Funny how weeks can go from good to bad so fast. Scratch that: Insert “from this-is-the-beginning to this-is-the-end.” Too much? How about: “phenomenally good to a real stinker.” Cool your jets. Take a little more time to think it over. “... From earth-shakingly transcendent to just back-to-earth OK” sounds more like it. One loss is one loss. Those two wins aren't going anywhere.
Hog fans can be forgiven for swelling with hope beyond reason after back-to-back wins over top 10 competition. We've been in a long drought, one fraught with mirages and underperformance, and we're thirsty for this kind of national recognition. One of the most remarkable things about those two wins was the eagerness of the fans to scream their heads off in jubilation and support. No team wants to play the Razorbacks in Bud Walton.
But if the fans can be forgiven for over-estimating the impact those two stunners would have on the rest of our season, so can the Razorback players. Coach Pelphrey saw the hangover coming — knew the side effects of excessive euphoria, warned against losing focus — but he could do nothing to stop it. Players responded to a week straight of heady adulation with their most lackluster performance of the season. Defense fell off the map in the second half, and as a loss began to feel more inevitable, the team chemistry built up over the last few games gave way to desperation, with shots flung up like prayers from out of control ball handlers.
It should be obvious to most that John Pelphrey coached his way to those previous victories. From overall strategy to inbounds plays, he did everything right. But what he did best was convincing his young players to take the court as a team. By encouraging unselfish play and dogged effort, and by seeing that mindset rewarded, he earned the trust of the team. It would be a shame to let that slip away because he got out-maneuvered by Rick Stansbury, one of the better coaches in the SEC. Stansbury's four-guard strategy is tough enough to defend when the Bulldogs aren't sinking threes. Last Saturday, they were all daggers from beyond the arc.
The absolute worst thing about the loss is that it came at home. We need every win we can get in conference play, and who knows how this green bunch will perform on the road?
This weekend at Florida (14-2) is shaping up to be one of the biggest games of the season. A win at Pelphrey's old stomping grounds would right the ship, but a loss might do away with our momentum for good. They've been beat by a veteran Syracuse team on the home court already this year. That game was decided by the play of a dynamic young point guard. For Courtney Fortson, who lately has seemed frustrated and hotheaded, this game could be sweet redemption. However, he must take care of the ball. Florida prizes turnovers as much as the Hogs do.
I also believe we can compete with them under the basket, even though they have the size on us. Our offensive rebounding has been superlative, but we have to capitalize on second chance points. Monk and Sanchez just have to play as mean as possible. Florida's 55-57 defeat at Florida State can be chalked up to toughness, an integral ingredient to any upset, and the one thing a rough loss can't take away from us.