FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Arkansas coach Mike Anderson has faced his share of difficult times in the five seasons since his return to the school he once helped guide to national prominence.
While it appeared the Razorbacks (12-14, 5-8 Southeastern Conference) had returned to the upper echelon of the SEC for good last season, they enter Saturday's game against Missouri (10-16, 3-10) on a three-game losing streak.
The stretch has made it all but certain Arkansas will miss the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in Anderson's five seasons. It has left last season's 27-win effort a distant memory for a fan base ripe with apathy 22 years after the school's only national championship.
The latest disappointment for the Razorbacks came in a stunning 90-86 loss to lowly Auburn on Wednesday night, a game that saw the Tigers end a seven-game losing streak. It was a loss that highlighted the season-long defensive woes for Arkansas, which allowed Auburn to shoot a season-high 61.1 percent (33 of 54) from the field.
And it was one that remained on Anderson's mind the day after.
''Well, the sun came up, and I think that's probably a good thing because that was kind of a sleepless night after a performance like that,'' Anderson said.
The Razorbacks led by as many as nine points in the second half, but they were unable to slow an Auburn team that connected on 15 of 23 (65.2 percent) 3-pointers.
The ineffective defense has been an ongoing issue this season for Arkansas, which is 279th in the country in scoring defense (76.3 points per game). Also, the Razorbacks have allowed their last three opponents to shoot a combined 50.9 percent from the field.
''It's disappointing,'' Arkansas center Moses Kingsley said after the Auburn loss. ''After losing those two games in a row and coming back and playing like this is unacceptable.''
Arkansas improved its win total in each of Anderson's first four seasons, but a step back was expected this year after the Razorbacks began the season without six of their top seven scorers from a year ago, including SEC Player of the Year Bobby Portis.
However, after some early transition struggles, Anderson appeared to have found the right mix for his overhauled team after Arkansas improved to 9-7 following a 33-point win at Missouri on Jan. 12.
Since then, the Razorbacks have lost seven of 10, including two in which they've scored more than 80 points. Overall, Arkansas has lost five such games this season, leading Anderson to admit his best approach for now is to manage Arkansas' defensive shortcomings the best he can rather than expecting a dramatic turnaround.
''We've got to be much better in that area, and that's got to be about pride and about guys developing and getting better with a sense of pride in terms of defense,'' Anderson said.