Razorbacks Continue Regression

OXFORD, Miss. — For almost two months, the Arkansas Razorbacks steadily progressed, pleasing coach John Pelphrey with their diverse offense, relentless defense and competitive spirit.

In winning 10 straight games, the Hogs gained nationwide notice and had their fans dreaming about the possibility of an unexpected trip to the NCAA Tournament. But throughout the Razorbacks' 74-65 defeat Wednesday night to Ole Miss, Pelphrey didn't see the same team.

He witnessed a lackluster performance similar to Saturday night's loss to Mississippi State. And as the frustration mounted in Tad Smith Coliseum, the normally fiery Pelphrey couldn't even muster much emotion, seemingly numbed by the sudden and drastic regression.

He threw his arms in the air. He rolled his eyes. He kneeled down on one knee, motionless with his head resting on his balled-up fist. He simply looked distraught about Arkansas' sudden swoon.

"It's very interesting to go from playing so well to where we are at this moment in time," Pelphrey said. "We're probably a little bit surprised from the standpoint of where we were and where we are right now."

Pelphrey admitted afterward that Arkansas' 12th defeat in its last 13 trips to Ole Miss occurred because of struggles on "both sides of the ball." And while he said the Razorbacks (12-3, 0-2) weren't "on the floor as much," they surely could've overcome their spotty defense with a better offensive effort.

Ole Miss (10-6, 1-1) used a 24-5 run to take a 32-11 lead with 5:30 left in the first half. During that span, Arkansas made just four of its first 15 shots and committed six turnovers.

The Razorbacks displayed little flow, little rhythm on the offensive end. They stood around stagnant. They made poor decisions with the basketball. They bricked 3-pointers, attempted wild shots near the basket and failed to crash the offensive glass with intensity.

Plus, junior Michael Washington struggled to handle constant double-teams on his way to a seven-point output. Washington didn't hit his first field goal until 23 seconds remained in the first half. Welsh, who also finished with seven points, didn't record a field goal until the 15:16 mark of the second half.

"(We were) standing, watching, everybody wasn't rotating to their spots, and we weren't running the right plays," said freshman Jason Henry, who scored a career-high 19 points. "It was a whole bunch of things."

Freshman point guard Courtney Fortson, who finished with a game-high 24 points, single-handedly fueled Arkansas' lone rally.

He tallied seven of 11 consecutive Arkansas points, capping the spurt that trimmed Ole Miss' lead to 32-22 with a steal and open-court dunk. Fortson then scored the first four points of the second half, on aggressive drives to the basket, pulling Arkansas within 34-28.

"We felt confident that we were going to come back," Fortson said.

Those hopes were quickly dashed by the Rebels, who thrived despite playing without three of their top guards because of injuries, including talented sophomore Chris Warren. Terrico White and David Huertas drilled consecutive 3-pointers to spark a 19-4 run.

Ole Miss eventually increased its lead back to 21 points.

"This is what we're capable of doing when we take the right approach," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. "One thing about playing (with) a young group is that they have short memories."

Arkansas must somehow regroup now and show similar resiliency Saturday at Florida. Not an easy task considering the Razorbacks' bruised psyche coming off an 0-2 SEC start.

Despite all the early season success, an understanding Pelphrey acted like he realized the amount of maturing this young bunch still has to do.

"I think we tried. I think we competed," Pelphrey said. "We're just not operating very well together."

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