Arkansas falls on hard times
Published: Saturday, February 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 1, 2003 at 2:14 a.m.
For 17 years under Nolan Richardson, Arkansas basketball was known as "40 minutes of hell."
This season under first-year coach Stan Heath, the Razorbacks could be more accurately described as "40 minutes ... Oh well."
When Arkansas plays No. 4 Florida at 1 p.m. today at the O'Connell Center, the Gators will be facing a Razorbacks team that is in limbo.
After Arkansas fired Richardson after last season, it cost the team some of its top talent. J.J. Sullinger, one of the SEC's top freshmen a year ago, transferred to Ohio State and Andre Iguodala, who had committed to the Razorbacks, had a change of heart and headed to Arizona.
When Arkansas made the bold move of hiring Heath, who piloted Kent State to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament last year, it secured the future of the program.
But the present isn't pretty.
The Razorbacks (6-10, 1-4 in the SEC) are off to their worst start since the 1973-74 season. They haven't won a road game this season. They've lost 6 of 7.
Today, they're running into one of the hottest teams in the country. Florida has won 13 straight and can tie a school record with a win today. With a game against Kentucky looming on Tuesday, it may be a little difficult for the Gators to focus on today's game, against the SEC's worst, when the battle to determine the SEC's best is only days away.
"It's hard not to think about that Kentucky game," Florida freshman Anthony Roberson said. "But Coach always tells us to go into each game like it's our last. No matter who it is, each night you can lose."
Today, a Florida loss would appear very unlikely. While this game may not prove to be the mismatch that it seems, it also should be the easiest conference game of the season for the Gators.
"They got a good win against LSU (in Fayetteville) and they're playing some teams close," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "I haven't even started talking about Kentucky, because we're playing Arkansas now."
The Razorbacks' stay in the SEC cellar should be a short one. Heath's first signing class was rated as the best in the conference. With a lot of young players like freshmen Eric Ferguson and Jonathon Modica showing potential, Arkansas could be in a situation similar to Auburn a year ago. Last year the Tigers were pitiful, but young, and this year they're leading the SEC West.
While this game may seem like an easy one for the Gators, the memory of the West Virginia loss still remains as a constant reminder as to what can happen if Florida doesn't play well.
"We're not good enough that we can just show up and win," Donovan said. "If we don't play well against Arkansas, chances are they'll come in here and beat us.
"We're a basketball team where if we play well and play together we can beat anybody. If we don't do those things, anybody can beat us."
You can reach Dylan B. Tomlinson by calling 374-5054 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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