Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff Award and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt was awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2000 and 2015.
Hogs want stop to five-year skid
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson and players Ky Madden, Coty Clarke and Michael Qualls react following a loss to Vanderbilt on March 14, 2013 during the first round of the SEC Tournament at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.
ATLANTA - Missouri and Texas A&M joined the SEC last season, and each of their basketball teams has more SEC Tournament victories over the past five years than Arkansas.
The Tigers and Aggies won an SEC Tournament game last year. The Razorbacks haven’t done that since 2008.
Arkansas (21-10, 10-8) will try to win its SEC Tournament opener for the first time in six years when the Razorbacks play South Carolina at approximately 2:30 p.m. Central today in the Georgia Dome.
The Gamecocks beat Auburn 74-56 on Wednesday night, making Arkansas the only team to be winless in SEC Tournament play since 2009.
The Razorbacks last won an SEC Tournament game in the 2008 semifinals, when Steven Hill hit a 6-foot shot with 5.3 seconds left to lift Arkansas to a 92-91 victory over No. 4 Tennessee at Georgia Tech’s Alexander Memorial Coliseum, where the tournament was moved after a tornado damaged the Georgia Dome. Arkansas lost in the2008 championship game to Georgia, 66-57.
Since then the Razorbacks have lost SEC Tournament openers to Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, LSU and Vanderbilt.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been that long since Arkansas won in the SEC Tournament,” Razorbacks freshman forward Bobby Portis said. “But that’s in the past, and you can’t live in the past. We’ve broken some long losing streaks this year, and this is one more we want to break.”
Arkansas broke a 13-game losing streak at Mississippi State and a nine-game losing streak at Kentucky during its 8-2 close to the regular season.
“We try not to focus too much on the streaks or the past because we’re a different team,” Razorbacks senior guard Fred Gulley said. “We’re playing a new brand of basketball.”
Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said he believes the Razorbacks’ depth gives them an edge in a setting where they have to win four games in four days to claim the SEC Tournament title. The Razorbacks have used 11 different starting lineups this season with 12 players averaging between 27 and 9 minutes.
“I really feel this team is made for the tournament,” Anderson said. “I always talk about having eight to nine starters, and we play a lot of guys. I think as we get to this point in the season, a lot of teams have played six and seven guys, they can hit a wall.”
But for the Razorbacks’ depth to be a factor, they have to advance.
“The key is getting going in this tournament,” Anderson said. “Getting past that first game.”
Several SEC coaches said they won’t be surprised if Arkansas makes an SEC Tournament run.
“They’ve got a lot of pieces. They’ve got quality depth,” said Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy, whose Rebels lost at Arkansas 110-80 last week. “They’ve got inside players, they’re got a plethora of guards.
“When they make shots, like we saw up close and personal, they’re a very, very dangerous team.”
Arkansas came the closest of any SEC team to beating No. 1 Florida, which finished 18-0 in conference play. The Gators beat the Razorbacks 84-82 in overtime.
“Mike has done a great job with his team,” Florida Coach Billy Donovan said. “They’ve gotten progressively better and better and better each and every game. More cohesive, more together, playing at a high level. They’ve gotten a lot of production from a lot of different people.
“They’re playing as well as maybe anybody in this league right now.”
The Razorbacks’ six-game SEC winning streak - their longest since 1998 - ended with an 83-58 loss at Alabama last Saturday. In the first half they shot 17.4 percent (4 of 23) and had 12 turnovers while falling behind 39-16.
“That was probably the worst half of basketball that I’ve ever been associated with,” Anderson said. “It is one of those ones you just do away with it and let’s move forward. We know we’re a much better basketball team than that.”
The Razorbacks said they’ve had good practices this week and flushed away the Alabama game.
“It wasn’t going good for any of us, and it was like a domino effect,” Arkansas sophomore guard Anthlon Bell said. “We weren’t getting good shots, weren’t getting back on defense.
“We’re ready to show that wasn’t Razorback basketball, that we’re still here and the Alabama game was just a minor setback for a major comeback.”
The Razorbacks said they are focused on winning one game at time this week - a good approach given their recent history in the SEC Tournament - and aren’t concerned with how many games they may need to win to gain an NCAA Tournament at-large spot.
Arkansas can remove any NCAA Tournament questions by winning the SEC Tournament to earn an automatic NCAA bid.
“Win, that’s pretty simple,” Razorbacks sophomore forward Michael Qualls said. “We can only control what we can control, and we control whether we win or lose a game.”
Today’s game ARKANSAS MEN VS. SOUTH CAROLINA WHAT SEC Tournament WHEN Approximately 2:30 p.m. today WHERE Georgia Dome, Atlanta RECORDS Arkansas 21-10. South Carolina 13-19 SERIES Arkansas leads 15-11 RADIO Razorback Sports Network TELEVISION SEC TV on KATV, Channel 7, in Little Rock; KHOG/KHBS, Channels 40/29, in Fayetteville and Fort Smith; and KAIT, Channel 8, in Jonesboro.
Sports, Pages 19 on 03/13/2014