No. 8 Arkansas, LSU set for rubber match

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Arkansas and LSU battled for second place throughout the Southeastern Conference regular season.

The eighth-ranked and second-seeded Razorbacks and third-seeded Tigers will meet again in the semifinals of the SEC tournament on Saturday afternoon in Nashville.

LSU won its home game against Arkansas 92-76 on Jan. 13 to take the early lead as the primary challenger to eventual regular-season champion Alabama.

The Razorbacks bounced back and won their home game against the Tigers 83-75 on Feb. 27 to separate from the Tigers.

Both teams received double byes in the SEC tournament and overcame strong challenges in quarterfinal games Friday.

The Razorbacks (22-5) held off seventh-seeded Missouri 70-64, and the Tigers (17-8) edged sixth-seeded Ole Miss 76-73 to set up the rubber match.

Arkansas is riding a nine-game winning streak, while LSU has posted three victories in a row.

"(The players) know to win this many games in a row at this particular time of year is overly difficult," said Razorbacks coach Eric Musselman, a former LSU assistant. "Having said that, we played well enough to win (Friday), and I think we came out and played much better in the second half than we did in the first half."

The Razorbacks trailed Missouri by one point at halftime but used an 11-1 run to take control with five minutes remaining and held on.

JD Notae overcame an illness to score 27 points, Justin Smith had 16 and Davonte Davis added 11 for Arkansas. Notae produced 15 of his points in the first half and Smith posted 13 points in the second half.

"He played phenomenal," Musselman said of Notae. "He threw up at one point and then he did it again at halftime. We didn't know if he was going to come out and play the second half. I think it's some food to be honest with you, because I haven't felt great all day, so that's what I'm assuming it is."

LSU's victory followed a similar pattern to Arkansas'. The score was tied at 58 before the Tigers scored seven straight points.

The Rebels pulled within 69-68 with 1:19 left, but LSU answered when Darius Days hit a 3-pointer and Trendon Watford added a put-back.

Ole Miss got within 74-71 with 20 seconds left, but Cameron Thomas hit two late free throws for the Tigers.

Watford scored 24 points, Days had 20 points and 12 rebounds, Thomas scored 18 and Javonte Smart added 10 points.

"Down the stretch, we made big plays," Days said. "We got stops when we needed them. Everybody played their role -- great team win."

LSU coach Will Wade gave credit to Thomas, the SEC's leading scorer, for not forcing things against a defense focused on him.

"I thought Cam showed great patience," Wade said. "They were on him early in the game. He had to work for everything."

Ole Miss set the tone during a low-scoring first half that ended with LSU holding a 29-27 lead, but the Tigers got the scoring pace more to their liking in the second half.

"We knew it was going to be physical," Watford said. "We embraced the physicality. It's tournament time, nothing comes easy."

--Field Level Media