UA gears ups for ORU

Arkansas hoops team hopes to move to 4-0 with win over visiting ORU on Wednesday night.

It just so happens that the first five opponents on the University of Arkansas' basketball schedule appear to be lined up in order of strength.

Up next is Oral Roberts University (3-2), who will invade Bud Walton Arena Wednesday night for a 7:05 p.m. non-televised matchup with the unbeaten Razorbacks (3-0).

It comes just a few days before the UA cagers' first true road game Saturday against No. 11 Illinois.

"That's where we were supposed to be right now," Arkansas head coach Stan Heath said of his team's 3-0 start. "Those games that were scheduled were games that we were hoping would give us some momentum and we would take advantage of that. It is getting tougher as we go along."

The Razorbacks have handled Nicholls State (89-60), Grambling (64-46) and Jacksonville (85-65), a squad they bested Saturday afternoon at Alltel Arena in North Little Rock.

"It is good for us to be back home and we've got a little momentum going in our direction," Heath said. "We will try and build on that."

The Golden Eagles, coached by former Fayetteville resident Scott Sutton, are coming off an 83-70 home win over Northern Arizona on Monday night.

Ken Tutt, a 6-1 freshmen guard, led the way with 23 points while 6-8, 230-pound freshman Caleb Green had 20 points and 10 rebounds.

Luke Spencer-Gardner, a 6-1, 180-pound senior guard and likely the team's best player, has missed the first five games due to an injury.

"But I think he'll be back for us," Heath said. "They've got some freshmen playing very good basketball."

ORU, which was 18-10 a season ago, also has wins over South Carolina St. (63-60) and NAIA squad Oklahoma Wesleyan (118-53) and losses to Oklahoma (84-68) and Chattanooga (81-79).

"We face a good Oral Roberts basketball team on Wednesday, one that returns some very good basketball players from last year as well as adding some good newcomers," Heath said. "They have got four guys in double figures right now and they are really shooting the ball well. Two areas we really have to do a good job on are good one-on-one defense as well as giving help and making sure we get hands up on those three point shooters."

Arkansas has a 6-2 all-time mark against ORU, including a 4-0 record against the Golden Eagles in games played in Fayetteville.

But they did whip Arkansas rather soundly last season (76-64) in Tulsa in what was Heath's second game and his first loss at the helm of the Razorbacks.

"I don't think we will have any problems having our guys pay close attention to Oral Roberts," Heath said. "They over the years have given Arkansas very good basketball games when they have played. They play hard and Scott does a great job with his basketball team."

It was a harbinger of things to come in what would turn into a 9-19 season for Arkansas, but Heath said it was not a loss that made him think they were headed for that type of campaign.

"I really didn't know what to think," Heath said. "We didn't play real well when we went to Oral Roberts. Some of that was freshmen being on the road for the first time. A lot of that when I watched it on the film was just mistakes. We had a lot of turnovers in that game. We did a poor job of defending baseline out of bounds. I think they scored about nine points on that alone."

"There were a lot of things that were correctable at that point and time," Heath added. "I wouldn't say that at that particular time we were going to have a tough year, but looking back I think it opened my eyes and I said ‘we've got some holes and how are we going to be able to fill them.'"

Sophomore forward Jonathon "Pookie" Modica leads Arkansas in scoring with a 22.7 average with 6-7 freshman point guard Ronnie Brewer 12.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game.

Those two will likely join 6-4 sophomore guard Kendrick Davis (11.3), 6-10 freshman forward Vincent Hunter (7.7) and 6-8 senior forward Billy Pharis (2.3) in the opening quintet.

Heath said you could expect 6-1 sophomore guard Eric Ferguson (9.0) and 6-5 freshman forward Olu Famutimi (8.3) as the first two off the bench and also action for 6-9 forwards Michael Jones and Rashard Sullivan.

All nine of those guys had double-digit minutes against Jacksonville - the only nine to do so - and make up the rotation.

"You can look at the box score and minutes from the last game, and see that it has been established," Heath said. "It's still early enough that something can change, but that is the group that has earned the minutes."

Arkansas is averaging 79.3 points per game while shooting 51,7 percent from the field and 78 percent from the free throw line this season.

Heath would love for one more guy to bring some more points to the table and the boards hit harder, but he likes a lot of what he has seen so far.

"We would like to add one more guy into our scoring mix and rebounding obviously has got to pick up," Heath said. "I have been real pleased with our free throw shooting and I have been pleased with the growth of our basketball team over the last three games."

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