For this Arkansas team and John Pelphrey regime, tonight’s clash

versus Auburn becomes THE most pivotal game  of the campaign.

FAYETTEVILLE - For this Arkansas team and John Pelphrey regime, tonight’s clash
versus Auburn becomes THE most pivotal game  of the campaign.

The Razorbacks, 12-6, 2-3, and Auburn Tigers, 7-12, 0-5, meet in an 8 p.m. ESPNU
televised SEC West game at Walton Arena.

Beat Auburn tonight, and Arkansas at least continues as the homebody Hogs. That’s
not great given the Razorbacks’ hapless struggle to win outside of their 11-0 at
Walton. But at least with these six SEC games and one nonconference game left here
they could stay on course for a 19-win likely NIT invite season. That probably
holds the fort until the November signed recruiting class the recruiting gurus
promise will be Pelphrey’s panacea arrives for 2011-2012.

Lose to a SEC winless Auburn team at home after  Arkansas was embarrassed 75-43 last
Saturday at Florida and all bets are off. Visions of the 2-14 SEC meltdown Arkansas
suffered two seasons ago under fourth-year coach Pelphrey would be a nightmare
horrifying all, especially those who played through it.

“We have to win,” Arkansas junior two-year letterman guard Rotnei Clarke said.  “We
must win. There are  no other options.”

With tonight’s setting and opposition, they will probably will win.

Nonetheless it’s hardly a given. Auburn is 0-5 in the SEC and winless all games away
from Auburn, Ala., but in its last nonconference game stunned,  65-60  the same
Florida State Seminoles that later  knocked off then No. 1 reigning national
champion Duke.

Then compare Florida scores.

The game before the Gators gashed Arkansas, 75-43 in Gainesville, Florida  eked by
Auburn, 45-40 at Auburn.

Last Saturday  at Auburn the Tigers extended current SEC West leader Alabama before
finally succumbing, 68-58.

The 45-40 score versus Florida indicates how first-year Auburn coach Tony Barbee
intends to build an Auburn program he inherited at low ebb  lowered again with the
season-ending injury to returning starting guard Frankie Sullivan.

“I have been pleased with our effort defensively against Alabama and Florida,”
Barbee said.  “But this isn’t baseball, we aren’t going to pitch many shutouts.”

Losing Sullivan certainly didn’t enhance Auburn’s ability to score.

Only  6-5 sixth-man/sometime starter Earnest Ross, 12.7, averages double figures for
all Auburn game.  In SEC games Ross averages 13.6, including 20 against Alabama,
while 6-8 junior forward Kenny Gabriel averages 13.4 in the league.

Though playing pretty well offensively in an 81-74 overtime loss last Wednesday at
South Carolina and beating Alabama the game before that in Fayetteville, the Hogs
can’t brim with offensive confidence coming off scoring but 43 points in

Clarke, the most feared 3-point shooter in the SEC, has Arkansas’ leading scoring
average for all games but averages just  7.8  points in SEC games. He scored but
five at South Carolina and zip at Florida.

“The reason he is struggling to score,” Barbee said,  “is how all the teams play him
defensively. He is such a threat because not only can he shoot the ball but he can
score the ball with pump fakes and getting  the mid-range shots. Teams are sticking
a defender on him with no concerns for about anything else that happens on the

Pelphrey expects the same from Barbee given how Barbee plotted a defense that
simultaneously stymied Florida guards Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker and Florida
forward Chandler Parsons into a bad shooting night.

“Auburn did a lot of things from a defensive standpoint to throw Florida off
balance,” Pelphrey said Saturday night on radio postgame at Gainesville. “A lot of
different things changing defenses. And I think it was one of those nights for
Florida where they were on the road and didn’t shoot very well.”

Arkansas and Clarke, Clarke scored 15 against Tennessee and 13 against Alabama, do
tend to shoot better at home.

When not idled by early foul trouble, Arkansas 6-7 sophomore forward Marshawn Powell
has scored well home and road in the SEC.

“Powell at his size can play inside and outside,” Barbee said.

Delvon Johnson, Arkansas’ senior center and SEC shot-block leader, also looms large
at Walton.

Arkansas (12-6, 2-3)

F-Marshawn Powell 6-7  So.  10.3 pts  4.0 rebs.

C-Delvon Johnson 6-9  Sr.    10.8        7.9

G-Jeff Peterson 6-0  Jr.         7.1      2.0

G-Julysses Nobles 6-1  So.   8.6     2.5

G-Rotnei Clarke    6-0    Jr.   12.3    3.4

Auburn (7-12, 0-5)

F-Allen Payne   6-6  Fr.   5.3 pts  3.1 rebs.

F-Kenny Gabriel  6-8  Jr.  9.9    6.1

C-Rob Chubb 6-10   So.    7.9    4.1

G-Josh Wallace 5-10  So. 5.3  2.1

G-Earnest Ross 6-5   So.  12.7  7.0