No. 14 Arkansas, 'hot at the right time,' meets 20-win LSU
No. 14 Arkansas is rolling having won 13 of its past 14 games, going 4-0 against ranked teams in that stretch and sitting tied for second place in the Southeastern Conference as the Razorbacks prepare to face visiting LSU on Wednesday at Fayetteville, Ark.
"I've just been so impressed the way that we've played throughout this whole streak," Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said. "When we struggled early, we talked about trying to get hot at the right time.
"What the group has done is they weathered a really, really tough schedule, and not only did they kind of weather it, they dominated it by winning basketball games against some incredible teams."
The host Razorbacks (23-6, 12-4 SEC) defeated then-No. 6 Kentucky 75-73 on Saturday.
"We've stepped up to the occasion," Musselman said. "If you're playing ranked teams and you go .500, sometimes that's pretty good, you know? They're not satisfied. They have a lot of belief in themselves as a group.
"I just want to keep getting better, and I want our players to understand that we've got a lot of areas that we can keep improving on. It's a fun group. We're having a blast. We're grinding in practice, but we're having fun, too.
JD Notae leads Arkansas with 19.1 points per game, while Jaylin Williams leads with 9.7 rebounds. Notae had a team-high 30 points against Kentucky, while Williams had 16 points and 12 rebounds.
"We've gone on the road and won some big games. I think right now we're playing really well," Musselman said. "We've still got two hard games. We're not satisfied at all."
LSU (20-9, 8-8), which will end its regular season Saturday at home against Alabama, was ranked No. 12 when it fell to Arkansas 65-58 on Jan. 15 at Baton Rouge, La.
Since then, the Tigers have gone 5-7, but coach Will Wade said his crew looked more like itself in a 75-55 home victory against Missouri on Saturday.
"I felt like the last month or so we really hadn't had an identity," Wade said. "At the beginning of the year, we had a pretty clearly defined identity. We played real hard on defense, our pressure (defense) was really good, and we used our defense to turn into offense."
The team's defensive identity showed up in the second half, especially. The previous five LSU opponents had averaged 45.4 points in that half. LSU outscored Missouri 45-31 in the second half.
"Usually we have some slippage between the first and second halves," said Tari Eason, who led the Tigers with 18 points before fouling out with two minutes remaininng. "But I think our starters did the best job I've seen all year by starting the second half with the same mentality and plan of attack."
The Tigers have lost eight of their past 13 games, but they have reached the 20-win milestone and seem well-positioned for the NCAA Tournament entering the final week of the regular season.
"When you get to 20 wins, that's kind of the benchmark that you've had a pretty good season in college basketball," Wade said. "It's hard to win in the SEC; it's hard to win any Division I game.
"(But) I don't think anybody's going to be satisfied if we win just 20 this year. So we need to keep moving forward."
--Field Level Media
Updated February 28, 2022