FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – A little more than a week ago, Arkansas was celebrating its first national ranking in nearly three years following an overtime win over No. 24 Tennessee.
Little has gone right since then for the Razorbacks (11-5), who lost their third straight game on Wednesday night – a 75-54 defeat at the hands of LSU. The loss sent Arkansas to 1-3 in the Southeastern Conference for the second straight year.
The Razorbacks, who host Missouri (12-4, 2-1) on Saturday, recovered from their slow start a year ago and finished 12-6 in the SEC, lifting them to their second NCAA Tournament appearance in three seasons. A third trip in four years this season was all but a given for many in Arkansas last month while the school dominated much of its non-conference schedule.
Now, there's a nervous energy surrounding what had the look of possibly coach Mike Anderson's best team in his seven seasons leading the Razorbacks.
"Our confidence is still up," guard Jaylen Barford said. "We've got six seniors that have been here before, and the same thing happened last year and we ended up going on a winning streak."
Barford is one of those six seniors, and he led the Razorbacks with 17 points in the loss to the Tigers . He was the only Arkansas player to finish in double figures, a troubling sign for a team that entered SEC play with five scorers averaging more than 10 points per game.
The Razorbacks shot a season-worst 33.3 percent in the loss, including a startling 6 of 33 (18.2 percent) in the first half. The shooting woes were the result of an LSU defense focused on limiting Arkansas freshman Daniel Gafford's touches near the basket as well as the continuation of the team's overall struggles in SEC play.
After leading the SEC in scoring throughout non-conference play with an average of 90 points per game, Arkansas has been limited to 75.2 points per game in league play. That drop is highlighted by the falloff of sophomore guard C.J. Jones, who averaged in double figures during non-conference action but has hit just 4 of 17 shots, including 0 of 8 on 3-pointers, in the SEC – including a pair of first-half air balls on Wednesday night.
As much as the Razorbacks have struggled offensively, their recent defensive woes have been nearly as bad. They allowed LSU to shoot 52.7 percent for the game, with freshman guard Tremont Waters picking apart the Arkansas defense seemingly at will, and they offered little resistance as the Tigers pushed their lead to as many as 24 points in the first half.
"Our defense was not very good at the rim, and when you do that you're going to have these kinds of results," Anderson said. "We've got to fix it. That's the bottom line, we've got to fix it. And we've got to play with that edge we've always played with."
That edge has been missing for Arkansas since the Tennessee win, with their losses having come at Mississippi State, at Auburn at most recently against the Tigers.
It's an attitude the Razorbacks will try and rediscover when they host Mizzou Saturday.
"We've just got to keep pushing, keep our heads up," Barford said. "We can't dwell on three losses, because it's a long year. We've got a lot more games to go."