Arkansas sees Alabama as ‘must-win’ game

Mike Anderson isn’t ready to hit the panic button – yet.

The Arkansas coach appears, however, as though he’s about to

loosen the shackles on the Razorbacks.

Arkansas (17-10, 5-7 Southeastern Conference) suffered its first

loss this season in Bud Walton Arena in a 98-68 drubbing by No. 12

Florida on Saturday. The Razorbacks’ first blemish at home after a

17-0 start was also the school’s worst defeat in the arena since it

opened in 1993.

The loss was Arkansas’ fourth in five games and fifth in its

last seven – jeopardizing what had been a surprising and feel-good

season in Anderson’s first year at the helm.

Next up for the Razorbacks is what freshman guard BJ Young

called a ”must-win” game against Alabama (17-9, 6-6) on Thursday

night.

It’s a game Arkansas needs to win to keep alive its goal of

finishing in the top four in the SEC, as well as any hopes of

reaching a postseason tournament.

”That’s what we talked about this season,” Anderson said.

”It’s going to be a season where you’re going to have some peaks

and you’re going to have some valleys. I think the true character

of a team is how you respond when you have some of those

valleys.”

To respond against a Crimson Tide team that defeated the

Razorbacks 72-66 on Jan. 28, Arkansas must find a way to rekindle

an offense that has struggled as of late. The Razorbacks are

averaging 62.5 points per game during their last four losses and

have shot just 39.3 percent during that span.

Young, who leads Arkansas in scoring at 15.1 points per game,

has flourished in the last four games – averaging 23, including a

career-high 31 against the Gators. Anderson said, however, that the

freshman needs more help from his teammates.

He also said the Razorbacks need to find a way to return to

their pressure defense in order to kick-start the offense.

”I’ve got to get them now where they’re not thinking,”

Anderson said. ”They’ve got to play instinctively. … We’ve got

to be a team that’s going to get after people and not let people

run the offense. We’ve been playing just like other people. When

you do that, you’re playing right into other people’s game – a

half-court, just a half-court game.”

Despite Arkansas’ blowout loss to Florida, Alabama coach Anthony

Grant is well aware of the Razorbacks’ success this season at home

– where they have wins over three ranked teams.

”Anytime you go on the road, you know you’re going to be in a

hostile environment and Arkansas, in my opinion, is one of the best

environments in our league if not our country,” Grant said.

The Crimson Tide, coming off a 62-50 win over Tennessee, enter

the game short-handed once again due to the recent suspensions of

leading scorers JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell. Green’s

suspension was lifted on Monday, but Grant said he’ll miss the

Arkansas game, while Mitchell is out for the rest of the

season.

Despite the suspensions, Alabama remains focused on making its

first NCAA tournament appearance since 2006.

Arkansas, meanwhile, is hardly in a position to take any team

lightly after its disappointing loss to the Gators.

”We expect them to come out and fight just as hard or even

harder if they did have those two guys,” Young said. ”They

probably feel like they have something to prove since those guys

are not playing.

”We expect they’ll come bring their best shot, and we expect

them to take our best shot, too.”

Sophomore guard Mardracus Wade, who leads the SEC in 3-point

shooting at 47.8 percent, said the Razorbacks have done their best

to keep negative thoughts from sinking in after the loss. He also

said Anderson made it clear he wants Arkansas to get back to having

fun on the court.

”He said to all the players, if anybody feels like he’s holding

us back or holding any one of us back, he said he’s letting off the

handcuffs,” Wade said. ”He said to just go out there and play and

react off instincts instead of being out there thinking, `Should I

do this or should I do that? Just go out there and play the

game.”’

AP Sports Writer John Zenor in Tuscaloosa, Ala., contributed to

this report.