UA trying to duck third defeat in row

By: Bob Holt
Published: Friday, January 24, 2020
Arkansas coach Eric Musselman reacts during a game against Kentucky on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas coach Eric Musselman reacts during a game against Kentucky on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020, in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Eric Musselman doesn't have much experience dealing with losses as a college head basketball coach.

Going into the University of Arkansas' game at Mississippi State on Wednesday night, Musselman had a 124-37 record for a .770 winning percentage to rank fourth among active NCAA Division I coaches with at least four seasons on the job.

Saturday’s men’s game

TCU at Arkansas

WHEN 3 p.m.

WHERE Walton Arena, Fayetteville

RECORDS Arkansas 14-4, 3-3 SEC; TCU 13-5, 4-2 Big 12

RADIO Razorback Sports Network

TV ESPN2

In four seasons at Nevada, Musselman's teams lost back-to-back regular-season games just three times, and it happened twice in his first season when the Wolf Pack finished 24-14 after being 9-22 the year before his arrival.

After Arkansas' 14-2 start under Musselman -- a pleasant surprise considering the Razorbacks were picked to finish 11th in the SEC -- one of his teams has suffered back-to-back losses in the regular season for the fourth time.

The Razorbacks (14-4, 3-3 SEC) were beaten 77-70 at Mississippi State in Humphrey Coliseum after losing 73-66 to Kentucky on Saturday in Walton Arena.

"The staff and the players -- even last night in the locker [room] -- I think it's easier for them to turn the page," Musselman said Thursday on the SEC coaches' teleconference. "It's much harder for a head coach, whether it's a head coach of a college team, an NBA team, a college baseball team, college football. It's hard."

The Razorbacks play TCU (13-5) at 3 p.m. Saturday in Walton Arena in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. The Horned Frogs come into the game off a 66-54 victory over No. 18 Texas Tech at home Tuesday night.

Musselman's Nevada teams never lost three consecutive games.

"Our backs are against the wall, so to speak, having lost two in a row," he said. "It's something that is foreign the last few years to have to deal with. But I do think our players have dealt with it in the past, the guys that are here."

Six of the Razorbacks' top seven scorers were on last season's team that endured losing streaks of four and six games, but regrouped to play in the NIT and finish 18-16.

"I think they'll be fine mentally," Musselman said of his players. "But, when you lose two in a row, if it doesn't hurt and you don't agonize over it, then a third loss becomes a possibility.

"If you hate to lose and you're a great competitor, then you'll do every defensive assignment that's necessary to win the next game."

Arkansas senior guard Jimmy Whitt, a graduate transfer from SMU who played with the Razorbacks as a freshman, addressed the team's situation with a Twitter post.

"Adversity has hit," Whitt tweeted. "Now this is where a great team separates themselves from a good team. Handling adversity is a combination of discipline and character. The silver lining of adversity is that it gives you an opportunity to show your true character and heart. Time to work."

Kentucky Coach John Calipari is a friend of Musselman's and has praised his hiring at Arkansas at every opportunity.

"When you've been fired and you've coached all different ways and you've been in the NBA, FIBA, college like he has, you won't believe this, but his teams have probably lost two games in a row at some point," Calipari said. "And he had to get the team together.

"He's an experienced coach that has a great pulse for his team. He knows what his team is feeling and what they've got to do, and he'll figure it out."

Musselman was asked about the keys to avoiding long losing streaks.

"I know that after a loss in the past, the locker room was not going to accept another loss," he said. "You have to play above and beyond what maybe what you normally do. You've got to get extra loose balls, you have to defend without fouling.

"But the bottom line is now we got to figure out how to make some shots. We're one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the league, we're one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country and we're one of the worst rebounding teams in the country."

The Razorbacks are shooting 30.7% on three-pointers (134 of 437) to rank 11th in the SEC and 292nd nationally. Their minus-5.4 rebound margin is last in the SEC and 331st nationally.

Against Kentucky and Mississippi State, the Razorbacks hit a combined 13 of 46 on three-pointers.

"We've got to figure out how in some way to shoot the ball better," Musselman said. "It's up to our staff to continue to tinker and get guys more wide-open looks, and it's up to our players, they have to shoot the ball with confidence as well."

Mississippi State Coach Ben Howland said no one should overreact to the Razorbacks losing back-to-back games.

"I think they really have a great thing going right now," Howland said. "They're playing so well together, so unselfishly. They play great defense. They're forcing so many turnovers.

"I mean, Eric's a been doing it at all levels with the pros and college teams. I know that Arkansas fan base will be ready when TCU comes in there."

Sports on 01/24/2020

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