Young Hogs Learning To Deal With Failure

FAYETTEVILLE — Consecutive losses to Mississippi State and Ole Miss have grounded the Arkansas Razorbacks, providing the exact adversity coach John Pelphrey figured his young team would face this season.

Pelphrey was ecstatic about the Hogs' growing chemistry throughout their 10-game winning streak. He loved "everybody high-fiving and being rah-rah" as they tore through their December and early January schedule.

But the true mark of a mature basketball team, Pelphrey said, is how it acts when "things aren't going so well." So needless to say, Pelphrey is anxious to see how Arkansas (12-3, 0-2) responds today when it visits Florida (15-2, 2-0).

"As an athlete, you try to live by a code of never getting too high when things are going well," Pelphrey said. "You're never as good as they really say you are, and you're probably not as bad as they say when things aren't going well. So it will be interesting to see if we can handle those things."

For the last season-and-a-half, Florida coach Billy Dovovan — Pelphrey's friend and mentor — has dealt with those same issues. He has had six freshmen on each of his last two rosters, so he knows what type of maturation process Arkansas is undergoing.

Last season's Gators were defined by inconsistency. They darted out to an 18-3 start, but their loss at Arkansas sparked a string of seven losses in their last 10 regular-season contests.

After an SEC Tournament-opening defeat, Donovan was furious. Before the Gators' NIT-opening game, he even briefly took away their orange and blue practice gear and barred them from Florida's practice facility.

"When you're dealing with a young team, there's always those highs and lows," Donovan said. "Part of growing and maturing is becoming more consistent, and that's a challenge for any young player. As coaches, we want the maturing process to go by a lot quicker than maybe sometimes it takes.

"We try every day to do things to speed it along, but we all mature and grow in life at different rates."

Pelphrey openly shares that perspective, perhaps explaining why he hasn't gotten too crazy during the past week, even as his team turned in two frustrating efforts.

He has remained positive, encouraging his six freshmen to keep a level-headed attitude as they experienced potentially confidence-crushing defeats. And he has leaned on his two juniors, Stefan Welsh and Michael Washington, to assist in schooling his newcomers on the importance of responding similarly to ups and downs.

Welsh said the Razorbacks have responded by making a mature commitment to "fixing things" in practice.

"We just need to stay positive and let (the younger players) know in a league like this, you can take tough losses but it's not a league you can hang your head in," Welsh said.

"When you're winning, everybody loves you and when you're losing everybody has something to say. But this is a strong group. We're very mentally strong and we're committed to getting back to the team that beat Texas and beat Oklahoma."

Today's Ticket

Arkansas at Florida

When: 1 p.m. TV: KHOG (Cox Ch. 7, CoxHD Ch. 707)

Where: Stephen C. O'Connell Center, Gainesville, Fla.

Records: Arkansas, 12-3, 0-2 Southeastern Conference; Florida, 15-2, 2-0

Radio: KEZA-FM 107.9, KKEG-FM 92.1, KUOA-AM 1290, FM 105.3

Coaches: Arkansas, John Pelphrey (35-15, 2nd season at Arkansas; 115-81 overall in 7 seasons); Florida, Billy Donovan (300-117, 13th season at Florida; 335-137, 15 seasons)

Series: Tied 10-10 (Florida leads 6-2 in Gainesville)

Last Meeting: Arkansas beat Florida 80-61 on February 2, 2008, in Fayetteville

Familiar Territory

Arkansas coach John Pelphrey takes on one of his mentors, Florida coach Billy Donovan, for the third time as a head coach today in Gainesville. While at South Alabama, his team lost to Florida in the first round of the 2006 NCAA Tournament. Then, last season, Pelphrey's Razorbacks topped Donovan's Gators by 19 points in Fayetteville.

But Pelphrey, who spent six seasons as a Florida assistant coach, returns today to the Stephen C. O'Connell Center for the first time since leaving the Gators.

"This will be my first time back in that building probably since I left," Pelphrey said. "It's a great place and what they have accomplished is amazing. On the personal side, there are great, great people there.

"We need to mix it up and compete in what I know will be a hostile environment."

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