By ROBBIE NEISWANGER
Arkansas News Bureau
FAYETTEVILLE — Not much has gone right for Arkansas coach Mike Anderson’s team in the past three weeks, a stretch that includes five losses in the past six games.
But the Razorbacks most glaring problem, again, was highlighted during the 79-68 loss to Alabama in Bud Walton Arena on Thursday night. Arkansas’ in-your-face pressure defense largely has been replaced by a matador-like approach, allowing opponents to score points in bunches.
“Our defense is slacking right now,” Arkansas guard Julysess Nobles said. “We’ve got to pick it back up. We’ve got to start locking teams down and stop letting them go past us.”
Arkansas (17-11, 5-8 in Southeastern Conference) is hoping it can rediscover some defensive intensity when it plays at Auburn (14-13, 4-9) this afternoon. And then, in turn, enjoy a win for the first time in two weeks.
It’s a tall task for a team that has struggled defensively on the road this season, and one fighting fatigue as it makes a quick turnaround by playing on the road two days after the Alabama loss. But Anderson said the Razorbacks have no choice if they plan to end a three-game skid and keep hopes of playing in a postseason tournament intact.
“We’ll see what we’re made out of,” Anderson said. “That’s what I want to find out - what we’re made of. There’s still a lot of basketball. A lot that’s out there for this basketball team. So, to me, that’s the positive.”
Arkansas’ opponents have had an easy time scoring points during the three-game losing streak. Especially early.
Alabama became the third straight team to shoot better than 58 percent in the first half against the Razorbacks, joining Tennessee (68 percent) and Florida (61.5 percent). The three teams also combined to shoot 68.8 percent from behind the 3-point line in the first half, stinging Arkansas by making 22 of 32 attempts from long range.
So it’s little surprise the Razorbacks have trailed at halftime of each game, allowing an average of 48.3 points.
“I think our guys have got to understand that you’ve got to play defense for 40 minutes,” Anderson said. “I think offense gets you in position, but defense, to me, is what we’ve got to continue to work and hang our hats. Not only that, rebounding the basketball is a finishing part of defense. We’ve just got to make it a lot more difficult.
“Early in the year I thought we were doing that. We’ve just got to keep searching for answers until we find somebody that’s going to help us get some kind of defensive rhythm.”
There’s no doubt the energy and intensity is fading as the season wears on. Arkansas, which has largely played with eight scholarship players because of injuries since the Michigan win on Jan. 21, is slowing down. Opponents are taking advantage of the slide, too, finding it easier to beat Arkansas’ press, push the ball downcourt for layups and dunks in transition or get to the free-throw line.
Opponents averaged 71.9 points against the Razorbacks through eight SEC games. It has risen to 80 in the past five games, which included Florida’s 98-point effort last week.
“I think everybody is probably tired at this point in the season,” Arkansas guard BJ Young said. “Everybody is probably hitting that wall. But it’s just a matter of breaking through and just keep playing.”
Arkansas enters today’s game against Auburn ranked last in the SEC in scoring defense (69.1 points). The Tigers, meanwhile, are ranked 10th in scoring (63 points).
Arkansas won the first game this season — a low-scoring one — beating Auburn 56-53 in Bud Walton Arena in January. But Anderson said the Tigers present a bigger challenge the second time around, facing his fragile team at home.
He’s hoping the Razorbacks — who remain winless outside Bud Walton Arena this season — are ready for it.
“That’s going to be the ultimate challenge, I think, for our guys,” Anderson said. “They lost some games and they’ve lost a little confidence, but in basketball and this business you’ve got to have a short term memory. So we get a chance to go and do something we haven’t done. That’s win on the road and play against an Auburn team we played here, who was a physical and aggressive team. They play well at home.
“So it’s challenge for our basketball team.”
What: Auburn (14-13, 4-9 in SEC) at Arkansas (17-11, 5-8 in SEC)
Where: Auburn Arena in Auburn, Ala.
When: 3 p.m.
TV: SEC Network
Radio: Razorback Sports Network
Satellite: XM (200), Sirius (219)
Series: Arkansas leads 27-16
Last Meeting: Arkansas 56, Auburn 53 on 1/25/12
Coaches: Arkansas — Mike Anderson (17-11 in first season); Auburn — Tony Barbee (25-33 in second season)
Projected Lineup: Arkansas — F Marvell Waithe (6-9, Sr., 5.3 ppg), F Devonta Abron (6-9, Fr., 6.0 ppg), G BJ Young (6-3, Fr., 15.4 ppg), G Mardracus Wade (6-3, So., 10.4 ppg), G Rickey Scott (6-3, So., 9.2 ppg); Auburn — C Rob Chubb (6-10, Jr., 8.3 ppg), F Allen Payne (6-6, So., 3.7 ppg), F Kenny Gabriel (6-8, Sr., 12.1 ppg), G Josh Wallace (5-10, Jr., 3.2 ppg), G Frankie Sullivan (6-1, Fr., 12.3 ppg)