Defense The Name Of UA'S Game

FAYETTEVILLE -- Stan Heath sounds like he wouldn't mind a defensive struggle in Arkansas' Red-White game.

Arkansas' third-year basketball coach should have the kind of defensive team he's always wanted this season and practices have reflected that with the offense struggling to score largely because of drills designed to chart stops instead of scores.

Heath said Thursday he wants to see improvements on defense, teamwork and rebounding when the Red meets the White at 2 p.m. today in Bud Walton Arena.

"If we do well in those areas, I'll be pleased," Heath said. "If not, we'll go back to the drawing board and we'll get it straightened out as quick as possible."

The two teams were selected by captains Ronnie Brewer and Jonathon Modica, who were named to the coaches' All-Southeastern Conference second team last week.

Brewer's White team includes senior guard Michael Jones, junior transfer point guard Dontell Jefferson, freshman center Darian Townes, junior forward Rashard Sullivan and sophomore swingman Olu Famutimi.

Modica's Red team fields freshman walk-on guard Sammy Muncey, junior guard Eric Ferguson, freshman forward Charles Thomas, sophomore forward Vincent Hunter and freshman center Steven Hill.

Brewer said practices have been hard-nosed with every player believing they have a chance to contribute to a team trying to make a turnaround from a 12-16 season in which it finished last in the Southeastern Conference's Western Division and was picked to take fourth this season by the conference's coaches and media.

"It's way more intense because a lot of people are competing for spots and playing time," Brewer said. "Everyone is challenging each other."

Being able to score against its own defense will go a long way to determining how successful Arkansas will be when its exhibition season begins Nov. 6 against Texas A&M Commerce and its regular season at the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands beginning Nov. 19.

"With our defense, we know our plays," Brewer said. "If we're able to score against them, we know a lot of teams will be able to scout us and know our plays. If we play at the intensity we play and execute, I think it can indicate what we can do in a game."

Arkansas was 10th in SEC scoring defense last season and 11th in rebounding margin, stats Heath figures to improve this year with the 7-foot Hill, 6-10 Townes and 6-7 Thomas to go with stronger returnees Sullivan and Hunter.

The Hogs are longer and quicker than ever under Heath and formerly defensively deficient players like Brewer and Modica have been leading the charge to create stops.

"To me, it took some time to learn that," Modica said. "It's the main thing you need to worry about in basketball. I feel real good about my defense, the team's defense. There's a lot of helping going on, a lot of encouraging. I feel good about our team."

Said Brewer: "We always know if our offense is not going, if we lock up on defense, that can get our offense going. I know if I improve my defense, it will add up to a lot more points."

One of the drills Arkansas runs extensively in practice is a "stop" drill. The offense is given 10 possessions and the defense must stop it as many times as possible without fouling.

Deflections, steals and taking charges are emphasized and both teams have shown the ability to consistently put the clamps down.

If the defense gets a clean steal, the player starts the fast break.

"What they're fired up about is they know that's going to lead to transition open court plays," Heath said. "That's the strength of our team -- getting out in the open court and being 3-on-2, 2-on-1, playing above the rim and making exciting plays.

"They really feed off defensive plays because they can make that type of game happen easier."

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