Stan Heath started a lineup he thought added defense, but it was offensive-minded Kendrick Davis with the big bosst to help Arkansas end a four-game losing streak with an 82-66 victory over No. 25 South Carolina on Saturday at Bud Walton Arena.
Davis led the Hogs with 19 points. He hit two three-point hoops and also drove the lane for an old-fashioned 3-point play as the Hogs built a 53-40 lead with 10 minutes to play.
South Carolina rallied to within six with 5:31 to play, but could get no closer. It was still a 6-point deficit with 1:45 left when the Hogs pulled away with free throws, dunks and layups as the Gamecocks' traps fell apart.
Arkansas shot 65 percent from the field en route to a 50-point second half. The Hogs had committed 12 turnovers in the first half while shooting just 34.5 percent, but made few mistakes after halftime. They committed just six turnovers in the second half.
Arkansas committed four straight turnovers early in the game to fall behind 5-4, but solved USC's trapping zone defenses to take control midway through the first half.
The Hogs solved the Gamecocks' fullcourt press when Matt Jones inbounded the ball to find Ronnie Brewer streaking behind the defense for a layup. Brewer then hit a trey on the Hogs' next possession for a 21-12 UA lead at the 6:52 mark. It was still 30-21 when Davis canned a 3-point shot from the wing.
South Carolina cut it to 30-25 with 39 seconds left in the half, but the Hogs got the last points of the half when Brewer hit two free throws after an offensive rebound on a three-shot possession by the Hogs. It was 32-25 at intermission.
Davis hit 5 of 11 from the field and 3 of 8 on threes. Ronnie Brewer added 17 points, five assists, four steals, three blocked shots and five rebounds. Jonathon "Pookie" Modica, replaced in the starting lineup by defensive stopper Wen Mukubu, added 17 points and five rebounds.
South Carolina got nothing easy against the Hogs' changing defenses. They made only 42.6 percent from the field. Tre Kelley led the Gamecocks with 18 points. Mike Boynton added 11 points.
The Hogs improved to 12-12 overall, 4-9 in the league. South Carolina, 20-6 and 7-5, fell two games behind SEC East leader Kentucky.
It was Kentucky that may have given the Hogs the motivation for the effort that catapulted them to victory. Kentucky had toyed with the Hogs' defense on Wednesday night, prompting Heath to change his starting lineup.
"When we put Wen in there in practice Thursday and Friday, the chemistry changed and so did the intensity of our defense," Heath said. "Nothing againt Jonathon because I knew he'd still get his points for us. I knew he'd score when he came into the game.
"We wanted to get the competitive edge at the start and we wanted to come out in our man-to-man, send the message that we were lacing them up and coming to play. That's what we did.
"I've been telling our staff that Jonathon could be our sixth man and give us an edge there, too. I've always invisioned that with Modica. He can change the game, and I think he did today. But first we had to get that intensity set at the start."
Dave Odom, the South Carolina coach, credited the Hogs for bringing great energy to the floor.
"That was probably our worst game of the year, and you have to credit Arkansas for that," Odom said. "They had excellent defense from the beginning. They got the loose balls and we didn't. They converted in transition. We didn't.
"It looked like (Arkansas) was a team that had been challenged by their coaches and their fans. They answered the bell today. Give credit to their coaches, their players and their fans. They have been losing, but they have a lot of pride in their team and those fans stuck with them. They expect a lot from their team and they gave them great support today.
"We came in thinking that Arkansas had given up a lot of inside baskets and thought we could probe that part of their defense. We didn't get it inside and settled for too many outside shots."
Heath said he was pleased with the way the Hogs kept the ball out of the middle of their defense.
"That's something we focused on the last couple of days and guys like Matt Jones and Wen Mukubu did a great job of keeping it out of there," Heath said. "Plus, we had better pressure on the ball. When the guards are feeling the heat, they don't get it inside as well. Our defense was just better today."
Matt Jones said it was just a matter of getting back to Bud Walton Arena.
"Everyone knows we are a team that plays better here and has better energy," Jones said. "That is what you saw today."
The Hogs were solid in the second half, limiting their mistakes.
"We saw everything they had in the first half and knew what to expect as far as their traps and defenses," Jones said. "We just knew what they had and we settled down in the second half. Kendrick Davis helped us, too. He hit some big shots. He has been filling it up the last two days in practice so Coach Heath gave him a chance today. He responded."
Arkansas 82, S. Carolina 66 (Final)
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