Tulsa Impressed With Revamped Arkansas

FAYETTEVILLE - Word's getting out. The Hogs are out of the bag.

Well, almost.

We'll have to see how Saturday's matchup against No. 5 Illinois in Alltel Arena plays out.

Tell you this, though, no matter the Fight in these Illini, the drive to Little Rock won't feel like a trip to the gallows for Arkansas players, coaches and their supporters.

On a frigid, drizzly and generally miserable Tuesday night, all three of those groups began to hit stride against Tulsa. Some 16,603 fans showed, and the rowdy students in the Hog Trough filled their end of the bargain with introduction chants and full-Boar enthusiasm throughout Bud Walton Arena.

While Hogs coach Stan Heath often waved his arms to push and prod, Arkansas (5-0) ran, posted, passed, stole and rebounded roughshod against the Golden Hurricane in an impressive 85-73 (a late Tulsa ran made it respectable) rout.

Three days after a somewhat listless 79-63 home win against Gardner-Webb, the Hogs rebounded with aggression (forced 27 turnovers) and enthusiasm (dozens of chest-bumps, high-fives and fist waves).

"They responded tremendously," said Heath, in his third season.

Paced by freshman forward Charles Thomas' 16 points (5 of 8 field goals, few of them short) in his second start, Heath called it the Hogs' best inside job. The bench play of Eric Ferguson and Dontell Jefferson continued to spark runs and four Hogs (Thomas, Ronnie Brewer, 14, and Olu Famutimi and Ferguson, 11, each) scored in double figures as the Hogs shot 49.2 percent from the field.

Tulsa coach John Phillips, whose team won here two years ago and lost to Arkansas by 7 points at home last season, noticed huge improvements.

"They're shooting the basketball and sharing the basketball," Phillips said. "There's not one or two guys out there that can shoot it. That really causes you problems defensively because you can't concentrate on one player. Everybody, it seemed like, whenever they stepped out, made a big shot.

"Whenever we cut the lead and were making a run, it wasn't the same guy every time. Ferguson came in and got them going. Then Thomas hit a couple. And people were just stepping out and shooting the basketball.

"My hat's off to 'em. They're definitely a lot better team. They've got tremendous athletes and Stan's done a great job of getting them organized. They run their stuff really well."

Brewer said he saw moves in the right directions and Heath said while his team still hasn't put together a solid 40 minutes, they're getting closer (within about 10 minutes on Tuesday).

It's a long way from perfect and Brewer and Heath are the first to admit it. Arkansas missed 12 (of 29) free throws and Tulsa shot 53 percent from the field. The Golden Hurricane won the rebound battle by one and maybe half of Arkansas' 16 turnovers were forced.

Still, this work in progress is something to see.

Jarius Glenn is a senior forward, a man's man playing his way into the Tulsa record books. On Tuesday, he had 30 points and 11 rebounds.

But this wasn't even close.

The difference?

"They hit shots, man," Glenn said. "Last year we kind of lagged off the (power forward) and kind of lagged off the (small forward) a little bit because they weren't shooting the ball as well. But they shot the ball well tonight. Ferguson, all those guys, you can tell they worked on their game in the off-season."

Glenn looked spent. More than last year or the year before?

"Oh, yeah," he said. "They bring 'em off the bench. Kept pressing.

"That's an SEC team right there - long and athletic."

Hear that?

Finally, a real-live SEC team.

The sort that can hang with Illinois?

We'll see.

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