Heath shows no mercy to struggling Hogs

Arkansas' second-year coach brands Western Carolina loss "unacceptable" and puts club through strenuous workouts as Tuesday game at Tulsa looms.

Tulsa may very well hand Arkansas it's third straight basketball loss when the two teams meet Tuesday night at the Reynolds Center, but it won't be because the Razorbacks haven't worked hard enough since that last defeat.

In fact, just a little over three hours after Arkansas was humbled in a 62-59 home loss to Western Carolina, the Razorbacks were back out on the court.

It wasn't necessarily a practice.

"Let's put it this way, there was no basketball," Heath said.

The second-year head coach was furious about the loss - which followed a home loss to Oklahoma State - and wanted his team's attention right away before they got a few days off for Christmas.

"That was just an unacceptable loss," Heath said. "I didn't think our heads were totally into that game. We were looking at maybe the holidays. I don't know what we were doing, but we sure didn't have the focus we needed to play a game like that and win. We should have won that game. We just kind of gave one away. That is not acceptable."

The Razorbacks already had tickets in their hands for trips home, but Heath wanted to prove a point - one he thinks got across.

"I think our attitudes will be a little different when we enter into a game that maybe you assume you are going to win or you think on the schedule is a light game," Heath said.

"We don't have a cupcake game. We don't have that type of ballclub right now that can just put talent on the floor and beat somebody by showing up," Heath continued. "Hopefully we grabbed some attention. That is what we set out to do. We don't want to go through what we went through last year.

"We needed to get some bang for our buck," said Heath, who has had three-plus hour practices since the Razorbacks returned from break. "We got what we needed accomplished."

Arkansas (6-3) will visit Tulsa (4-4) Tuesday night at 7 p.m. to face a team that is unbeaten at the Reynolds Center in three games and has in fact won 12 consecutive home games - 11 of those by double digit margins.

That includes an 84-46 whipping of Texas State last Tuesday, which was three days after falling at Wichita State 66-58 that was was the third loss in four games for the Golden Hurricane.

"They are going to play extremely hard, especially on defense," Heath said. "They are going to put a lot of pressure on you, run their offense and try to grind you out a little bit. They are going to try and keep this game in the 60s and we are going to try and speed it up a little bit."

Getting it into a more high-scoring game will only happen if Arkansas takes advantage of the lay-ups and free throws that it has been missing the last two games.

"We have spent the last few days - and we have had good practices - just trying to get our offense going," Heath said. "Our transition game is not where it should be. We need to create some easier baskets for our team.

"At the same time when I look back at that film we missed 10 lay-ups and 10 free throws, which is a possible 30 points," Heath added. "If you do just half of that, you've got a game secured."

"More than anything else we have gone back to the fundamentals and back to the basics," Heath said. "We are working on lay-ups, lay-ups under pressure, free throws and free throws under pressure - different things just to get our confidence going."

Arkansas will likely be playing with the services of 6-10 freshman forward Vincent Hunter for the first time in five games, but without 6-5 freshman Olu Famutimi.

Hunter has been out since the Illinois loss back on Dec. 6 when he suffered a dislocated shoulder.

Hunter has been practicing and he gets a sting every now and then, but he is able to get back in," Heath said. "He has really helped our team. It is a significant difference when he is not in that lineup. It is just having a guy that is not only active, grabs rebounds, but can finish around the basket. He is an asset for us and we are glad to have him back."

Hunter had been averaging 6.6 points and 4.8 rebounds per game at the time of his injury.

"I don't think we truly have an inside presence at the level that we really need to have one, but he is our best answer," Heath said. "It is not the conventional way where he is a guy you throw it to on the post and he has got a whole bunch of moves to throw at you, but he does have the ability to catch a pass in the paint and finish a play."

Famutimi missed practice both Saturday and Sunday because of his knee injury.

The starting lineup will likely remain a mystery until Tuesday night's introductions.

"Positions are open and guys have really been battling for those spots," Heath said. "That is where we are right now."

Heath is very clear about what he is looking for in a starting five and top bench players.

"We are going to make some decisions on who we are going to start and who will be our top seven or eight guys," Heath said. "I don't enjoy heading into the games and having to put four guys in or five guys in for offense and four or five guys in for defense. This isn't football. We have got to have some guys who play both sides of the ball and that is what we are looking for. Guys that add maybe more than just one thing and not be a one-dimensional player. Hopefully guys can add two or three different things."

"There is a lot of parity on my team right now," Heath added. "I don't know if that is good news or bad news...I wouldn't be surprised if Preston Cranford gets out there because he can at least shoot. Everything is wide open right now. I am looking for guys who will be productive while they are out there on the court."

That is not the way it is with Tulsa, who has a couple of stars in 6-2 senior guard Jason Parker (18.3) and 6-6 junior guard Jarius Glenn.

"It is a team that is similar to us in some ways in that they've got some inexperienced guys playing along with a couple of returners," Heath said. "Parker is a very good guard..He is a guy that can handle the ball, can shoot it, can play either guard spot. We have got to do a good job of shutting him down or at least contain him and make him work for his points."

Arkansas sophomore guard Eric Ferguson will apparently be given the job of trying to contain Parker.

"Eric Ferguson needs to have a good game," Heath said. "He is going to have the task of guarding Parker and hopefully he can be out there without foul trouble, be able to play and play him tough."

When Heath watched tape of the game against Western Carolina, only the final two minutes of the regulation was pleasurable. That's when Arkansas made up a nine-point deficit to send the game into overtime.

"I thought we were aggressive and played all out and that's the mindset our team has got to have," Heath said. "It's just got to be all out, don't worry and don't play with fear about what things could go wrong."

Tulsa has been averaging just over 7,000 fans per game, but Heath expects a big and hostile crowd to be on hand for the Razorbacks.

"They will have a big crowd and I'm sure they will want to have a game where they can have some celebration at the end," Heath said. "We are definitely going in there to spoil the party."

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