FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Mike Anderson played two years of college basketball in junior college. He played two more at Tulsa.
Anderson was part of Nolan Richardson’s staff in numerous capacities at Arkansas for 17 seasons and is in his 12th year as a head coach. So he has been around the game enough to watch teams suffer through bad performances. But the first half of the 83-58 loss at Alabama rated as a memorable moment in futility.
“That was probably the worst half of basketball I had ever been associated with,” Anderson said. “We had four field goals in 20 minutes and 16 points in a half.”
Arkansas, which is fighting for its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2008, turned in an ugly performance at an inopportune time last Saturday. The Razorbacks shot 17.4 percent from the field in the first half, trailed 39-16 at the break and never came close to catching the Crimson Tide in the second half.
It snapped Arkansas’ six-game win streak and also placed the Razorbacks in a precarious position with Selection Sunday coming soon. But Anderson said there’s only one thing his team should do with the 2014 Southeastern Conference Tournament beginning later this week. Forget the loss.
Arkansas (21-10, 10-8 in SEC) will play the winner of Wednesday’s first-round game between Auburn and South Carolina on Thursday at approximately 2:30 p.m.
“You don’t bring the energy and the other team brings the energy, that’s what takes place,” Anderson said, adding that Arkansas burned the film. “So kudos to Alabama. They played well and that’s one you have got to move on. Short-term memory.
“That’s going to be the key. We have to get over that and move forward.”
The loss was Arkansas’ second to a team ranked 100th or higher in the Rating Percentage Index. So it damaged the Razorbacks’ RPI, dropping them from No. 55 to No. 62. But it wasn’t a crushing blow to Arkansas’ NCAA Tournament hopes.
In fact, bracket experts like Jerry Palm (CBS) and Joe Lunardi (ESPN) still have the Razorbacks in the 68-team field with their latest projections Monday.
Both Palm and Lunardi list Arkansas among their “last four” in the field and have slotted the Razorbacks for play-in games in Dayton, Ohio. Palm projects Arkansas as an 11-seed in the tournament with its first-round game against Xavier. Lunardi has Arkansas in the field as a 12-seed, playing Dayton on its home court.
The margin for error is slim, though. Arkansas needs to win its SEC Tournament opener, at the very least, to keep hopes alive. So guard Mardracus Wade said there’s pressure on the Razorbacks to perform in Atlanta this week.
“Definitely in the back of our head, but we just want to focus on things that we can control and things we can control is Thursday and who we’re playing,” Wade said. “I feel like if we do what we do, play one of our better games, that we will come out victorious and get to where we need to go at the end of the day.”
It didn’t happen at Alabama even though Arkansas knew what could be at stake.
Instead of grabbing their fourth road win this season, the Razorbacks — who enjoyed a 30-point win against Ole Miss three days earlier — suffered their largest loss since being beaten by 30 points at Missouri last season.
“It was their senior night and they came out with emotions and punched us and we weren’t able to counter it and come back,” Arkansas guard Fred Gulley said. “It was just one of those things where everything went right their way.”
Anderson said his team didn’t follow the blueprint that led to success over the previous nine games. Arkansas “tried to win it on offense” and didn’t defend.
“I attribute that to not going prepared,” Anderson said. “I’ll take the blame on some of that. But at the same time, I think that sometimes that pat on the back can set you back. These guys have had some success and people talk and write about them and sometimes you start believing it. We have to make sure we do our damage on the floor and we do it on the defensive side of the ball. That’s going to be our mindset as we go into this tournament is blue collar and humble and hungry.”
It worked well for Arkansas over the last half of conference play.
It has to happen again for the Razorbacks to reach the NCAA Tournament.
“You just kind of learn from it,” Wade said of the Alabama loss. “You can’t come out flat against teams like that, especially on Senior Nights when they’ve got it going. …
“Hopefully we can get better and it won’t happen again.”
2014 SEC TOURNAMENT
Game 1: No. 12 Auburn vs. No. 13 South Carolina – 6 p.m. (SEC TV)
Game 2: No. 11 Vanderbilt vs. No. 14 Mississippi State – 8:30 p.m. (SEC TV)
Game 3: No. 8 Missouri vs. No. 9 Texas A&M – Noon (SEC TV)
Game 4: Game 1 Winner vs. No. 5 Arkansas – 2:30 p.m. (SEC TV)
Game 5: No. 7 LSU vs. No. 10 Alabama – 6 p.m. (SEC TV)
Game 6: Game 2 Winner vs. No. 6 Ole Miss – 8:30 p.m. (SEC TV)
Game 7: Game 3 Winner vs. No. 1 Florida — Noon (ESPNU
Game 8: Game 4 Winner vs. No. 4 Tennessee – 2:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
Game 9: Game 5 Winner vs. No. 2 Kentucky – 6 p.m. (SEC TV)
Game 10: Game 6 Winner vs. No. 3 Georgia – 8:30 p.m. (SEC TV)
Game 11: Game 7 Winner vs. Game 8 Winner – Noon (ABC)
Game 12: Game 9 Winner vs. Game 10 Winner – 2:30 p.m. (ABC)
Game 13: Game 11 Winner vs. Game 12 Winner – 2:15 p.m. (ESPN)