Arkansas Ousted In First Round Again

Saturday, March 17th 2007, 4:08 pm
By: News On 6

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) This was Arkansas' chance to prove it really belonged in the NCAA tournament -- and to build more job security for embattled coach Stan Heath.

The Razorbacks failed on both measures.

Taj Gibson had 18 points and 8-rebounds in 5th-seeded Southern California's 77-60 first-round NCAA tournament win over Arkansas late Friday night. The Razorbacks got off to a quick start and outhustled USC for the first couple minutes, but fell behind by double digits after 15 minutes, then never made a serious run.

Arkansas was widely considered one of the last at-large bubble teams to make the tournament, along with Stanford. Those two lost by a combined margin of 37 points.

"Sometimes you have those games where it just doesn't work out," Heath said.

Heath was reportedly out if he didn't make the NCAA tournament, but the Razorbacks won five straight late in the season and received an at-large bid, their second in a row under Heath after staying home for the postseason his first three seasons with the team.

After this loss, Heath had to face some predictable questions.

"I know there are sources and speculations and people who have all the answers," he said. "But the guy who is in charge, my boss, he hasn't changed since I've first been here."

University spokesman Steve Voorhies has said Heath would undergo a normal review after the last game of the season. On Saturday, Voorhies deferred to the athletic department on details of Heath's evaluation. Athletic department spokesman Kevin Trainor said Broyles would conduct the annual review next week and then forward it to Chancellor John A. White.

Broyles, who is retiring at the end of the year, could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Gibson controlled the interior as the Trojans overcame the 12th-seeded Razorbacks' decided height advantage. He scored 12 in the 1st-half, and roamed the lane defensively with 3-blocks while altering a handful of other shorts. Gibson was the best player on the court for most of the first-round game.

"He got a lot of easy stuff and didn't force it," Arkansas center Steven Hill said. "They had some success in the post and continued to ride it out, and we never could really put a seal on that."

USC (24-11) faces 4th-seeded Texas in the second round Sunday.

The Razorbacks (21-14) got 15 points from freshman guard Patrick Beverley, but saw their second straight season end unhappily in the first round of the tournament.

Gibson was front and center while USC was taking the lead for good -- with a 16-footer, a dunk, a lay-up and a couple free throws during an early 10-0 run. He finished 7-10 from the floor.

He was helped plenty by junior swingman Nick Young hitting for 20 points. Young answered every charge by the Razorbacks, scoring 11 points in the 2nd-half and never letting Arkansas climb back in the game. Young's dunk and free throw for a 3-point play put USC up 57-43 with 8½ minutes left and the rest of the game was just a matter of playing out the string.

Sonny Weems had 13 points for Arkansas and teammate Charles Thomas, who came off the bench after spraining his ankle in the Southeastern Conference tournament, had 10.

The Razorbacks lost their top two scorers from 2005-06 and broke in a new backcourt this season, something Heath has cited as a reason for his team's struggles. Beverley, the SEC newcomer of the year, was joined on the perimeter by two juniors -- junior college transfer Weems and Mississippi State transfer Gary Ervin.

Arkansas had no seniors on its roster, so there should be plenty of returning talent in 2007-08.