Monday, March 09, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Tournament bound Hogs close season against LSU

Special to The Leader

FAYETTEVILLE - Before they play the season’s Walton Arena finale today, the hosting Arkansas Razorbacks LSU Tigers could entertain each other with recent tales of the inexplicable.

Arkansas (24-6, 13-4) in the SEC, is two games ahead of third-place and assured second behind Kentucky. LSU (21-9, 10-7) is tied for SEC fifth with Georgia and plays Arkansas for the first time this season at 1 p.m today at Walton on ESPN.

LSU, commencing the week seemingly NCAA Tournament bound, veered badly towards the bubble in its final home game Wednesday night against a Tennessee team it throttled 73-55 earlier this season in Knoxville. Coach Johnny Jones’ Tigers were routed 78-63 at the Maravich Center.

No. 18 Arkansas, a lock for the NCAA Tournament but nonetheless unhinged in last Saturday’s 84-67 loss at Kentucky, went Thurs-day to Columbia, S.C, assumed a 22-point lead during the first half over the now 14-15, 5-12 South Carolina Gamecocks that Arkansas whipped 75-55  on Feb. 3 at Walton. Arkansas not only lost Thursday’s lead but trailed by 11 during the second half before closing with an 18-3 run to win 78-74.

“Well, I said it on TV, we giveth and we taketh away,” Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said Thursday on postgame radio. “We were up in this game by 20 and South Carolina got some momentum there right before halftime. They came out in the second half and they were possessed. It was a game of runs, but thank God we had the last run. We had some big plays down the stretch by some key guys.”

“Key guys” Portis, Arkansas’ 6-11 All-SEC forward and strong candidate to be named SEC Player of the Year, scored 24 points with eight rebounds and a blocked shot while junior guard Qualls scored 18 with seven rebounds. Senior guard Ky Madden registered nine points, nine assists and seven rebounds while Anthlon Bell scored 17 off the bench.

LSU has two forwards nearly averaging a double-double and destined for the NBA. SEC leading shot-blocker, 6-foot-8 Jordan Mickey and 6-10 Jarrell Martin. Its  6-6 guard  Tim Quarterman, Monday was named SEC Player of the Week after an 18 points/10 rebounds/10 assists triple double against Ole Miss.

Didn’t matter to Tennessee. Hornsby couldn’t believe Tennessee’s dominance.

“It was a new experience for us, teams taking it to us in the second half and hitting every shot,” Hornsby said. “I felt like we were looking around like, ‘What’s the right way to respond?’ In a game like this, you can’t do that.”

Even with a big nonconference victory over Big 12 power West Virginia and a home and home SEC sweep of Ole Miss, and taking Kentucky to the 71-69 wire, Jones knows the Tennessee loss at home reminds the NCAA Selection Committee that SEC bottom feeders Auburn, in Baton Rouge, and Missouri, in Columbia, Mo., both defeated LSU.

“Unfortunately, we’ve had some tough home losses that certainly don’t help you,” Jones said. “We’re hopeful, because some of the wins we have and places we’ve won against the caliber of competition we’ve played, that it balances itself out.”

They know nothing could favorably tip the balance going into next week’s SEC Tournament than upsetting Arkansas at Walton.

“They’re all must-win,” Hornsby said. “We have to move on and learn from the issues we had and face Arkansas.”

Arkansas strives both to continue momentum from its comeback in Columbia into the SEC Tournament in Nashville, Tenn. and give its fans fond remembrance on a Senior Day farewell to native sons Madden of Lepanto via East Poinsett County High and starting forward Alandise Harris of Little Rock Central.

“We are looking forward to coming home and finishing this thing out in a strong, strong fashion,” Anderson said. “These guys are leaving it all on the floor. We are looking forward to having a great, great audience at Bud Walton Arena on national TV. It’s a quick turnaround and our guys are spent right now, but they will be ready when we tip it up.”