Arkansas visits Auburn

AUBURN, Ala. — When the Arkansas Razorbacks take the Beard-Eaves Coliseum court tonight, they won't be guided by any one player in particular.

Sure, junior guard Stefan Welsh will try to put the Hogs in a positive mood as they look to snap a three-game slide. Freshman point guard Courtney Fortson will be vocal throughout Arkansas' game with Auburn. And junior forward Michael Washington will let his constant hustle set an example.

But no defined leader, above all others, exists. Arkansas coach John Pelphrey realizes this and implores that every one of his players must embrace some type of leadership role.

"I think everyone's got to pull their own weight," Pelphrey said. "Everyone's got to do their own job. We have to continue to try to get better, have a great attitude and be a great encourager of our teammates. That falls on all of us.

"We all have to do our own part in terms of leadership."

Arkansas' players seem to be getting the message. Even as the losses have piled up, as the Razorbacks have dropped seven of their last eight games, attitudes have remained relatively positive.

Freshman guard Rotnei Clarke said he credited Welsh's proactive leadership, as well as the Hogs' collective welcoming of Pelphrey's challenge, with their refusal to sulk.

"We need to keep trusting each other," Clarke said. "Really, anyone on this team can be a leader at this point. That's going to win us games down the stretch. Anybody can be a leader right now, and we all have to find our roles in what we're supposed to do."

Welsh immediately felt comfortable with his place as one of team's most experienced players.

He certainly had learning to do. Earlier in the season, Pelphrey said Welsh needed to work on not letting his attitude and his mannerisms get out of control during tough times. Welsh has responded lately, taking pride in making Arkansas move on from defeats.

His message has been simple.

"If guys aren't going to stay positive then they need to stay home," Welsh said. "The guys I talked to on the team, and I have talked to everybody, they still believe we can get it done.

"I just want everyone to stay positive."

Washington, the Hogs' leading scorer and rebounder, still hasn't gotten comfortable with a vocal role similar to Welsh's, though. Shy for most of his life, Washington has simply decided to do his leading through his actions.

While Pelphrey sees value in that approach, he'd like to see Washington expand his leadership role.

"Mike's not a real vocal guy," Pelphrey said. "He'll certainly lead by example. You'd like to see him be more vocal and teach and encourage his teammates. He needs to get out of his comfort zone and be more vocal, obviously in a positive way."

Raising his voice hasn't been much of a problem for Fortson, the confident freshman who leads the SEC in assists. As a point guard, Fortson has served as a leader on most of his prior basketball teams.

Fortson required some time to develop into a vocal leader this season. But now, helping to fulfill Pelphrey's wishes, Fortson doesn't hesitate.

"Leadership is very important at this course of the season," Fortson said. "You have guys who are kind of down sometimes because they're not playing as many minutes as they think they should play.

"I just try to talk to them and tell them, ‘You never know when you'll get a chance.'"

Today's Ticket

Arkansas at Auburn

When: 7 p.m. TV: None

Where: Beard-Eaves Coliseum, Auburn, Ala.

Records: Arkansas, 13-8, 1-7 Southeastern Conference; Auburn, 14-9, 3-5

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

Coaches: Arkansas, John Pelphrey (36-20, 2nd season at Arkansas; 116-86 overall in 7 seasons); Auburn, Jeff Lebo (71-73, 5th season; 186-136, 11 seasons);

Series: Arkansas 23-14 (Auburn leads 10-7 in Auburn)

Last Meeting: Auburn beat Arkansas 73-51 on Jan. 24 in Fayetteville

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