Road teams enjoying success in SEC

By: Bob Holt
Published: Saturday, January 16, 2021
Arkansas players walk onto the floor during a game against Auburn on Dec. 30, 2020, at Auburn Arena in Auburn, Ala.

FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas basketball team already has won an SEC road game in Alabama this season.

Arkansas will try to make it two for the road when the Razorbacks play Alabama at 2:30 p.m. today in Coleman Coliseum.

The Razorbacks’ 97-85 victory at Auburn on Dec. 30 is part of a winning record for SEC teams in conference road games.

SEC teams are 15-14 on the road, including the Crimson Tide’s 85-65 victory over Kentucky in Rupp Arena on Tuesday night.

It broke an eight-game losing losing streak for Alabama at Kentucky, where the Tide last won 68-64 on Jan. 14, 2006.

Reduced attendance at games because of coronavirus restrictions — the announced crowd at Rupp Arena for the Alabama game was 3,075 — has impacted the home-court advantage for all teams.

Ten SEC teams have won at least one conference road game this season.

Kentucky cut a 67-47 deficit against Alabama to 67-55 with 5:22 left after an 8-0 run in a 1:27 span, but the Tide were able to rebuild the lead to 20 points.

“If you’re in Rupp and you’re up 20, and they’re making a run and cut it to [12], the place would be going nuts,” Alabama Coach Nate Oats said of previous seasons. “And they tried to get a little bit loud, but it’s just definitely not the same as having 23,000 people in there.”

Alabama lists its average home attendance this season at 2,050.

“At our place, our guys fed off the crowd a lot last year,” Oats said. “But it’s essentially no home-court advantage now.”

Alabama (10-3, 5-0 SEC) has won all of its conference games home and away, including a 71-63 victory at No. 10 Tennessee to hand the Vols’ their only loss.

“There’s less of a home court advantage, but Alabama, they’re 5-0,” Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman said. “So wherever we would play them would be very difficult.

“They’re a really, really well-coached team. They have a big-time identity of who they are, either layups or three balls. Their defense is much improved over last year.

“We have to bring it or else it isn’t going to be nice.”

Arkansas (10-3, 2-3) is 1-1 in SEC games in Walton Arena and 1-2 on the road.

“Do I feel more comfortable playing in Bud Walton than on the road still, even with the pandemic and limited amount of crowd? Absolutely,” Musselman said. “You’re in your daily routine.”

The Razorbacks lost at LSU 92-76 on Wednesday night. They trailed by 31 points, 44-13, in the first half.

“I would have rather them not get hammered at LSU, because they’re actually a really good team,” Oats said. “And I’d rather not play really good teams coming off a bad loss, because they seem to be extra motivated and dialed in.

“I’m sure Coach Musselman is going to have them really focused and locked in after the loss they took at LSU. I think we’re probably catching them at the exact wrong time to be honest with you. I’d much rather have had them win against LSU than lose like they did.”

The Razorbacks and Tide both will be missing key players today.

Arkansas senior forward Justin Smith is out for a fifth consecutive game as he continues recovering from ankle surgery, freshman guard Khalen Robinson underwent season-ending foot surgery on Sunday and junior forward Abayomi Iyiola is still rehabbing his right knee that was surgically repaired last summer.

Alabama senior forward Jordan Bruner (knee) is out and senior guard Herbert Jones (wrist) is questionable after both starters were injured at Kentucky.

Without either of them on the court, the Tide still pulled way from the Wildcats in the final minutes.

Musselman said Alabama has a first-team All-SEC player in senior guard John Petty, one of the conference’s best freshmen in guard Joshua Primo, and dangerous three-point shooters in senior Alex Reese and sophomore guard Jaden Shackelford.

Petty scored 23 points at Kentucky, Shackelford 18 and Primo 12.

“They have plenty of players regardless of who plays,” Musselman said.

Alabama’s 20-point victory at Kentucky was the most-lopsided home loss John Calipari has suffered in 12 seasons as the Wildcats’ coach.

“Give Alabama credit,” Calipari said. “They came in here and one of their players [Primo] asked me, ‘What’s the score?’ at the end of the game. ‘You know, its 85-65, you killed us.’ ”

Kentucky is 2-3 in Rupp Arena this season — 1-1 in SEC games and 2-0 in conference road games.

“You just don’t win many games in Rupp Arena, the opponents don’t,” Calipari said. “Now, even though we have 3,000, it’s different.

“Alabama played physically, extremely laser-focused, to beat us. When we had a chance to get back in the game, they just didn’t let us. They just fought.”

Arkansas has won three consecutive games at Alabama, including 82-78 last season when the Razorbacks overcame a 12-0 deficit.

“I hope we learned a lot, because we were up a decent amount right out of the game on them,” Oats said. “Then we let it slip away.

“We’ve been up on some teams lately, and they’ve made a little run, and I think our guys have grouped together, and made some tough plays and gotten some stops, gotten some buckets.”

Oats said the Tide have to be as focused against Arkansas as they have been in winning on the road.

“Your crowd’s not going to pull you through runs like it used to be able to,” Oats said. “You’re going to have to lock in and you’re going to have to play and you’re going to have to create your own energy at home just like you do on the road.

“It’s just kind of what it is this year.”

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