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March 14, 2008? MORE: Rivals.com Daily Bubble Watch | Drive for 65: Forecasting the Field | Play Tourney Pick'em
ATLANTA ? A question to Arkansas coach John Pelphrey suggesting there was "no doubt" his Hogs were headed to the NCAA Tournament was met with a cold stare and the same kind of stifling defense that shut down the SEC Player of the Year on Thursday.
Whether Pelphrey, Arkansas' first-year coach, wants to admit it, Arkansas most likely sealed an NCAA bid with its 81-75 win over Vanderbilt in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament. Arkansas faces regular-season champion Tennessee in one of Saturday's semifinals.
The Hogs entered the day in good shape for an at-large bid with their 9-7 SEC record and No. 43 ranking in the RPI, but a win away from Fayetteville over Vanderbilt, the 10th ranked team in the RPI, likely erased any doubt.
"It helps us," senior center Steven Hill said. "It's a quality win over a quality opponent."
If there was a knock on Arkansas' resume, it was a lack of wins away from Bud Walton Arena. The Razorbacks entered the SEC Tournament on a five-game road losing streak and a 5-9 overall record in games outside of Fayetteville.
Arkansas' upset over Vanderbilt echoes the Razorbacks' run in last season's SEC tourney, when the Hogs played their way into the NCAA Tournament with a run to the final, where they lost to eventual national champion Florida.
"We understand that winning this tournament is an automatic bid, so that's what we're thinking about now," Arkansas guard Patrick Beverley said.
Meanwhile, Vanderbilt again exits the tournament early. The Commodores haven't won the SEC Tournament since 1951, which also is the last time they went to the final.
Arkansas put itself in good position by limiting SEC player of the year Shan Foster to 14 points and 4-of-10 shooting from the floor. It was his lowest scoring total since Feb. 6 and his fewest made field goals since Jan. 27.
"They did a good job of keeping the ball out of my hands," Foster said.
It was an all-around defensive effort for Arkansas. Sonny Weems, Arkansas' leading scorer, sacrificed offense for defense by forcing Foster to create his own shot or pass to others.
Vandy freshman A.J. Ogilvy was a problem in the first half when he had 13 points. But Pelphrey brought in the bearded and head-banded Hill to counter Ogilvy.
Arkansas manhandled Vanderbilt on the other side of the court as well, outscoring the Commodores 50-20 in the paint and 20-6 on second-chance points.
"Just staying in front of Shan Foster is not enough," Pelphrey said. "You have to make him do something. We wanted someone other than Shan Foster and A.J. Ogilvy to take shots."