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Friday, March 4, 2011
John Pelphrey defends his program

Associated Press

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- John Pelphrey admitted he knew about the critical newspaper ad before his news conference Thursday.

The Arkansas basketball coach then spent much of his time defending his program and saying he won't let himself be distracted from the action on the court.

An advertisement in Thursday's editions of the statewide Arkansas Democrat-Gazette called on Razorbacks fans to contact university officials "on the future of Arkansas basketball before too much time passes." It listed addresses for university officials, including the school's Board of Trustees members.

Pelphrey wasn't named in the ad, but the fourth-year coach has a 69-57 record at Arkansas and hasn't reached the NCAA tournament since his first season in 2008-09. The Razorbacks fell to 18-11 (7-8 Southeastern Conference) with a home loss Wednesday night to Mississippi State.

They travel to Mississippi for the regular-season finale Saturday, with the winner securing the No. 3 seed from the SEC West for next week's conference tournament.

"My focus is my task at hand," Pelphrey said. "I'm the basketball coach at Arkansas. I wake up every day focused on leading those young men. Certainly, I know they were disappointed last night and a lot of those guys had family that saw them play for the first time in college and they wanted to win so bad.

"So, that's where my focus is, to help us learn from that experience last night and try to get us prepared to go win at Oxford."

Arkansas has seen a steady decline in attendance in Pelphrey's four seasons. The Razorbacks averaged 17,148 in his first season, 16,043 in his second and 13,182 last year. This season, the school averaged 12,022 in 18 games in the 19,200-seat Bud Walton Arena.

During its national championship season of 1993-94, Arkansas averaged 20,134 at home. This season, the school drew a season-high 14,174 for its game against Mississippi on Feb. 5.

"I think that's something at some point in time as a university we'll sit down and look at -- reasons, causes, all those types of things," Pelphrey said. "I do believe we've had some good crowds."

Arkansas senior Delvon Johnson was unaware of the ad but said he supported Pelphrey and the progress of the program. The Razorbacks finished with 14 wins in each of the past two seasons.

"I never once listened to what other people think about us or this team," Johnson said. "So, I mean, it doesn't bother me. People say what they want to say, but it's just us in that locker room. We're playing, so they're just outside looking in. You can't worry about those things."

Pelphrey said the ad wouldn't be a distraction for the Razorbacks. He was asked if it was frustrating for him to see progress in the program while others haven't.

"I have not spent a tremendous amount of time on those things," Pelphrey said. "I'm well aware of the progress that some of our players have made. I'm well aware of some of the big games we've won, and I'm aware of the some of the other stuff, too."