Baton Rouge Battle

Arkansas (14-13, 7-5) may be the favorite in Baton Rouge tonight when it visits LSU (9-17, 0-12), but Razorback head coach John Pelphrey knows it will take a great effort to grad a road win over the improving Tigers.

Nobody wants to be the one to break the O-fer.

Certainly not the University of Arkansas basketball team, which heads to Baton Rouge Wednesday night to play a LSU team that is bidding to become the SEC's first winless team in league play since the 1960s.

The Razorbacks (14-13, 7-5) – who are tied for the SEC West lead - certainly go into the 7 p.m. game with the Tigers (9-17, 0-12) as the favorite, but that means nothing to UA head coach John Pelphrey.

"The games are decided on the court and not what a piece of paper says," said Pelphrey, whose program has a chance to win its first divisional title since 1995.

And while the paper may still show LSU with no conference wins, the Tigers have pushed home-standing Vanderbilt and got edged by visiting Mississippi State 60-59 in their last two outings.

"We're playing better," LSU head coach Trent Johnson said. "Obviously versus Mississippi State from start to finish I thought that was as good as we have played all year long at home. Prior to that on the road at Vandy, I thought we competed at a high level."

Mississippi State's Bruce Stewart hit a late shot to keep LSU from nabbing that win.

"We had an opportunity to make some plays down the stretch and we didn't versus a very, very good Mississippi State team," Johnson said.

That certainly got the attention of Pelphrey.

"LSU is playing well," Pelphrey said. "I have tremendous respect for those guys and their players and they are obviously playing better."

Pelphrey says the task in Baton Rouge is to be better than his team has been its last two road games – losses at Alabama and Auburn.

"The things that concern me are that obviously it is a road game against a team that is well coached and I think their attitude and the way they approach things is terrific," Pelphrey said. "It will be a great win for us if we are fortunate enough to go down there and get one.

"I think we are going to have to go down there and be able to defend and rebound, do it all without fouling and find a way to take care of the basketball and some easy baskets," Pelphrey added. "They are not going to allow us to do that easily in their building."

That did happen in the team's first meeting when Arkansas blitzed LSU 87-52 back on Feb. 10 inside Bud Walton Arena.

"For us, the challenge in front of us is an Arkansas team that in Fayetteville did pretty much what they wanted to with us," Johnson said. "If we build off of these last two games in terms of our ability to compete than we'll see."

Pelphrey started talking about how there was not that big a difference in the two teams minutes after that game is over.

He certainly doesn't think his team will be looking past the Tigers and to Saturday's 12:30 p.m. home game with No. 16 Vanderbilt.

"I don't think that is going to be a problem for us," Pelphrey said. "We understand that if we play really, really well we can compete with anybody on our schedule. But by the same token, we are humble enough to know that anybody on our schedule can beat us. If people think that is just coach speak, all you've got to do is pick up our stat sheet and look at it and see that we don't live that way."

While fans have tried to figure out how Arkansas could somehow sneak into the NCAA Tournament, the Razorback coaching staff and players are concentrating on that SEC West championship.

"We've just tried to stay day-to-day and try to get better as a basketball team and focus on fundamentals," Pelphrey said. "I think sometimes when you try to encounter all that stuff, especially when you have a lot going on, it may be a little too much, too overwhelming for everybody. So we have just tried to stay in the moment, try to stay day-to-day, work today and actually go hard whether it is on the court or off the court."

Clarke said his teammates would love to win the school's first divisional title since 1995.

"That it surprising knowing the tradition of this school," Clarke said. "That's probably a special thing considering it hasn't happened in that long. It makes it even better. It's something we really want. "It's something that anyone in this league would want."

Pelphrey says his team will go into the game feeling prepared and not pressure.

"I think the pressure also comes from not being prepared," Pelphrey said. "We'll be prepared and ready to go."

That's the sentiment of Clarke as well.

"We have a chance to win an SEC West title," Clarke said. "It's big. But we're not satisfied to what we are right now. We know we've got to play these next few games and we've got to come out and be prepared and physically and mentally prepare for all these games."


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