Shaped Up Hogs Ready To Take On Troy

ST. THOMAS, U.S. Virgin Islands -- Jonathon Modica clapped his hands, encouraging his Arkansas teammates to suck it up.

The Razorbacks were bent over grabbing their shorts, trying to catch their breath.

"We get stronger as the game goes on!" Modica shouted.

This wasn't Friday night against Winthrop or even in a recent practice.

It was back in September -- two months before Arkansas played a game -- during a grueling hour-long conditioning session administered by assistant coach Oronde Taliaferro before a regularly scheduled pick-up game.

Modica, the Razorbacks junior captain from Smackover, knew what he was talking about and Arkansas (1-0) will try to maintain its second-half superiority at 7 p.m. today against Troy in the second round of Paradise Jam pool play in the St. Thomas bracket.

Through two exhibition games and their 72-49 season-opening win against Winthrop, the Razorbacks haven't just been stronger as the game goes on.

They've been downright dominant.

Arkansas has outscored its last two opponents 86-39 in the second half, including a 73-18 spread over the final 30 minutes combined against Abilene Christian and Winthrop.

"It's conditioning," said sophomore Olu Famutimi, who shot 7 of 9 for a game-high 17 points to go with 8 rebounds. "We really emphasize conditioning on our team. We want to play 40 minutes hard, nonstop, and that's what we did."

Arkansas has outscored its three opponents by an average of 7.3 points in the first half and by 20 in the second.

Teams are shooting 33.7 percent against Arkansas in the first half -- an already stingy number -- and just 28.2 in the second.

Arkansas opponents have hit a 44.4 percent clip (12 of 28) of their 3-pointers in the first half -- a stat that includes an 0 of 8 half from Texas A&M-Commerce -- but only 6.5 percent (2 of 31) in the second.

Conversely, the Razorbacks are averaging 45.8 percent (39 of 85) on field goals in the first half and 54.3 percent (44 of 81) in the second.

Arkansas has hit 42.8 percent on its 3-pointers in the first half -- a number coach Stan Heath would take for an entire game anytime -- and an even better 56 percent (14 of 25) in the second.

Defending the 3-point line early will be more important than usual against Troy.

The Trojans averaged 35 3-point attempts per game last year and led the Atlantic Sun in scoring, scoring margin, assists, steals, turnover margin, assist-turnover ratio and 3-pointers made.

The Trojans' 11.7 made 3-pointers per game last year was an NCAA Division I record.

Arkansas wasn't ready for the barrage in 2002 and junior Eric Ferguson remembers the 74-66 loss in Bud Walton Arena during Heath's first season.

"I just remember coming into the game, we slacked on them thinking they weren't going to be that good," Ferguson said. "They shot a lot of threes, pulling up from halfcourt almost to shoot threes. We have to pick them up at halfcourt."

The Razorbacks' 11 of 17 (64.7 percent) night behind the arc against Winthrop was the second-best 3-point percentage in Arkansas history. Only a 14 of 21 night against Western Carolina in 1999 was better.

"I'm not sure I can expect that every day," Heath said. "I don't want our team to be satisfied at how they played (Friday), because we're going to have to play even better against Troy."

For a team to shoot jumpers better in the second half than the first is nice enough, but those makes have the added bonus of allowing Arkansas to continue to press fullcourt and get into its opponents' legs.

It was a deadly combination against Winthrop as Arkansas forced 11 straight misses spread around five turnovers while hitting everything on its end to fuel the 32-9 run to close out the Eagles.

The Razorbacks haven't yet played a team comparable to what they'll face in the Southeastern Conference or in nonconference tests against Tulsa, Missouri or No. 6 Illinois, but Heath believes his depth will be the constant strength of his team.

Nine players are averaging double figures in minutes (although exhibition stats don't count toward season totals) and eight players logged 20 minutes or more against Winthrop.

"The strength of our team is in the second half," Heath said. "I really feel like our guys coming off the bench are going to be better than most teams we play."

Ferguson came off the bench and hit a 3-pointer and collected a steal right away against Winthrop, finishing with 16 points on 6 of 10 shooting (4 of 5 on 3-pointers).

Junior reserve Dontell Jefferson had a team-high 5 assists and freshman forward Charles Thomas hit 6 of 7 free throws earned as an active inside presence.

He said the hours of conditioning were tough on his freshman legs early on, but the time has paid off "big time."

"Hey, right now it's worked out," he said.

Arkansas' depth should be a big factor again versus the Trojans, who lost five starters from their 24-7 conference champion team, including Atlantic Sun Player of the Year Greg Davis.

The Trojans are coached by Dan Maestri, who has been at Troy for 23 years and is 15 wins shy of 400 for his career (385-244).

Troy will start three seniors and two juniors, including junior college transfer point guard Bobby Dixon. Two starters, Jacob Hazouri and Eddie Baker, were part of the team that upset Arkansas 74-66 at Bud Walton Arena in Heath's first season.

Hazouri had 9 points in that game on 3 of 5 3-point shooting while Baker played 2 minutes and collected 3 rebounds.

Heath said Troy is an offensive-minded team that likes to run a 2-2-1 press into a 2-3 zone defense in the halfcourt.

Troy's defense is geared more into inducing quick shots, so Heath wants his team to be patient and get its inside game going quicker than it did against Winthrop.

"They haven't changed in the last four or five years and I don't expect them to do it now," Heath said. "He's won a lot of games doing it that way. I don't see him trying to reinvent the wheel."

Hawgs Daily Top Stories