By Nate Allen
Special to the News-Times
FAYETTEVILLE - Two recently rising, aspiring to be NCAA Tournament teams suddenly that were knocked down a peg aspire to rise again.
However, only one will rise and the other will fall again when the Arkansas Razorbacks (19-9 overall and 8-7 in the SEC) and the Alabama Crimson Tide (17-11 and 8-7 in the SEC), tipoff at 5 p.m. today on SEC Network television at Alabama’s Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa.
Coach Avery Johnson’s Crimson Tide had won three of its last four, 68-50 at Florida, and 78-50 and 80-65 in Tuscaloosa over No. 19 Tennessee and over the LSU Tigers, who have swept Arkansas.
But an 81-71 loss at Kentucky and especially a 90-71 obliteration performed Wednesday by the Auburn Tigers, Alabama’s instate archival, has temporarily drained the Tide to low ebb.
Auburn (23-4) is ranked 12th nationally, but had both lost at South Carolina and lost starting forward Anfernee McLemore to a season-ending injury.
Because of illness the day of the game, Auburn lost starting guard and second-leading scorer Mustapha Heron to before rolling the Tide in Auburn, Ala.
Meanwhile coach Mike Anderson’s Razorbacks had just won four consecutively and really believed at their Walton Arena they would beat Kentucky Tuesday.
But after an 11-0 start, they were tied 43-43 at half, then fizzled in the second half to an 87-72 defeat.
So both teams reel, but each knows how good their team, and their opponent, can be on any given day.
“Mike is a good friend and he's got them playing some really good basketball at the right time in the season,” Johnson said.
“They had a little bit of a lag there in the middle of SEC play, but they're coming on strong. They have some outstanding young players, but obviously the key to their team is their backcourt.”
Anderson says Alabama’s length, athleticism and ability to rebound is similar to Kentucky, whose length, athleticism and ability to rebound obliterated Arkansas during Tuesday’s second half at Walton.
Other than being a junior instead of a freshman, Alabama 6-9 forward Donta Hall is Kentucky-like in length and quickness and rebounding hops.
He has blocked 64 shots while developing a jump shot he didn’t have with such proficiency last season.
“The Donta Hall kid has really improved,” Anderson said.
Petty, a 6-5 off guard, averages 10.6 points as Alabama’s third-leading scorer behind Sexton, 6-3, and Hall and teams with another 6-5 athletic off guard, Dazon Ingram, who is averaging 9.9 points and 5.7 boards.
Sexton averaging 18.4 points and 3.4 assists, is considered one of the great freshman point guards in the country and Arkansas already has played against some great ones in Oklahoma’s Trae Young and LSU’s Tremont Waters.
“He’s like an energizer for their basketball team,” Anderson said.
“A lot of things start with him. When he’s playing well, they are playing awfully well.”