University of Arkansas head basketball coach John Pelphrey is always preaching about how the most important game is the next one and that no win or loss is anymore important than another.
But he allowed Thursday that with his Razorbacks (14-12, 7-4) leading the SEC West by a game with just five to play, it does seem a little different.
"Up until this point and time in the season you don't get too carried away with big wins and big losses because they only count one," Pelphrey said, "but from here on out coming into (Wednesday night), with so few games left and so much to be decided, it kind of feels like two."
Especially when you are on the road against a foe like Auburn (12-14, 3-8) as the Razorbacks will be on Saturday night at 6 p.m.
"It will certainly be a challenge on the road," Pelphrey said. "It is always tough the second time around and we had a very hard-fought game with the Tigers here (before Arkansas won 82-79 in overtime). Obviously we will have to face all the challenges of what it is like to play on the road on top of that. They are very good."
Arkansas, who has won six of its last seven games, has the opportunity to grab wins over the West's fifth and sixth place teams with a trip to LSU (9-16, 0-11) on Wednesday night following Saturday's tilt.
The Razorbacks – just 2-14 in league play last season - go into Saturday's game with a full-game lead over Mississippi State – who is at LSU on Saturday – and two games over Ole Miss.
"It's a challenge, but it is good to know that we have put ourselves in a situation to have a chance," Pelphrey said. "That is what you want to do. Because you are not going to always do it, but you want to have the chance to do it all the time. If you do it enough, something good will happen for you."
The Tigers are not one of the SEC's best squads record-wise but have taken Arkansas, Mississippi State (85-75 in overtime) and Florida (78-70) to the wire in the last three games before losing all three.
"We've invested a lot into it, and it just didn't happen at the end," Auburn head coach Jeff Lebo said.
Auburn star Lucas Hargrove says it is time to finish.
"We've got to start making our own fortune," Hargrove said. "I think we're playing well. We just don't have everybody at the same time playing good, and the SEC – it's not a conference where one person can win a game. Everybody just has to play good together on the same night and then that's when I think our wins will start coming."
Pelphrey, whose team has won two of its last three road games, knows it won't be easy to grab another one away from home.
"When you are dealing with Auburn, you are dealing with a team in the league that makes more 3-point shots per game than anybody else," Pelphrey added. "Obviously you have a very, very difficult match-up at the power forward spot with Hargrove, who is playing outstanding."
"Playing well defensively will obviously be a huge key and offensively playing well will be important because careless turnovers and bad shots will put them in transition at home – which would put the outcome of the game in question for us," Pelphrey added. "You are probably going to have to stop transition and the 3-point shots, but to get beaten badly in those two areas would be tough to overcome."
Pelphrey is under no illusion that Saturday will bring anything but another close finish.
"Hopefully we are going to be able to keep hanging in there to the last four minutes and give ourselves a chance," Pelphrey said.
While Arkansas downed South Carolina 92-79 on Wednesday, Auburn had to play at Florida Thursday night.
It is the first time that the Razorbacks will have had more rest than their foe since SEC play started.
"We'll need it because like I said we had a very hard-fought game with them last time and it took us overtime at home to get that done," Pelphrey said. "Hopefully the extra prep time will help, but we've all had to deal with and had success both ways."
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