NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Earlier this week, as his Arkansas team prepared for today's SEC regular-season finale at Vanderbilt, coach John Pelphrey glanced at the conference standings.
He still couldn't believe his Razorbacks sat four games out of fifth place in the SEC Western Division going into the final weekend of league play.
"You look at the standings and it's a long way up, but it doesn't feel like (we're that far)," Pelphrey said.
Part of the reason why Arkansas has struggled so mightily since starting 12-1 this season stems from its inability to close out games in which it has led. The Razorbacks' consistent struggles away from Fayetteville haven't helped, either.
Arkansas has lost all seven of its SEC road contests.
Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings, who has eight freshmen on his roster this season, sees similarities between Arkansas and his second team at Vanderbilt that went 4-12 in SEC play.
That's why he won't let his Commodores underestimate the Razorbacks, who have held second-half leads in six of their last eight losses.
Stallings said he has warned his players that Arkansas has the potential to spring an upset for its first SEC road win.
"I just think youth is tough in this league," Stallings said. "I think anybody would've said Arkansas was going to take a little bit of a step back this year. Then they tricked us all by beating Oklahoma and Texas.
"I think everybody was looking around and saying how in the heck is that happening. But once you get into the grind of conference play, it's very difficult for freshmen. I don't care how talented the freshmen are, it's still very difficult to maintain any consistency with a group that that's young."
While refusing to use his team's inexperience as an excuse, Pelphrey can't shake the memories of the many opportunities Arkansas has wasted this season. Heightening the frustration for Pelphrey is the fact he has witnessed Arkansas produce in late-game situations.
He saw freshmen such as Courtney Fortson and Rotnei Clarke keep Oklahoma and Texas from rallying past the Razorbacks.
He remembers Stefan Welsh's last-second, game-winning shot at South Alabama. He recalls the Hogs' collective comeback to force overtime against Southeastern Louisiana in their season opener.
"It's not like we haven't done it," Pelphrey said. "We did it in nonconference (play) against some good people and in some tough places.
"I think the one thing that we do need to understand is that as the clock is winding down toward zero, we can't have the defensive lapses we had (Wednesday) night and give up layups. We have to stick to our fundamentals. We can't have silly fouls down the stretch. We have to get that rebound."
Lately, the Razorbacks haven't succeeded in those late-game situations often. They'll have to this afternoon if they want to have any chance at avoiding a winless SEC slate.
Fortson said Arkansas wasn't caught up in trying to evade 0-8.
"I really don't have any thoughts about it, other than I know we're just going to play hard," Fortson said.
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