After a brutal week that featured a combined four losses between them in Southeastern Conference play, the No. 25 Arkansas Razorbacks and Missouri Tigers will square off in a pivotal contest on Wednesday night in Columbia, Mo.
In the SEC's second full week of play, Arkansas (12-5, 1-4) struggled through a pair of double-digit blowouts -- 84-69 at home against No. 4 Alabama and 97-84 at Vanderbilt. Meanwhile, Missouri (13-4, 2-3) was beaten twice on the road, 82-64 by streaking Texas A&M and 73-64 by Florida.
Entering Saturday's game in Nashville against the Commodores, Arkansas coach Eric Musselman was seeking a better performance from long range. In three losses prior to that game, the Razorbacks made 8 of 51 3-point attempts (15.7 percent).
In the only triumph during their past five games, a 74-68 victory over Missouri on Jan. 4, the Razorbacks connected on 6 of 21 trey attempts (28.6 percent). Arkansas' Ricky Council IV scored a game-high 25 points in that contest, making 2 of 7 from beyond the arc and 11 of 13 at the free-throw line. Sean East II posted 13 points to top the Tigers, but they were severely outrebounded 40-23.
Defense proved to be the Razorbacks' biggest problem in the Music City. Following Vanderbilt's 34-point first half, Arkansas allowed the Commodores to pour in 63 over the final 20 minutes.
"I just think we got a lot of guys still trying to figure out how to win on the road, how to win in conference," Musselman said. "I mean, I've coached a lot of games and I can't remember a defensive team giving up 63 points in a half."
At 1-4 in the SEC, Arkansas is tied with LSU and Mississippi State for the next-to-last spot in the conference. Only winless Ole Miss (0-5) prevents the Razorbacks from sliding into the conference's basement.
However, there is precedent for the slow start: The Razorbacks opened SEC play at 2-4 in 2020-21 and 0-3 in 2021-22 but advanced to the NCAA Tournament's Elite Eight each time.
For the Tigers, re-establishing their potent offense is a priority after scoring a season-low 64 points in their past two setbacks, both on the road.
While winning 13 of their first 15 outings, Missouri averaged 87.1 points per game, but the two losses have left first-year coach Dennis Gates looking for more offense from his shooters.
"The second half, I thought we had wide-open shots," Gates said after the loss to the Gators. "I thought our guys were able to execute the offensive game plan. When you have Nick Honor 0-for-3 from 3, when you have Noah Carter 0-for-3 from 3, Sean East 0-for-2, I think that would have gave us some confidence if those guys saw that ball go in on those open shots."
In the trio of conference defeats to Arkansas, Texas A&M and Florida, Missouri was only 16-for-68 (23.5 percent) from long range.
Wednesday's matchup will be the 60th in a series that dates back to the Tigers' 54-32 home win on Dec. 18, 1950. Arkansas leads 33-26 all time, but Missouri owns a 16-12 edge on its home court. The Razorbacks have won the past five encounters.
--Field Level Media
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