Arkansas All Business For Paradise Jam

ST. THOMAS, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS -- Stan Heath is leaving it up to his upperclassmen to make sure the Paradise Jam doesn't turn into Paradise Lost.

The third-year Arkansas coach believes it should go without saying that this is a business trip for the Razorbacks, and he knows his veterans look at it as such.

Juniors Jonathon Modica, Eric Ferguson and Rashard Sullivan and senior Mike Jones have won just 21 games in the last two seasons while losing 35.

They know the real fun isn't in the sun soaking up temperatures in the mid-70s - it's under the artificial lights and in the air conditioning at the University of the Virgin Islands gymnasium.

"I know that I've got some guys that have been here, and they want to win," Heath said. "They're not interested in having a good time losing games. It's not any fun. I've given the message, but I really expect my juniors and seniors to make that known to the younger guys; let them know we're here to take care of business."

The Razorbacks punch in at 7 p.m. Central time when Arkansas meets Winthrop in the first round of the Paradise Jam in the St. Thomas bracket. The Razorbacks will be off Saturday and play Troy at 7 Sunday night.

"I plan on the only time we're having fun is when we're on the court trying to win games," said sophomore captain Ronnie Brewer. "This is a business trip. We're trying to come away with a championship."

On Monday the top teams from the St. Thomas and St. John brackets meet in the championship game.

Saint Louis, Austin Peay and Heath's alma mater, Eastern Michigan, make up the St. John bracket.

Winthrop was an NCAA Tournament team four straight seasons from 1999-2002 under Gregg Marshall and one of its 16 wins last season was an 80-60 drubbing of a senior-laden Georgia team that beat Kentucky twice and national runner-up Georgia Tech once.

The Eagles lost their top three players, but Heath isn't putting much stock in that.

"They're not a team to take for granted or to take lightly," Heath said. "I don't think any of the teams in this field are that way.

"Some of the names aren't as high-profile as maybe people would like to see, but all of them are dangerous, especially Winthrop."

Arkansas could be dangerous, too, if it can put together a complete ballgame for the first time this year.

The Razorbacks started slow in each of their exhibition games, shooting just 38 percent in the first half against Texas A&M Commerce and actually trailing Abilene Christian by as many as seven points, 20-13, in the first half.

Arkansas turned around its shooting against TAMC with a 48 percent effort in the second half, but didn't break 70 points until a pair of Charles Thomas free throws pushed the Hogs there in the final minute.

After allowing Abilene Christian to get within 49-47 in the second half, Arkansas went on a 41-9 run over the final 14 minutes with everything on both ends clicking.

Heath would like to see a replay of that surge.

"We're still trying to put a full game together," Brewer said. "We know if we go out there and play hard every play, we can get the job done on most nights.

"We've just got to keep on executing and I think we did in the 41-9 run. That shows we played hard, we played well and we played together."

Heath said Tuesday he was "leaning" toward starting freshman Steven Hill at center instead of fellow freshman Darian Townes, who started the two exhibition games but let his nerves get to him with fouls and his rushed field-goal attempts.

Brewer, Modica, Olu Famutimi and Sullivan will round out the starting lineup.

Hill has also had foul problems, but he showed poise against Abilene Christian by scoring 9 points in the final eight minutes, including 3 of 3 free throws and a nice left-handed jump hook.

Thomas was another bright spot for Arkansas against Abilene Christian after coming in to run the high post when both Hill and Townes sat out most of the first half with two fouls each. He scored 9 of his 11 points during Arkansas' comeback from down 20-13, took two charges and snagged 5 rebounds.

When Modica looked at the stat sheet, unlike a season ago, he saw plenty of help to go with his 20 points.

"That feels incredible," Modica said. "I feel real good about that as a captain and as a teammate. I think it continues to happen."

Arkansas had four players in double figures and two with 9, which is what Heath would like to see tonight in a high-scoring game.

Winthrop started three guads, including two freshmen, with a small lineup in its last exhibition game and Heath won't be surprised to see a lot of zone defenses tonight.

He wants Arkansas to force a faster tempo by contesting shots and rebounding hard on the defensive glass. No second shots for Winthrop and an inside-outside balance against the zone will be the keys for Arkansas, Heath said.

"We want to get the score into the 70s and maybe the 80s," he said. "They're a team that will give you a lot of different looks, and if they find one you're struggling against -- and I suspect they will test hard with the zone -- we have to do a good job attacking it and not just settling for perimeter jump shots."

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