FAYETTEVILLE - No more whining about the disrespect of not being ranked.
And no more whining about officiating. At least not this time.
Arkansas fans now face the facts that their Razorbacks, after cracking last week’s AP Top 25 clear up to No. 22, went 0-2 losing SEC games, 78-75 last Tuesday the Mississippi State Bulldogs in Starkville, Miss. and lost 88-77 last Saturday to the Auburn Tigers in Auburn, Ala.
Seems unlikely at Sunday’s writing that the Razorbacks will be in this week’s Top 25 issued Monday.
As for the officiating, the eyebrow raising of Mississippi State sent to the line to attempt 40 free throws to Arkansas’ 12 seemed a legitimate beef.
But no road team will gripe about attempting 19 free throws to the home team’s 22 happening at Auburn.
Any Arkansas foul trouble seemed of its own making. Outstanding 6-11 freshman Daniel Gafford of El Dorado amassed three of his four fouls reaching on the perimeter.
“Daniel (eight points, four rebounds and a blocked shot in 17 minutes) was effective but he got some of those touch fouls,” Anderson said. “He has to learn.”
Some facts must be faced. SEC fans wanted a better basketball league. They’ve got it. This season’s SEC is so tough that the preseason SEC favored Texas A&M Aggies, 0-3 in the SEC, are the only winless team in league play.
Coach Ben Howland’s Mississippi State Bulldogs, 16-16 overall last season and Coach Bruce Pearl’s Auburn Tigers, 18-14 last season, appear vastly improved at 13-2 and 14-1 overall.
It’s a tough league top to bottom making every road victory precious and taking care of home a must. Taking care of SEC home is Arkansas’ task this week. At Walton Arena they host the LSU Tigers at 8 p.m. Wednesday on the SEC Network and the Missouri Tigers at 5 p.m. Saturday on ESPN2.
To take care of home, Anderson and his Razorbacks first must evaluate what happened on the road.
Pearl’s Tigers turned in some defensive gems during their 47-30 first half.
“We talked about coming into an emotional, charged up crowd,” Anderson said. “You’ve got just to withstand that first five minutes and they came out and they could not miss and it just seemed we were on our heels. But credit them.”
Pearl said, “Arkansas is so good that we knew that we could play well tonight and not win, but we played so well in the first half and built ourselves a terrific lead. In the first half I thought we dictated defensively and that was the big difference.”
It was a difference the Razorbacks couldn’t make up but they sure tried.
“They came out and threw the first punch, but credit our guys in the second half,” Anderson said. “We came out and we punched back.”
Their comeback shot proved too long a shot hitting but 4 of 19 threes to Auburn’s 11 of 20.
“They are going to beat a lot of people here because they are such an energy team,” Anderson said postgame Saturday at Auburn Arena. “When they make shots, it makes it difficult. We made 4 of 19 threes tonight and we are a much better shooting team than that. But we did the other little things to give ourselves a chance.”
Auburn gained renowned for its rebounding but Arkansas claimed the boards, 35-30.
“I know people look at our team and think we don’t rebound but we rebounded tonight,” Anderson said. “It kept us in the second half.”
Arkansas’ bench, big in the Razorbacks’ 10-2 nonconference start but outplayed by the Tennessee and Mississippi State reserves, held its own against Auburn.
Freshman reserve guard Darious Hall of Little Rock Mills, promising nonconference but definitely looking not ready for SEC prime time at home against SEC, played poised at Auburn, Ala. grabbing six rebounds and scoring seven points, including 3 of 3 from the field at Auburn.
“Darious Hall came out and played with his heart,” Anderson said.
So did Trey Thompson, the 6-9 senior and Forrest City High grad.
Thompson played 23 minutes to Gafford’s 17 not just because of Gafford’s foul trouble but because Thompson was more effective player against Auburn. Thompson netted eight points, six rebounds, two assists and a steal.
“He can do more than just pass the basketball,” Anderson said of Thompson’s surprising big man’s gift for assists. “We want him to be a threat. He has a high basketball IQ and knocked down a couple of big free throws while we we were making our run and we we have got to continue to have that.”