Arkansas Still Clinging to Hope

TAMPA, Fla. — Arkansas' season has been loaded with off-the-court headaches and on-the-court frustrations.

Key performers have been in and out of coach John Pelphrey's disciplinary doghouse. Two contributors are gone — one quit after a half season while the other was removed because of an NCAA eligibility issue. And the losses, 14 in 16 games, have come in a variety of ways.

So as the Razorbacks (14-15, 2-14 in SEC) prepare to play Florida (22-9, 9-7) in the first round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament at the St. Pete Times Forum tonight at 8:45, it would be understandable if their prevailing thought is to simply end the ugly mess.

But point guard Courtney Fortson said Wednesday the Razorbacks have other things on their minds.

"People don't show respect, we have to gain it," Fortson said. "That's what we're going to have to do in this tournament."

Fortson and the Razorbacks are still holding onto a glimmer of hope despite suffering through one of the worst regular seasons in school history. Who can blame them? Arkansas saw what could happen last March, when Georgia went from worst to first in the league by winning four games in the SEC Tournament to grab an NCAA bid.

It seemed improbable for the Bulldogs then. It seems even more farfetched for the Razorbacks now. But Pelphrey is hoping his team is motivated to keep the season alive by beating the Gators.

"It's a one-and-done situation," Pelphrey said. "You win or you go home, so to speak and that is a different feeling. ...

"We've talked about that and how exciting it is to be able to win and stick around and get another 40 minutes of basketball life."

It will likely take an improbable performance to beat Florida.

The Gators, who are heavy favorites, are playing in their home state and haven't lost a neutral site game in Florida since 2003.

Florida has plenty of reason to stick around itself, too. The Gators sit squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble and need wins to avoid the National Invitation Tournament for the second straight year.

Even more, Arkansas will have to work with little depth after freshman Jason Henry — who is averaging 8.4 points in SEC games — was suspended indefinitely for violating team rules Tuesday.

But Florida forward Dan Werner said none of that matters. He and the Gators found out the hard way last season, when their stay at the 2008 SEC Tournament ended with a 21-point, first-round upset loss to Alabama.

"It's a new season and everyone is 0-0 right now," Florida forward Dan Werner said. "You look around the country and anyone can beat anyone."

Arkansas is certainly hoping that's the case even though their performance in league play the past two months says otherwise.

But the Hogs take solace in other thing: They'll have 40 minutes to prove otherwise and, in Fortson's words, start earning some respect.

"Going into this tournament we are under the radar," guard Rotnei Clarke said. "But I feel like that's a place where we're comfortable."

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