Having won only one of 10 games since SEC play started, one wouldn't expect University of Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey to be doing much smiling these days.
In fact, it would seem natural if his frustrations were boiling over with the struggles that have arrived following a 12-1 non-conference record that included home wins over Top 10 foes Oklahoma and Texas.
Asked how he himself was handling the adversity heading into Wednesday night's home game for Arkansas (13-10, 1-9) against SEC overall leader LSU (21-4, 9-1), Pelphrey put forth this summation.
"I think we have a responsibility to show up, work hard and get better," Pelphrey said. "We have got to stay on the task at hand. I am not going to sit here and tell you that it is easy. I am sure there are a lot of people out there whose life isn't easy on a daily basis – not just mine.
"I am sure it is not easy on our fans," Pelphrey added. "I know it is not easy on the coach's wife, but we have got to get up, we have got to go to work and the only thing I know is that when things aren't going your way, what you do to change is to work harder, focus harder and encourage more. That is really, really important.
"I think how you handle success, people probably watch you when you do that," Pelphrey continued. "That can have an impact on them. When things aren't going your way and adversity sets in, I would say people are watching that to. A basketball season is probably a short-term perspective when you look at the whole.
"I have great trust and confidence in where we are going to be some day. I am excited about all that, but that doesn't make today any easier or when you lay your head down at night."
After a first year when his team went 15-1 at home, Pelphrey has watched his team lose four of its last five games at Bud Walton Arena. The Hogs are 11-4 at home overall.
Three of those have been double-digit losses, including a 77-63 loss to Kentucky last Saturday when Wildcat junior Jodie Meeks went off for a Bud Walton Arena record 45 points.
That was a game in which Pelphrey suspended starting point guard Courtney Fortson, who will be back on Wednesday.
"I would say that there is probably frustration winning and losing," Pelphrey said. "Even when you are winning there are things that concern you and you want to get back out there and just get the next one. Obviously in this situation there is frustration, too, because we can't play two halves or somebody really gets it going and makes 16 3-pointers and scores a school record or building record – whatever the case may be.
"Those things make it tough as well, but I think the thing that keeps me always hopeful and upbeat is I have seen these guys do it. Even the other day and I take nothing away from Kentucky or Jodie Meeks' performance, but I feel like if we had played the right way – take care of the basketball, take good shots, we rebound when they miss, if we don't make the careless turnovers that leads to transition baskets … I feel like we have a chance to win.
"It is really important to me to play the game the right way, to handle the basketball, to space it, to share it, to run your hands into the ball, to not try to throw a bounce pass across the court – that stuff is important," Pelphrey added. "That is not playing the right way. I believe that is stuff I can coach, stuff we can understand we can get into the game.
"Whether you can go out and get double figure points, hit five or six threes, get 15 of 16 rebounds – that stuff is subjective to your talent level," Pelphrey continued. "But that other stuff is things that I believe I can help these guys with and they can get into the game. I believe they can do some of that stuff. But for whatever reason in conference play, we haven't sustained play, we haven't played two halves or 40 minutes like we did that everybody is going to remember against Oklahoma and Texas."
One common denominator in the losing skid has been the opposition lighting up the Razorbacks from 3-point land.
The Razorbacks' defense has allowed teams to shoot 36 percent beyond the arc while Arkansas is shooting 33 percent.
Arkansas has made 146 3-pointers, but given up 191 - including an average of 9.2 in SEC games while making just an avrerage of 5.
"It has not been very good," Pelphrey said. "It is something I sit and I look at and I don't understand it. There is an emphasis everyday put on defending the 3-point line, but we haven't had much luck defending it. Outside of our lack of perimeter defense – which you can really call it nothing else – I am not sure.
"We have guarded things different ways, the line is back, certainly I don't think there is luck. We have had some misfortune in terms of teams really, really shooting it well and the other day was no different."
Arkansas backcourt is usually 5-10 Courtney Fortson and 6-1 Rotnei Clarke.
"I don't think you can say that is not a factor," Pelphrey said. "The only way you could say it was not is if they were shooting 30 percent against us and that's not the case. The other day I think Jodie Meeks just kind of discarded all of us – no matter what our size. (Marcus) Britt and (Stefan) Welsh are 6-2 and 6-3 and that's not exactly small guards, but it was like he wasn't paying attention to any of us.
"I can't sit here and tell you, ‘Hey, listen just because those guys are 6-foot and 5-8 or whatever, if they weren't that small the defensive percentage would be lower.' I can't say tha. Reality is our 3-point defense has not been very good."
It would be real easy to lay off the struggles on Arkansas' youth – starting three freshmen and having just three players who had played in a college game prior to this year – as well as being picked last in the preseason SEC predictions.
"I am not going to make any excuses," Pelphrey said.
"I am trying to get those seven or eight guys to play better," Pelphrey added. "I think they can."
Fighting Through Adversity
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