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Tough Times in Tuscaloosa

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I know that today is Valentine's Day, a day for celebrating love, but I'm here to talk for a few minutes about something that I hate: Tuscaloosa, Ala. Actually, I'm sure the people of that town - with one notable exception - are perfectly wonderful, God-fearing folk, so let me rephrase that: I hate Razorbacks games in Tuscaloosa.

Since joining the SEC, the Razorbacks are only 5-14 in Coleman Coliseum. Many of those losses have been of the heartbreaking variety.

In 1992, during their first season in the SEC, the Mayberry-Day-Miller-led Hogs engaged in an epic battle with a Crimson Tide team that featured its own über-talented trio: Latrell Sprewell, Robert Horry and James "Hollywood" Robinson. With only seconds left on the clock, Todd Day hit an apparent game-winning shot, and the Arkansas bench erupted in celebration. However, the refs whistled him for a (in my completely unbiased opinion, of course)  b.s. charging call, and the game ended in a 65-63 Alabama victory.

Two years later in Tuscaloosa, a Razorback team that would go on to win the national championship suffered its first lost of the season - and one of only three defeats that year - when Expat favorite Dwight Stewart missed a last-second, wide-open layup that would have won the game. It was the one goof of Stewart's otherwise blemish-free life.

In 1998, I was in the Coleman stands to watch the Hogs blow a chance at a Western Division championship by falling victim to a late-game Bama rally in the regular-season finale. The Hogs had led by seven at the half and appeared to have the game well in hand during most of the second period.

There are several other examples, but you get the point.

So when the Hogs opened up a 13-point lead early in the second half yesterday, I didn't feel great. I know my history: I suspected that heartbreak was right around the corner. It was.

The last 15 minutes or so of yesterday's game were the Hogs at their worst: getting pounded on the boards, playing porous defense, Fortson generally playing out of control, not much movement on offense. The Razorbacks looked pretty ragged at various points during their winning streak, but this was the first time in a while that the wheels seemed to come completely off. 

It appeared to me that, with a double-digit lead and a six-game winning streak on the horizon, the Hogs lost their focus, lost their edge. If that was the case, hopefully it will be a lesson learned.

In the end, though, it's hard for me to get too worked up over this loss: The improvement the team has made since the start of the conference season has been significant, and I am proud of 'em. Their three best players - Fortson, Clarke and Powell - are young and should be better next year. Finally, it seems, the program has some positive momemtum.

The remaining schedule is tough, and there is bound to be a step backwards or two. But I am excited about the rest of the season: I believe these Hogs have some big wins ahead.