FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Mike Anderson isn't ready to hit the panic button — yet.
The Arkansas coach appears, however, as though he's about to loosen the shackles on the Razorbacks.
Arkansas (17-10, 5-7 Southeastern Conference) suffered its first loss this season in Bud Walton Arena in a 98-68 drubbing by No. 12 Florida on Saturday. The Razorbacks' first blemish at home after a 17-0 start was also the school's worst defeat in the arena since it opened in 1993.
The loss was Arkansas' fourth in five games and fifth in its last seven — jeopardizing what had been a surprising and feel-good season in Anderson's first year at the helm.
Next up for the Razorbacks is what freshman guard BJ Young called a "must-win" game against Alabama (17-9, 6-6) on Thursday night.
It's a game Arkansas needs to win to keep alive its goal of finishing in the top four in the SEC, as well as any hopes of reaching a postseason tournament.
"That's what we talked about this season," Anderson said. "It's going to be a season where you're going to have some peaks and you're going to have some valleys. I think the true character of a team is how you respond when you have some of those valleys."
To respond against a Crimson Tide team that defeated the Razorbacks 72-66 on Jan. 28, Arkansas must find a way to rekindle an offense that has struggled as of late. The Razorbacks are averaging 62.5 points per game during their last four losses and have shot just 39.3 percent during that span.
Young, who leads Arkansas in scoring at 15.1 points per game, has flourished in the last four games — averaging 23, including a career-high 31 against the Gators. Anderson said, however, that the freshman needs more help from his teammates.
He also said the Razorbacks need to find a way to return to their pressure defense in order to kick-start the offense.
"I've got to get them now where they're not thinking," Anderson said. "They've got to play instinctively. ... We've got to be a team that's going to get after people and not let people run the offense. We've been playing just like other people. When you do that, you're playing right into other people's game — a half-court, just a half-court game."
Despite Arkansas' blowout loss to Florida, Alabama coach Anthony Grant is well aware of the Razorbacks' success this season at home — where they have wins over three ranked teams.
"Anytime you go on the road, you know you're going to be in a hostile environment and Arkansas, in my opinion, is one of the best environments in our league if not our country," Grant said.
The Crimson Tide, coming off a 62-50 win over Tennessee, enter the game short-handed once again due to the recent suspensions of leading scorers JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell. Green's suspension was lifted on Monday, but Grant said he'll miss the Arkansas game, while Mitchell is out for the rest of the season.
Despite the suspensions, Alabama remains focused on making its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2006.
Arkansas, meanwhile, is hardly in a position to take any team lightly after its disappointing loss to the Gators.
"We expect them to come out and fight just as hard or even harder if they did have those two guys," Young said. "They probably feel like they have something to prove since those guys are not playing.
"We expect they'll come bring their best shot, and we expect them to take our best shot, too."Comment on this story
Sophomore guard Mardracus Wade, who leads the SEC in 3-point shooting at 47.8 percent, said the Razorbacks have done their best to keep negative thoughts from sinking in after the loss. He also said Anderson made it clear he wants Arkansas to get back to having fun on the court.
"He said to all the players, if anybody feels like he's holding us back or holding any one of us back, he said he's letting off the handcuffs," Wade said. "He said to just go out there and play and react off instincts instead of being out there thinking, 'Should I do this or should I do that? Just go out there and play the game.'"
AP Sports Writer John Zenor in Tuscaloosa, Ala., contributed to this report.