Heath Not Looking Past Gardner-Webb

FAYETTEVILLE -- After six days in the Caribbean, eight hours of travel and 30 minutes standing helplessly by a baggage carousel waiting on luggage that never arrived, a still sleepy Arkansas coach Stan Heath wasn't in any mood to hear the suggestion Gardner-Webb wouldn't be a tough opponent.

Fresh off their championship at the 2004 Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Razorbacks (3-0) will play their regular season home opener at 2:05 p.m. on Saturday against the Runnin' Bulldogs (2-0) in Bud Walton Arena.

The name Gardner-Webb doesn't exactly tingle the spine, and it sure didn't tickle Heath's funny bone to see the Bulldogs hammering East Carolina 90-60 during his team's three-hour layover in Atlanta on Tuesday night.

He also wasn't amused by a Wednesday question implying not only that Gardner-Webb would be a typical patsy, but that Dec. 7 road opponent Missouri wasn't very good, either, with the Tigers losing by 24 to Creighton the same night.

Heath has apparently heard some murmurings about Arkansas' nonconference schedule, not the least by ESPN loudmouth Dick Vitale calling it "cupcake city."

"You have to have a schedule that fits your team," Heath said. "Anybody that doesn't like my scheduling can stick it."

Arkansas has won 9 and 12 games in the previous two seasons, and the Razorbacks played the nation's toughest schedule in Heath's first season.

Knowing he had a young team needing time to grow without having its confidence burst, Heath scheduled teams like Garnder-Webb, Lipscomb, Hartford and Prairie View A&M.

"That's the luxury of playing some games where we can find out some things about our team and not get beat in the process," Heath said. "It's important for us to find our identity. We're still growing and finding out where we are."

The pre-Southeastern Conference slate still has plenty of name-brand tests and they start this Tuesday when Arkansas hosts Tulsa to kick off a three-game stretch against the Hurricane, versus No. 5 Illinois in North Little Rock and at Missouri.

But Heath doesn't want his team looking past GW, who beat down a East Carolina team that had already defeated Oregon State and Pepperdine.

"When you read a scoreboard and a Gardner-Webb beats a Conference-USA team by 30, it gets your attention," Heath said. "It grabbed me right away and I was spreading the word last night with the players at the airport. We have to be ready to play."

It has every marking of a letdown game coming off the Razorbacks' successful trip to the Virgin Islands where they won three games by an average of 25.3 points, shot 51.5 percent and held the opposition to 30.2 percent.

"It's got a lot of danger signs to it because I don't know exactly where Gardner-Webb is, but I know they're playing good basketball right now," Heath said. "We can't afford to take anyone lightly. We've struggled over the years with teams similar to Gardner-Webb and we've been upset by a couple."

Gardner-Webb is a Southern Baptist school in Boiling Springs, N.C., from the Atlantic Sun Conference in its third year playing Division I basketball.

The Runnin' Bulldogs return three starters and brought in two talented junior college players with Tim Jennings and Mike Jones.

Jennings is one of those transfers and he had a career-high 20 points in the Bulldogs' win. Returners Brian Bender and Simon Conn each added 18 for GW, which shot 51 percent for the game against East Carolina.

Bender, a 6-foot-6 junior forward, is averaging 18.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in two games to lead the Bulldogs.

Conn is a 6-9 center who shot 62.2 percent last year, including 41.7 percent on 3-pointers.

Gardner-Webb also looks like a good rebounding team with four players having five or more boards in each of its first two games.

The Bulldogs have 42 assists and 26 turnovers, a 1.6 to 1 ratio.

Rick Scruggs is in his 10th year at GW and he called the win -- boosting his overall record above .500 at 120-119 -- against East Carolina "the biggest in school history, by far."



B FOR BIG MEN

Heath gave a nice grade to his new big men Steven Hill, Darian Townes and Charles Thomas after the Paradise Jam.

Hill broke the tournament block record with 10 in three games, Townes averaged 4 rebounds, 2 blocks and shot 4 of 7 from the field after rushing his shot in the exhibition games.

Thomas was an enthusiasm infusion off the bench, averaging 7.7 points and 3.3 rebounds per game.

"I'd give them a B," Heath said. "Sometimes when they play defense, they're awesome. Sometimes they tend to relax and give up post position too easy. Offensively, it's a little of both. Sometimes they're not getting enough touches, sometimes they have to be more patient and go to the moves they've been taught."

Heath was particularly pleased with the effort he saw.

"I'm watching Steven Hill dive on the floor (with Arkansas) up by 18 and I'm getting chills down my spine," he said.



FINAL THOUGHTS FROM THE ISLANDS

In a land where the lifestyle is so laid-back and stress free, it was even more disconcerting to see the brawls between the Indiana Pacers and the fans in Detroit and the ugly display between South Carolina and Clemson on the football field the very next day.

It was refreshing to be even briefly in a place where the people watch out for each other, greet everyone with a "Good morning", "Good afternoon", or "Good evening" instead of a blank stare and use the car horn as a way of saying "Thank you" or "Go ahead" rather than as an accompaniment to an obscene gesture.

Manners, which seem to be more and more scarce in our me-first culture, are a source of pride for the people of the beautiful Virgin Islands.

That couldn't have been more clear to me as I landed as I was greeted by George Ethredge, a boat captain who has become good friends with my girlfriend, Holland, and her parents David and Linda.

George drove me around the island and up to Paradise Point, where he bought me a Corona and pointed out some of the 20-some islands within view from the amazing overlook.

He and fellow jack of all boat trades Benjy Schwartz took me in like an old friend and showed me a great time on a couple different vessels, one a 58-foot yacht named Maverick.

While George scrubbed the bottom of the boat, I snorkeled around the bay at Buck Island, more than five miles from St. Thomas, and Benjy tossed some bread crumbs in the water, creating a swarm of dozens of yellow tail snapper racing around me for the tasty bites.

The whole experience was awesome and I highly recommend George and Benjy to anyone contemplating a trip to the islands during the winter season or whenever the mood suits you.

These two are the best and can tailor a package for whatever you'd like from sightseeing to diving to deep sea fishing.

Call Triton Charters at 1-800-737-7311 for more information or e-mail George at egeorge@vipowernet.net or Benjy at arielb@viaccess.net.


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