Bob Holt is a sports reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he sits on the board of directors for the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. He has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year four times and has been inducted to the Arkansas Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame.
Hogs, Rebels trying to climb out of SEC basement
Arkansas coach Eric Musselman is shown during the Razorbacks' game against Missouri on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023, in Fayetteville. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)
FAYETTEVILLE — Either the University of Arkansas men’s basketball team or Ole Miss is going to pull itself out of the bottom of the SEC standings when the No. 25 Razorbacks and Rebels meet at 11 a.m. today in Walton Arena.
Arkansas (12-6, 1-5) and Ole Miss (9-9, 1-5) are tied with LSU and Mississippi State for last place in the SEC.
“A team desperate for a win,” Rebels Coach Kermit Davis said of Arkansas. “We’re desperate for a win.”
There are 12 SEC regular-season games remaining.
“Everybody knows there’s so much basketball in front of all of us with all these great opportunities,” Davis said. “There’s plenty of those chances left. I’m sure Arkansas feels the same way as we do.”
The Razorbacks have lost four consecutive games since their lone SEC victory over Missouri 74-68 in Walton Arena on Jan. 4.
The only team to play four of its six first six SEC games on the road, the Razorbacks have their next three conference games in Walton Arena, where they’re 41-3 since the 2020-21 season.
Arkansas is 8-1 in Walton Arena this season with the loss to No. 4 Alabama 84-69 last week.
“It’s good,” Razorbacks freshman guard Anthony Black of having a stretch of home games. “But at the end of the day, we’ve got to win.
“Away, home, we’ve got to figure out a way to win.”
Arkansas stays home to play LSU (12-6, 1-5) on Tuesday night, is back on the road to play at No. 21 Baylor (13-5) in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge next Saturday, then resumes conference play against Texas A&M (13-5, 5-0) on Jan. 31 in Walton Arena.
“These next three home games, we’ve got to win them all if we’re going to do what we’re trying to do,” Black said. “We’ve got to just start winning.”
Ole Miss broke a six-game losing streak and got its first road victory in four tries by beating South Carolina 70-58 on Tuesday night.
Arkansas’ coaching staff watched the Ole Miss-South Carolina game at the team’s hotel in Columbia, Mo., before the Razorbacks lost at Missouri 79-65 on Wednesday night.
“I give Kermit’s team a lot of credit,” Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman said. “They really competed.
“He’ll change up defenses, they’ll play some 1-3-1, they’ll play some man.
“Kermit’s teams always play extremely hard, so they’ll compete and I’m sure they’re feeling good coming off of a win, and especially coming off of a road win.”
Ole Miss junior guard Matthew Murrell had 23 points, 9 rebounds and 3 assists at South Carolina and hit 8 of 15 shots, including 5 of 11 three-pointers.
“Any time you win a game on the road in our league, it’s a really good feeling,” Davis said.
Murrell is averaging a team-high 15.6 points.
“Murrell’s a really good scorer,” Musselman said. “He’s got three-point range. You’ve got to chase him off screens with the high hand before the catch.
“You’ve got to locate him as he comes across half court. Can’t give him any air space.”
Ole Miss forward Jaemyn Bradfield, a 6-8 junior, had 8 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists against the Gamecocks.
“It’s a big confidence booster,” Bradfield said of winning at South Carolina. “Now we’re building towards Arkansas.
“We know they’re a tough opponent, and we’re going to go there and give it all we’ve got.”
The Rebels have lost five in a row against the Razorbacks and last won at Walton Arena in 2015.
“We know it’s going to be a good crowd, and we’re going to try to put on a show,” Bradfield said. “Obviously it would be a great win for us.”
Ole Miss sophomore guard Daeshun Ruffin will be available for today’s game, Davis said, after missing the previous two games because of an illness.
Ruffin, the only McDonald’s High School All-American to play at Ole Miss, is averaging 8.6 points and 17.2 minutes in nine games this season. He averaged 12.6 points and 25.9 minutes in 14 games last season before suffering a knee injury.
“Just because you get cleared to play doesn’t mean you’re 1,000%, got all the pop back and everything,” Davis said of Ruffin’s recovery. “It’s ongoing.”
Arkansas is playing without sophomore forward Trevon Brazile and freshman guard Nick Smith.
Brazile suffered a season-ending knee injury in the ninth game. Smith will miss his eighth consecutive game — and 14th of season — as he continues working to recover from a knee injury.
“We’ve been through injuries, too, and they’ve had two critical injuries to Smith and Brazile,” Davis said. “Your team changes.
“I don’t care who you are, your depth, how well you’ve recruited. If you lose two high-caliber players it affects your team.
“They’re young, and I think they’re trying to find their way. They’ve got transfers trying to blend in.
“They’re trying some different lineups to try to get the right pieces. I think injuries have been a big part of it. But I think it’s still a really good Arkansas team.”
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