Needing A Win

After a trio of losses where his team has showed signs of renewed life, University of Arkansas head basketball coach John Pelphrey knows how much his team needs to find the winner's cirlce as the Razorbacks (7-9, 0-1) host Alabama (11-5, 1-1) Saturday afternoon.

Enough of the encouraging losses already.

So says University of Arkansas head basketball coach John Pelphrey, whose team has shown life against No. 24 UAB, No. 1 Texas and Thursday night at SEC West leader Mississippi State inb its last three games.

But the Razorbacks (7-9, 0-1) have no wins to show for it in that stretch as they welcome in Alabama (11-5, 1-1) Saturday afternoon for a 12:47 p.m. tip-off at Bud Walton Arena.

"We do need to get over the hump, we do need to find some ways to step up, it needs to be a collective team effort," Pelphrey said. "I don't know if any one guy can do it, but when that moment in time comes in the game, we have got to be able to make a play - whether it be offensively or defensively - taking a charge, grabbing a rebound, stepping up and making two big free throws. We need to kind of push through that a little bit."

He'll try to get that win today against one of his best friends – Alabama head coach Anthony Grant, who was on the same staff as Pelphrey at Florida.

"He is a special human being, certainly a very big part of my life and always will be," Pelphrey said. "We have spent a lot of time together and I am certainly very proud of who he is, his family – but he's got a job to do and I've got one to do."

Both teams are coming in off losses with the Razorbacks falling 82-80 at Mississippi State while Vanderbilt handed the Crimson Tide a 65-64 home loss.

While Alabama has won four straight road games over the past two seasons, it has lost its last five games in Fayetteville and Grant realizes the home team is better with starting point guard Courtney Fortson (19.5 points, 6.5 assists) back.

"In my years in the league, I always felt like Arkansas was one of the tougher places in the league to play," Grant said. "… I thought they were very impressive with the addition of Courtney Fortson being back with them. I think that adds a new dimension to their team and now that we're in SEC play it's a brand new season for everybody.

"We expect a great environment and a very tough road game as is typical of this league," Grant added.

Pelphrey knows what he is going to see from a Grant-coached team.

"We do know they are going to come with tremendous pressure," Pelphrey said, "going to be ready to go, not beat themselves and they are going to be very relentless in their pursuit."

Alabama, who has former Arkansas assistant Dan Hipsher on its coaching staff, is led by 6-5 point guard Mickhal Torrence (16.0, 5.2 assists) and 6-9, 220-pound forward JaMychal Green (15.1, 7.0).

"Alabama is a good basketball team," Pelphrey said. "They have got some experienced guys, a point guard who is playing outstanding and a front court player who is playing terrific. It will be like all the teams in our league, they will have a number of good guys."

In its last four games, Alabama's defense has limited its foes to an average of just 57.3 points per game and has not any of those teams shoot over 40 percent from the field.

"I think they have the toughness of teams lke Stephen F. Austin, Missouri State and UAB," Pelphrey said. "They are going to be very, very physical with their defense and try to be aggressive with their offense."

Former Little Rock McClellan standout Anthony Brock and Senario Hillman give Bama two older guards.

"He (Brock) has done very well in his time at Alabama, made some big, big plays for them a year ago," Pelphrey said. "He will certainly be looking forward to playing well here."

The Crimson Tide also have size with 6-9, 240-pound Justin Knox and 6-8 freshman forward Tony Mitchell to add to both the offense and defense. "Like I said before, they had a outstanding point guard and got as good a front court player as there is in the league in JaMychal Finley," Pelphrey added. "And they have got some experience with him and Knox, who is much improved from a year ago. I like the freshman Mitchell, he's athletic and he gets some stuff into the game as well."

Arkansas fell behind 37-19 at Mississippi State before a stirring rally gave them a chance to win the game at the end.

"I think – for whatever reason – we started out the game a little bit cautious, a little bit, well, I don't know what the correct term would be there," Pelphrey said. "It took us a minute to start taking the fight to them.

"And maybe we need to give them credit, too," Pelphrey said. "They started the game very, very aggressive and attacking us. Maybe that is the best thing to say. They just started the game a little bit more aggressive then we did. Then we were finally able to get settled in and got to where we were attacking them more and wear them down a bit."

Pelphrey did not think the rust factor from not having a game for nine days was a big factor in the loss.

"I don't know that if it was so much that as it was the first time for some of those guys in a road environment in the SEC," Pelphrey said. "We talk about that being different a little bit, the level of play is amped up and you don't have a lot of opportunities to make mistakes or take plays off. Those are things they capitalize on and you find yourself down like we did."

One guy who certainly settled down and closed with a flourish was freshman power forward Marshawn Powell, who had 14 of his 25 points in the game's final eight minutes.

"I thought that he had a little bit of a tough start, but then I thought he gathered himself and the team really helped him," Pelphrey said. "(Senior center) Michael was tremendous with him. He came out and really competed well in the second half, got some offensive rebounds, got some post-ups, drove the ball and made his free throws.

"I liked our team's response and certainly Marshawn was a big part of that," Pelphrey added.

Powell is averaging 15.1 points and 6.5 rebounds per game and was lauded as one of the nation's best freshmen on ESPN recently.

"I think it (basketball) is important to him," Pelphrey said. "The one area he has surprised me is he is arguably one of the hardest workers in practice. For a first year guy, that is probably about as big a compliment as you can pay somebody. That started in the summer time when he lost 25 pounds and he has continued that.

"Certainly there are some fundamental things that he has got to continue to grow and get better at, but he has a chance to be a very good player," Pelphrey added.

Razorback sophomore sharpshooter Rotnei Clarke (18.5), who had 24 points against Texas, but had just six at Mississippi State.

Clarke was 2-of-9 from the field, 2-of-7 from beyond the 3-point arc.

"I thought Rotnei got off 7 3s," Pelphrey said. "That is not by any means a low number, but seven is a pretty decent number. I think the one thing that hurt all of those guys was Courtney was the only one having success driving to the basket."

Fortson took 26 shots against Mississippi State and has taken 42 in his two games back.

"I think 26 is a bit too many," Pelphrey said. "But by the same token, you go back and watch the film and it wasn't like they were threes. He only took three 3-point shots in the game...In the first half he kept us in the game and gave us a chance. Sometimes you have to live and die with it a little bit. I would like to see it a little bit more deeper in the clock, but both Marshawn and Michael got a good number of touches.

"I don't really think offense was our issue – starting the game, the defense was just bad," Pelphrey said.

Arkansas could use some better production out of the small forward position where junior college transfer Jemal Farmer has seemingly hit a wall.

Farmer has gone scoreless in 23 minutes of action in the last two games and has just five points in his last 58 minutes on the court.

"I think he will keep fighting and working and play better this next game," Pelphrey said.

Injured Arkansas redshirt sophomore Michael Sanchez remains out with no set timetable for his return.

Pelphrey expects a good game between the pair of SEC West foes.

"We will have to be ready to go," Pelphrey said. "There will be a lot of pressure in the basketball game in terms of defensively by Alabama. We will have to be able to pass and catch and handle the basketball. It will be important from our side of it. It should be a heavily competed contest."

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