Ailing rivals seek first SEC win

Arkansas is 0-3 and Ole Miss 0-2 in their first conference games.

Published: Saturday, January 17, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 17, 2004 at 12:36 a.m.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - Arkansas and Mississippi started Southeastern Conference play confident with matching 8-3 records. In the past 10 days, the schools are a combined 0-5 in league games.

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Arkansas head coach Stan Heath, pleading with a referee in Wednesday's loss to Alabama, is 17-25 in his two years at Arkansas.

The Associated Press

Arkansas (8-6, 0-3 SEC) has been manhandled by LSU, Mississippi State and Alabama. Ole Miss (8-5, 0-2) has had a week to think about a 27-point beating they took at Auburn after starting SEC play with a seven-point loss to No. 20 Mississippi State.

One will get its first SEC win when they meet at 2 p.m. today in Fayetteville.

Before losing to LSU, the Razorbacks were coming off two confidence-boosting wins. A road victory at Tulsa, avenging a close loss from last year, and the highest point total in Stan Heath's brief career at Arkansas with a 96-61 win over North Texas boosted hopes that the Razorbacks wouldn't repeat an 0-3 start in SEC play for the third time in four years.

Arkansas is 0-3 again because of poor shooting, inability to stop opponents inside and failure to convert on the few chances it has had at the free throw line.

``Our confidence is probably a little shaky right now,'' said Heath, who is 17-25 in his second season at Arkansas. ``We want to encourage the fans to come out and give us a lift. My job and the job of our coaches is to put us in a position to win games and we're trying to do that.''

The Razorbacks have shot 42.6 percent or worse the past three games and they're a woeful 17 of 39 from the line for 43.6 percent. By comparison, their opponents are averaging 46.4 percent from the field and 72 percent from the line with more than twice the attempts at 82.

Arkansas has lost seven in a row and 10 of the last 11 to Ole Miss. The Razorbacks' last win over the Rebels was a 71-64 victory in 2000 in Fayetteville and they haven't swept a season series since 1995-96.

Mississippi coach Rod Barnes said he hopes the good experience against Arkansas holds up this time.

``Both of us are battling and trying to get that first SEC win,'' Barnes said. ``I'm trying to impress upon my new guys how hard it is and how much you have to focus in order to win a game in the SEC. Hopefully some of our veterans can step up and carry their confidence over to the new guys, because they've had such good success in Fayetteville in the past.''

Forward Justin Reed leads the Rebels with 18.2 points and 8.5 rebounds per game and he was the only one who played well in the 80-53 loss at Auburn. He scored 20 points, while no one else on the team had more than six.

The 6-foot-8 junior teams with 6-7 senior Aaron Harper, who averages 13.8 points and 4.5 rebounds, to give Ole Miss an inside presence that will test Arkansas' weakness.

``Both of those guys have been there a long time,'' Heath said. ``It seems like Ole Miss has had our number the last few years.''

Heath said the 0-3 start is frustrating, but Arkansas is still playing with

a young team. Eight of the 11 players receiving the majority of minutes are freshmen or sophomores and senior Billy Pharis (8.9 points and 4.1 rebounds per game) is playing his first season at Arkansas.

``It's not the way you want to go,'' Heath said. ``It's happened to other teams as well. We knew we would go through some growing pains. We're improved in some areas like shooting and passing, but we lost some toughness inside. Also, the league hasn't dropped off as much as some people thought it would.''

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