FAYETTEVILLE (AP) — John Pelphrey wanted no part of a discussion about Arkansas’ chances of earning a bye in the Southeastern Conference tournament.
The Razorbacks’ coach refused to look at what-ifs and possible seeding scenarios, preferring to talk Monday only about a critical game with Mississippi State on Wednesday night.
"The biggest focus for us right now, all that aside, is we want to win this game," Pelphrey said.
Arkansas (18-10, 7-7 SEC) and the Bulldogs are currently tied for second in the SEC West behind Alabama, which has already secured the division title. Mississippi St. (15-13, 7-7) can clinch the division’s No. 2 seed with a win on Wednesday, along with a bye in next week’s conference tournament.
The Razorbacks can earn the bye only by beating the Bulldogs and then Mississippi on Saturday.
Pelphrey, for one, doesn’t want to hear it.
"There’s a lot of basketball still to be played," Pelphrey said. "For us to still be in there fighting and competing, that’s good. Nothing is complete, nothing is finished, so we need to continue to try to work and get better."
That the Razorbacks are in any discussion for a tournament bye didn’t seem likely after the last time they played the Bulldogs on Feb. 9. Mississippi State won that game 67-56 in Starkville, sending Arkansas to its third straight loss and a 4-6 conference record.
The Razorbacks have responded with four wins in five games, including a 3-1 mark in conference that includes a win over Kentucky.
"We knew we were capable of doing this, and hopefully it continues," Arkansas guard Rotnei Clarke said. "I feel like it’s the right time to get going and get a little streak going. We knew we had it in us, and it was just the fact of us not doing what we had to do to win games at the end or whatever it was.
"I think we’ve put it together, and we’re on a little run here."
Clarke, Arkansas’ leading scorer at 14.4 points per game, was held to nine points on 3 of 11 shooting the first time against the Bulldogs. Since then, the junior has averaged 20.6 points in five games and is 28 of 55 (50.9 percent) from the field and 18 of 32 (56.3 percent) from 3-point range.
He scored 26 points in the win over Kentucky and followed that with 17 points in a win at Auburn.
Clarke said the success has been a welcome turnaround after the Razorbacks went a combined 3-13 during the second half of SEC play over the past two seasons.
"It’s a lot more fun," Clarke said. "I think we said a couple of times during the season this is a different team. We have a different chemistry level, and I love those guys in the locker room.
"The outcome hasn’t always been great, but it’s a lot more fun going back to practice after our games because we know that effort is still going to be there."
Clarke said he looked forward to playing the two Mississippi schools and didn’t shy away from talking about possibly earning the higher seed and bye.
"We’d obviously love to have the two seed and not have to play in that first-round game," Clarke said. "That’s a big advantage in only having to win three games instead of four. I’m not sure who wouldn’t want to do that."
Just don’t tell any of that to Pelphrey.
"If you told me we were going to play four games and win it all, I wouldn’t care," Pelphrey said. "But we don’t really know that. Getting the two seed is a secondary thing right now because our most important thing is our next game. We want to win that more than anything else."