- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) - Mike Anderson isn’t ready to panic after Arkansas’ first home loss this season.

The Razorbacks coach is, however, counting on a much-improved defensive effort for the rest of the season after back-to-back losses last week, including a shocking 96-82 setback to Mississippi at home.

Arkansas (13-4, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) fell out of the Top 25 following its latest defeat, a game in which the Rebels hit 20 of 27 shots in the first half on their way to a season-high 56.4 percent shooting from the field.

The ease with which Ole Miss found open space on offense was enough for Anderson to focus primarily on defense in practice this week. He’ll have his first chance to see how the Razorbacks respond to their season-long defensive difficulties when they host Alabama (12-5, 2-2) on Thursday night.

“It’s about having a pride and playing with that passion that you have to play with, and that is until we get the basketball on defense and rebounding the basketball,” Anderson said. “So that’s all we’re working on is our defense, working on tempo, getting the ball out and creating something off our defense.”

Arkansas had zero fast-break points in the loss to the Rebels, an uncharacteristic statistic for a team that prides itself on creating easy baskets under Anderson’s up-tempo style.

What wasn’t out of the ordinary this season for the Razorbacks was allowing an opponent to shoot a high percentage from the field. Arkansas ranks 272nd out of 345 Division I teams in field-goal percentage defense this season, allowing opponents to shoot 44.5 percent from the field. The defensive effort has been even more lackluster in SEC play, where the Razorbacks - next-to-least in the conference overall - have allowed conference foes to shoot 51.2 percent.

Even as the fifth-highest scoring team in the country, with an average of 82.9 points per game, Anderson knows the spotty defense will be difficult to overcome for a team desperate to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008.

“My problem is not with the offense,” Anderson said. “It’s with the defense. We’re scoring. You’ve got to stop people.”

One of the Razorbacks biggest defensive issues this season has been stopping lightning-quick guards such as Ole Miss’ Stefan Moody, who had 18 points and easily found room against Arkansas’ bigger guards.

Alabama guard Levi Randolph, who leads the Crimson Tide with an average of 15 points per game, presents another challenge for the Razorbacks - though Alabama coach Anthony Grant is wary of Arkansas’ frenetic approach at home.

“I think any coach will tell you that you’re really concerned about Arkansas’ defense,” Grant said. “Forget what the numbers say. We know what they’re capable of, the type of havoc they can create with the way they play.”

Arkansas also lost back-to-back games earlier this season at Iowa State and Clemson, responding with seven straight wins before its latest setbacks.

Anderson is counting on the experience of bouncing back on Thursday, as well as the rest of the season.

“One thing they’ve always been, they’ve responded to adversity,” Anderson said. “So, there’s no panic on this side of it.”

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