Senior Day

Three University of Arkansas seniors will make their last regular season appearance at Bud Walton Arena Saturday at 3 p.m. when the Razorbacks (14-16, 7-8) host Ole Miss (20-9, 8-7) with an SEC Tournament bye on the line.

There is a consensus that there is only one way to properly send the University of Arkansas' three seniors and its retiring play-by-play voice out in style at home on Saturday.

That's simply to win the game.

Seniors Michael Washington, Stefan Welsh and Stephen Cox will be honored before the Razorbacks (14-16, 7-8) host Ole Miss (20-9, 8-7) in a 3 p.m. game at Bud Walton Arena.

"We are going to play with a purpose," Cox said. "The coaches have done a great job of stressing if we win this basketball game we get the number two seed. That gives us a chance to advance and put our team in postseason play and that is what we want to do. We are going to come out Saturday night with an unbelievable attitude and an unbelievable focus to try and beat a quality opponent in Ole Miss."

Indeed the winner of Saturday's game – which will also be the regular season finale for broadcaster Mike Nail - will get the second seed and a bye in next week's SEC Tournament in Nashville.

These seniors have been a part of teams that have been to the NCAA Tournament once and twice advanced to the championship game of the SEC Tournament.

"It's been a joyful ride with a lot of ups and downs," Welsh said. "I am going to miss the fans. They have made it a great place to play the last four years. I am just excited we get to go out and play another game and try to better our season…We just want to go out there and try to play to the best of our ability and win the basketball game."

Arkansas – which beat Ole Miss 80-73 in Oxford back on Jan. 31 - would earn that seed if its wins because of sweeping the season series.

"Ole Miss is an outstanding basketball team," Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey said. "They have tremendous offensive talent, a basketball team that really challenges you off the dribble…We were very fortunate the last time and we will have to be at an all-time high defensively."

Ole Miss is still trying to play its way on or off the bubble – depending on whose projections you believe – and comes in off a 72-59 home win over LSU.

The Rebels – who have not been in the NCAA Tournament since 2002 - could still earn a share of the SEC West crown with a win Saturday and a Tennessee win at leader Mississippi State.

"As long as there's games there's hope," Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said after Thursday's win. "And the reality is as the games start dwindling down you have less opportunity. We understand completely what's on the line."

Pelphrey lauded his trio of outgoing seniors at a Friday press conference.

"We have got three young men who have given a lot to the program and worked very hard and certainly all seniors are special," Pelphrey said. "Two out of those three are from the state of Arkansas and they love this place dearly."

Washington is one of only five player in school history to have scored over 1,000 points, grab 600 rebounds and block 100 shots.

"Mike has got tremendous numbers from scoring to rebounding to blocked shots," Pelphrey said. "He has made a lot of personal growth the last two years from the first couple of years not playing a lot to improving and elevating his game to among the best in our league."

Washington has also earned tremendous respect from Welsh as the big man has played through back, shin and ankle injuries this season.

"There are not many guys who can go in night in and night out and do what he does with the injuries that he is facing – back problems, ankle, shin," Welsh said. "He is definitely an iron man."

Those injuries have caused Washington's averages to dip from 15.5 points and an SEC-leading 9.8 rebounds as a junior to 12.4 points and 6.1 boards as a senior.

"I thnk that we've all had our challenges this year and Mike has had his challenges with injuries or whatever the case may be," Pelphrey said. "…We were challenging for the West and that doesn't happen without Mike and some of the games he's had. You look back at him, he's right in the middle of all the good things we've done. He's put us in a situation to have success. We're going to need it again tomorrow."

Welsh has started 46 games in his career as a Razorback and averaged a season-high 11.3 points as a junior and been a top reserve this season.

"Stefan has been a young man who has been able to score the ball, been tenacious with defense and I think he has really grown over the last two seasons and become more of a leader, finding value to things away from the court."

Cox started off as a golfer at Arkansas, but has actually played more basketball and will be playing in his 50th career game on Saturday.

"You look at Stephen Cox and he has contributed to this school in two different sports," Pelphrey said. "That's rare today when athletes are so focused playing just one. Certainly his family is big with the Razorbacks. He is kind of a second generation guy and I know how much this place means to him."

Pelphrey also had kind words for Nail, who will be honored with a bobblehead in his likeness on Saturday as he comes to the close of a 29-year career as the voice of the basketball Razorbacks.

"You all know what he has meant to the school and his years of service and how much he cares about the basketball program, the Razorbacks," Pelphrey said. "…He's a great example to a young coach in terms of how to come to work every day and being prepared. A lot of times it's lonely at the top when you're in a leadership position. Or it can be at times. But he has been nothing but an encouragement to me and certainly we're all going to miss him in a big, big way."

Pelphrey would love to be celebrating a SEC West championship on Saturday, but the Razorbacks have lost four straight after leading the race at 7-4.

"I think up until a week ago we put ourselves in position to compete for the Western Division championship," Pelphrey said. "That's good. That's positive. Obviously we haven't played very well and certainly haven't been able to win these last few games.

"We've got some opportunities here that still lie ahead of us," Pelphrey added. "But the thing you want to do, you want to keep putting yourself in a situation to compete. That's why some of these losses of late have been so hard on us."

But there is one way to make the home team and its seniors happy on Saturday.

"I just want to win," Welsh said. "That's it."


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