Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a past president and member of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
LIKE IT IS:
Chest-beating Hogs come up wheezing vs. Tide
Alabama coach Anthony Grant yells as Alabama collapses on Arkansas guard Kikko Haydar (20) during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, March 8, 2014, at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/AL.com, Vasha Hunt)
It was as if they got the uniforms mixed up.
The team that was scoring in transition, causing turnovers, getting steals and controlling the tempo was not the Arkansas Razorbacks who had won six consecutive games.
It was Alabama, on Senior Day, that literally doused the Razorbacks’ fire 83-58 on Saturday and left the Hogs looking like it was their first SEC game of the season instead of their last. Some of that was the Tide, some was the Hogs.
Saying Arkansas couldn’t have thrown it in the ocean at high tide Saturday would be like saying Ole Miss had a tough night Wednesday in Fayetteville.
Gone was the swagger. Gone was the sharp shooting. Gone was the intense defense.
The Razorbacks, who were 4 of 23 from the field in the first half, looked like they had missed their wake-up call - every day since beating Ole Miss 110-80.
Alabama probably secured its head coach, Anthony Grant, at least another year by closing out the regular season with a thundering performance.
So much for the talk heard this week that no one wants to look at the NCAA bracket and see they are playing the Razorbacks.
Hawgball was back on Wednesday and AWOL on Saturday.
The Razorbacks didn’t get into a groove Saturday until late in the second half when everyone was just waiting on the final buzzer, looking like the team that, until the past month, had been playing road games with the weight of an 800-pound gorilla on their backs.
Even when Arkansas pulled within 19 with 11:59 to play, all Alabama did was huddle up and hustle a little more, making three of its next five field goals off offensive rebounds.
One thing that won’t change with Saturday’s loss is Coach Mike Anderson’s approach to the SEC Tournament this week.
He and the Hogs were always going to Atlanta with the intention of winning it all.
Now they may have to. It is going to be close.
The Crimson Tide came into Saturday’s game with an RPI of No. 124 - which is so bad the NIT isn’t considering them - so losing to Alabama might have burst the Razorbacks’ NCAA bubble unless they make a strong, deep run in the SEC Tournament.
Arkansas was No. 56 in the RPI going into the game and should be prepared to drop.
It’s not hard to explain how the Hogs could go into feared Rupp Arena and beat the Kentucky Wildcats and then look so desperate in Tuscaloosa, the land where football, spring football and football recruiting are the three favorite sports.
The Razorbacks were colder than a well-digger’s behind on a January dig in Alaska.
They missed lay ups, mid-range jumpers and three-pointers.
They go to the SEC Tournament with wounded pride but as the No. 5 seed. That was set in stone when Tennessee throttled Missouri in Knoxville to lock up the fourth seed.
Arkansas will play the winner of Auburn-South Carolina on Thursday, and that should restore some of the confidence that might have gotten shaken Saturday.
Win that game and Arkansas gets Tennessee. A victory over the Volunteers, who are No. 45 in the RPI in large part because they defeated ACC champion Virginia (No. 9 in the RPI), puts the Hogs back on the bubble.
Anderson and the Razorbacks need to forget Saturday’s game. It was a day the shots didn’t fall, but it was also a day their competitive edge wasn’t as sharp.
They need to win four in four days to make sure they are part of the Big Dance, or at least make it to Saturday, where they would likely face Florida.
Saturday most likely knocked them off the bubble, but this week is when everyone proves if they are tournament tough or not.
Sports, Pages 21 on 03/09/2014