FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas forward Marvell Waithe, like the rest of his teammates, is trying to shake off last week's disappointment.
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas forward Marvell Waithe, like the rest of his teammates, is trying to shake off last week’s disappointment.
Losses of any kind can linger in February, when a team hopes to make a splash at the end of the regular season. But they can be especially troublesome with the way the Razorbacks capped off their 0-2 week, suffering a record-setting 30-point home loss to Florida.
“I don’t think we’re thinking that we’re great right now,” Waithe said Tuesday. “We know we’ve got to pick it up.”
Arkansas (17-10, 5-7 in Southeastern Conference) will get a chance to feel a little better about itself when the Razorbacks play Alabama (17-9, 6-6) in Bud Walton Arena. The Razorbacks, fresh off the program’s first home loss this season and worst loss in Bud Walton Arena, will try to reclaim their home court edge with four games remaining.
It’s easier said than done. Especially for a team that enters the game with four losses in the past five tries. But Waithe said he and his teammates have to dig deep to keep their postseason goals alive.
“Our mindset is a sense of urgency. We’ve got to pick it up,” Waithe said. “We’ve got no choice. Especially with those kind of losses.”
Arkansas’ current slide is the worst stretch of the season, but is nothing unusual for the program in its recent history. Collapsing down the stretch was common for the Hogs the past three years.
Arkansas ended the 2010-11 season by losing three straight games. The 2009-10 team lost six straight to end the year. Those late skids came before Mike Anderson’s arrival, of course. But Anderson doesn’t want a repeat performance to wrap up the month.
“The team’s I’ve been associated with, they’ve played some of their better basketball down the stretch,” Anderson said. “So this is a time where we kind of unleash and just go play. That’s what I expect from our guys - to go out and play, compete and you’ll see some good things take place for them. … The time you want to get on a run is now.”
At this point, it’s evident Arkansas’ only likely chance of landing a spot in the NCAA Tournament field will be a magical run to the SEC Tournament title next month. But the Razorbacks do have something to play for as they head into the final stretch of the regular season.
Arkansas is among six teams — joining Alabama, LSU, Tennessee, Mississippi State and Ole Miss — vying for fourth place in the SEC standings behind Kentucky, Florida and Vanderbilt. The top four teams in the standings earn a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament.
Three of Arkansas’ four remaining games are against teams with a chance for the fourth spot (Alabama, Ole Miss and Mississippi State). So the Razorbacks know what’s at stake. And guard BJ Young said Arkansas also realizes how critical it is to end their slide tonight.
“It’s very important to get this next win under our belt and stop the bleeding before we get too far down the line,” Young said. “We are still confident as a team and we are keeping our heads together and listening to Coach Anderson. We are not really worried.”
Arkansas will try to rebound by beating an Alabama team still in the NCAA Tournament conversation despite losing its top two scorers and rebounds — JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell — to suspensions. Green has rejoined the Crimson Tide for practice, but won’t play tonight. Mitchell’s suspension will last the rest of the season.
The absences have forced Alabama coach Anthony Grant to lean on reserves in larger roles. But guard Mardracus Wade said the Crimson Tide, which beat Tennessee last Saturday, remains a dangerous opponent.
“I think it’s going to give them another edge,” Wade said. “They’re going to come in here even more and try to get a win. “We’ve just got to do what we do best and try to get up and down and try to press these guys and turn them over.”
Arkansas, which lost to Alabama 72-66 in the first meeting on Jan. 28, believes it can lead to confidence-restoring win after a rough week.
“You’re going to have some peaks and you’re going to have some valleys,” Anderson said. “I think the true character of a team is how you respond when you have some of those valleys. For the most part our guys have done well. I think it’s even probably more critical now that we step it up. We’ve got four games. It’s a four-game season now. So we’ve got to just go out and lay it on the line.”