Hogs Basketball On And Running

It's tough to drum up support (especially with the UA band out of town) for basketball around these parts this time of year, even with Arkansas football spiraling and off this weekend.

But the Hogs did lots of banging during Saturday's Red-White game in Bud Walton Arena.

Coaches have worked players for only a couple of weeks at this point, and for the next week you'll hear all the Hogs talk about being eager to take on somebody else.

Next Saturday night, they'll get that chance in a home exhibition game against something called Texas A&M-Commerce.

This is a work in progress and there's lots to do between now and then. Tons before taking on Illinois and Missouri in early December and the Southeastern Conference opener against Ole Miss on Jan. 5.

That said, some things we learned during the Red's 73-70 win in front of a few hundred fans:

* The defense, especially in the halfcourt, is so much better it's scary (or very well could be for opponents this season).

* The Hogs will press much more. Why? Because they can.

* Arkansas goes from defense to offense extremely quickly, always looking to push, pass and finish.

* Senior Mike Jones and junior Jonathon Modica still aren't scared to shoot. Fortunately for Arkansas, they still do it pretty well.

They combined to make 12 of 26 from the field.

* Jones will be a major player this year now that he can play outside by design.

Saturday, he scored 20 points and had 6 rebounds in 33 minutes.

* Junior Rashard Sullivan looks tons more comfortable playing power forward.

He scored just 4 points Saturday, but had 7 rebounds.

* Junior transfer point guard Dontell Jefferson and sophomore whatever Ronnie Brewer do, indeed, click well together. They combined to score the Red's first 14 points, and with 13 minutes left in the first half, Jefferson fed the streaking Brewer for a big-time dunk. Late in the half, Brewer returned the favor, dishing off to Jefferson for a dandy slam.

* This is Brewer's team. Not only is he the obvious star and chief hustler, but he's also more vocal and his voice commands attention from his teammates.

Brewer led the Red team with 23 points.

* Jefferson has a really nice jump shot. His follow-throughs (both wrists clicking at the same time above his head) are reminiscent of Jannero Pargo's. He looks to push or pass first, but if left open, Jefferson will crank, and likely make, plenty of 3-pointers.

Jefferson was 7 of 15 from the field, including 3 of 5 from 3-point range Saturday.

* Freshman center Darian Townes is a big load, but he needs more polish on the finer things. Still, his first-half one-handed follow slam was highlight reel stuff. In the first half's last minute, Townes had another and his defense is equally strong. He finished a fast break with a slam in the second half, then briefly strutted for TV cameras.

Townes, who may have been the surprise of the day, had 12 points (4 of 11 from the floor, 4 of 6 from the free-throw line), 4 rebounds and 3 blocks.

* Seven-foot freshman Steven Hill loves defense and clearly thinks it first. For most of the first half, Hill caught passes, then kicked the ball back out without so much as sniffing the basket. But with 5:38 left before intermission, Hill got the ball low on the left baseline, backed into Townes, then spit a beautiful left-handed hook through the basket, netting him one of the day's louder ovations.

Hill shot only three times (which drives Arkansas coach Stan Heath crazy), but scored six points, the last four coming on a dunk and tip-in.

* Arkansas' halfcourt offense seems to have more purpose now with big men opponents should respect.

* Sophomore swingman Olu Famutimi, still hindered (mostly mentally) last season from knee surgery during his senior high school year, has yet to take off. You can, though, see it coming.

Famutimi had 8 points, but all came on lay-ins. He was 4 of 12 from the floor and had 5 turnovers, no assists and 3 steals.

* Junior Eric Ferguson, who had three steals in the first half alone, is even better defensively.

Ferguson played the point for the White racking up 5 steals to go with 11 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists.

* As advertised, freshman forward Charles Thomas plays hard. Sometimes too hard. Despite playing only about a dozen minutes, he had three fouls with 13 minutes left in the second half.

Thomas struggled offensively in the first half (0-for-2), but buried a trey from the top of the key midway through the second half and swished another deep jumper a few possessions later.

He finished with 7 points (2 of 5 from the floor), 3 rebounds and 2 assists.

Afterward, Heath mostly beamed.

"I don't know about you guys, but I enjoyed today," he said. "I saw a lot of positives."

Us, too.

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