GAME NOTES: A pair of SEC squads coming off losses try to make amends on Thursday night, as the Arkansas Razorbacks pay a visit to the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Arkansas' 12-7 record may appear solid on the surface, but it's been a tale of two seasons for the Razorbacks, who have been outstanding on their home floor (12-1), but have yet to taste victory in six combined away and neutral-court affairs. The team's road woes continued last Saturday, as it fell to South Carolina in blowout fashion, 75-54, to dip to 3-3 in the SEC.
Alabama boasts an identical 12-7 mark as Arkansas this season, but it has played better against conference foes, claiming four wins in its first five league games, highlighted by a 59-55 home triumph over Kentucky on Jan. 22 (59-55). The Tide recently had their four-game win streak come to end however, losing to Tennessee in heartbreaking fashion last Saturday, 54-53.
Arkansas leads the all-time series with Alabama, 28-26, and the Crimson Tide have closed the gap with three straight wins.
The Razorbacks fell behind South Carolina last Saturday at the half by 17 points and simply could not recover. It was one of the worst offensive performances of the season by Arkansas, which is usually potent at that end of the court with a .453 field goal percentage and 78.3 ppg (second in the SEC). The team shot just 34.4 percent from the field in the loss, which included just a pair of 3-pointers on 16 attempts (.125). Marshawn Powell was able to transcend the struggles of his teammates with an outstanding effort, compiling 22 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks, all while shooting 9-of-14 from the floor. Powell has been one of the conference's best forwards all season (15.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg, .542 FG percentage), but he has played his best ball recently, averaging 20.8 ppg, 7.5 rpg and 2.5 bpg in the last four games. B.J. Young is usually the Razorbacks' answer in the backcourt, netting 16.4 ppg while amassing more than twice as many assists (74) as turnovers (34). A big reason for Arkansas' success has been its outstanding turnover margin (+6.5), which ranks behind only Louisville and VCU nationally.
The Crimson Tide appeared to be in control against Tennessee the last time out, as it was up seven with just over six minutes remaining, but 'Bama scored only six more points down the stretch and allowed the Vols to move ahead in the final minute. Alabama was impressive with its field goal attempts (21- of-45, .467), but it was just 5-of-11 from the foul line and lost key possessions by getting outrebounded, 37-22. Trevor Releford was fantastic in defeat, shooting 7-of-11 from the field, which included a perfect 3-of-3 from beyond the arc, en route to 18 points, while Trevor Lacey and Rodney Cooper added 11 and 10 points, respectively. Alabama is able to remain competitive thanks to an outstanding scoring defense, which ranks second in the league in allowing just 58.6 ppg, but it can barely support that defensive approach with a mere 64.5 ppg at the offensive end. Releford has been impressive all season long, averaging 16.1 ppg and coming up with two steals per contest, while boasting an outstanding field goal percentage for a 6-foot guard (.494). Lacey rounds out a sound backcourt with 12.1 ppg and 3.6 apg, while Cooper chips in 11.2 ppg and a team-best 4.2 rpg.
The Razorbacks have the talent to make some noise in the SEC, but they won't be considered a serious contender until they prove they can win on the road. Expect the Tide's defensive pressure to stifle Arkansas in this one.
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