack of intensity. The Razorbacks burst out to 14-6 lead but didn't do anything right the rest of the night in Spokane, Wash. The Trojans beat Arkansas to loose balls. They grabbed more rebounds. They dove on the floor and simply outwilled the Razorbacks.
Senior point guard Gary Ervin swears that won't happen at about 8:40 p.m. in the RBC Center.
"We know this is it," Ervin said. "We know we might not ever play again together. I was talking with Sonny the other day about that, and we were getting pretty upset. That's why I think this is going to be different for us (Friday)."
Of course, there's no way to know for sure how Arkansas' game will come out tonight. In actuality, the Razorbacks' erratic nature, their unpredictability, has defined their careers. One game, the Hogs may look like a serious Sweet 16 team. The next, they may look unworthy of even an NIT bid. Just take the final two days of the SEC Tournament, for example. Within 24 hours, the Razorbacks defeated No. 4 Tennessee and fell behind by 19 points in a loss to Georgia.
The fact Arkansas drew Indiana, a school with so much tradition, could help the Hogs.
"If you can't get up for Indiana, you need to check your pulse," senior center Steven Hill said.
More likely, though, the Razorbacks will draw inspiration from their desire to take on top-ranked North Carolina before they go their separate ways.
"I think it would mean a lot to win," Hill said. "We're just trying to soak it up as much as we can. Our days are numbered win or lose, so we're just trying to enjoy it."
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