Arkansas coach John Pelphrey saw progress in his young team Wednesday night at Oklahoma, although a 67-47 loss left the Hogs on a four-game losing streak.
"Somebody told me once that a lot of times people who fail and quit don't know how close to success they were," Pelphrey said. "That's something I tried to get across to the guys last night.
"I don't know if they realize how close they were to challenging that game down that stretch and I wanted to make sure they understood that. Are there things we've got to get better at and does the score stand for eternity? Yes, but I thought we did a good job of controlling tempo in the first half and controlling the basketball. We needed to score some more points but I thought we competed.
"There were things last night where I thought progress was made. Not enough to capture a win on the road but things we can talk about and look at and continue to grow."
The team's mindset is good.
"I think those guys have got a good understanding of what we're dealing with," Pelphrey said. "We're trying to handle adversity with the same class and dignity as we would if we had won them all. That day is coming, too, and that will be a tremendous challenge to handle success."
Mississippi Valley State (1-6) is coached by Sean Woods, who, along with Pelphrey, was a member of the famed senior class at the University of Kentucky in 1992 known as the "Unforgettables".
"He's somebody I have a lot of feelings for," Pelphrey said. "We've shared a lot of experiences together and I'm very, very proud of him."
Sophomore point guard Courtney Fortson continues to be suspended indefinitely and will not play Saturday. Mike Washington is day-to-day with a back injury. Asked if the nine-day layoff for finals beginning next week would be a factor in whether Washington plays Saturday, Pelphrey said, "If he can play, we'll play him."
"It's a different injury than last year," Pelphrey said. "Last year I don't know if it was as much of an injury as a muscle spasm or sprain. This is what they're calling a joint sprain or something like that, so to me, I don't know that they're comparable."
Washington has missed Arkansas' last two games with the injury, suffered in a pregame drill prior to the Razorbacks' game with South Alabama Sunday. Pelphrey said the injury should not be a long-term problem and will heal.
Pelphrey said Michael Sanchez is doing well after returning from his plantar fasciitis injury over the weekend. He is sore from practice, Pelphrey said, as the redshirt sophomore forward didn't begin practicing until last Saturday.
On Arkansas' 3-point shooting, Pelphrey said it has been frustrating to watch the team give up 42 percent from beyond the arc despite focusing on perimeter defense every day in practice. In Wednesday's 67-47 loss to Oklahoma, the Sooners hit 6 of 7 shots from 3-point range just before the first half to go on a 20-5 run into the locker rooms.
"I am surprised," Pelphrey said. "Teams, for whatever reason, have been able to make some shots on us here of late.
"We'll continue to work on it and continue to emphasize it. I will say this, at this point in time I don't think we've played a lot of bad teams. I think we've played some good basketball teams that (are perimeter oriented)."
Marshawn Powell scored 12 points and grabbed eight rebounds for the Razorbacks against Oklahoma. He was plagued by foul trouble, however, picking up his fourth personal foul with 18:01 to go in the second half. He didn't return until the 9:14 mark, but key baskets and rebounds helped Arkansas pull to within 51-43 with 6:01 remaining.
"We went through a stretch there in the second half where we were able to get him the ball and he was effective," Pelphrey said. "We didn't get a whole lot of those in the first half.
"He's learning. He had two silly fouls there in the first couple of minutes of the second half. One was where they got the rebound and he stuck his hand in there trying to steal it back and then the other he didn't jump to the ball defensively and jammed the guy a little and got called for the foul. There are experience issues there.
"With the injuries to the two Mikes we've had to ask him to be our best front-court player as a freshman and that's a lot to put on a guy. Then to go on the road and expect 40 minutes from him is probably not realistic but he kept battling. He got us back to eight points and we had the ball a couple of times to cut it to less and I think those things are going to help him grow."
Rotnei Clarke averaged 28.2 points per game heading into Wednesday's game but a relentless defense on the sophomore forced him into just 5 of 13 shooting and the leading scorer in the history of Oklahoma high school basketball finished his first trip back with a season-low 11 points.
Pelphrey said it is important to get other guys in the mix offensively to take pressure off the sharp-shooter.
"We need some other avenues to go to and there are some things that could probably happen," Pelphrey said. "If we can get everybody together that would obviously help the situation. Marshawn didn't get a lot going in the first half (against Oklahoma) and got it in the second half. Jemal Farmer had a good first 10 minutes for us offensively but we need four, five, six guys. That will help Rotnei more than anything."
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