Razorbacks Seeded 12th In East, To Meet 5th Seed Southern Cal

Sunday, March 11th 2007, 9:10 pm
By: News On 6

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) -- Three wins out of four games in the Southeastern Conference tournament was apparently enough for officials choosing teams for the NCAA men's basketball tournament, as Arkansas was chosen Sunday as the 12th seed in the East Regional.

"Obviously, we didn't have a bang-bang year, but the way we finished it was a bang-bang finish," Arkansas coach Stan Heath said. "Fortunately for us, the committee looked at what we had accomplished during the season (and) saw us worthy to get in. We want to make the best of it."

The NCAA bid came just hours after the Razorbacks lost 77-56 to 6th-ranked Florida in the championship game of the SEC tournament at Atlanta. To advance to the final game, Arkansas had beaten South Carolina on Thursday, Vanderbilt on Friday and Mississippi State on Saturday.

As No. 12 in the NCAA's East Regional, Arkansas (21-13) will travel to Spokane, Wash., for a game Friday against Southern California (23-11), seeded fifth in the region.

Heath said he hoped the Arkansas team that shows up for the NCAA tourney would be the same team that won its final two regular-season games and then three more in the SEC tournament.

"That is our team. We kind of got a little away from that style (in the loss to Florida Sunday)," he said. "We were trying to make things happen a little bit quickly against Florida, but our team is together and we know how hard we need to play when our team is out there on the floor."

The bid was perhaps more important to Heath than to some other coaches whose teams were on the NCAA "bubble" before the tournament lineup was announced. As the SEC tournament opened at Atlanta last week, there was talk that Heath could lose his job if the Razorbacks didn't get invited to the NCAA tournament, including one report that a $900,000 buyout of Heath's contract had been prepared if his team fell short.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, on whose staff Heath served as an assistant, on Sunday lamented the effect that bids to the Big Dance can have on a coach's career. He said Heath may have saved his job with the performance of the Arkansas team over the previous four days.

Heath said the momentum of a good performance in the SEC tournament is huge for his team as they prepare for play in the NCAA tourney.

"It started with the last two games (of the regular season), Mississippi State and Vanderbilt, and continued," Heath said. "We played great against South Carolina, and Vanderbilt was just a war. Then to come on the third day and play Mississippi State ... we did a great job, especially in the second half. We have been playing our best basketball."

The Arkansas coach said he was optimistic that Charles Thomas, who suffered a sprained ankle early in the Florida game Sunday, would be able to play against Southern California on Friday.

"He will get treatment. I would say he has a real good chance to be ready to go," Heath said. "The next few days will be key."

At Spokane, Arkansas will face a Trojans team that also got a boost from its performance in a conference tournament until an 81-57 loss to Oregon in the championship game. USC coach Tim Floyd said Sunday that the two wins his team got on the way to the final were probably key to the Trojans' seeding.

"Some people a week ago had us out," he said. "I think the tournament got us the five seed."

Heath said he has been pleased at how his team matured through the season.

"We will make some mistakes here and there because we have so many young guys out there," he said. "But we are growing up and every day I think we have a chance to be better."