Hogs, Heath Learning A Lot Over Finals Break

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas has more to learn over finals break than academics.

Besides improving their rebounding and cutting down on turnovers, the Razorbacks (6-1) and coach Stan Heath will need a few cram sessions on one of the school songs.

Heath said Friday his team will go into the student section after every home victory to slap high-fives and have a sing-along.

"We don't quite know the words to, 'Oh, how it's good to be humble,' if those are the right words," Heath said. "But we're going to come up there and enjoy ourselves with our students right after the game."

Heath was referring, of course, to "Oh, Lord, It's Hard to be Humble," an old favorite the cheerleaders gather 'round and sing while swaying back and forth with the students after wins in Bud Walton Arena.

Arkansas should get plenty of practice with the victory song looking ahead to its next six opponents before the start of the Southeastern Conference schedule against Ole Miss on Jan. 5 in Fayetteville.

Beginning with Tennessee State on Thursday, the Razorbacks will wrap up their nonconference schedule against Prairie View A&M (Dec. 18), Lipscomb (Dec. 20), Hartford (Dec. 23), Jacksonville State (Dec. 29) and Louisiana-Monroe (Dec. 31).

"We got to take it one game at a time and we can't really look ahead," said sophomore captain Ronnie Brewer, who is leading the team with 16.3 points and 2.7 steals per game.

"But every team we play, we're capable of beating them. If we do that, we can go into conference play 12-1. Hopefully we can keep a winning streak going in SEC play."

Heath said Arkansas executive associate athletic director Bill Gray came to him about a new emphasis on curbing student behavior after major home victories.

Court-storming has become a regular occurrence around the nation for just about any home win against a top 25 team and Arkansas -- which will host ranked teams like Kentucky, Mississippi State and Alabama -- is looking for a way to allow a safer student participation following big wins.

"The students suggested they would love for the players to come over and enjoy the victory with them," Heath said. "I definitely concur and would love to connect more with the students and have that kind of connection.

"They have to come out and be a part of our success."

Arkansas football coach Houston Nutt leads his team from corner to corner of Reynolds Razorback or War Memorial Stadiums singing the fight song and Heath plans to take a page out of Nutt's playbook.

"I expect to be in the stands quite often," Heath said. "I just have to learn the song. I'll be singing."

Arkansas has a very good chance to be 12-1 and possibly ranked in the Top 25 before conference play begins, but the Razorbacks have plenty of room for improvement even though they've played well through their first seven games.

The Razorbacks allowed 19 offensive rebounds and 10 second-chance points by Missouri in Arkansas' 62-52 win Tuesday night and are seventh in the Southeastern Conference in rebounding margin (plus-2.3).

Arkansas is also ninth in the SEC in turnovers after committing 16.1 per game so far. Only LSU (16.2), Vanderbilt (17.2) and Tennessee (17.4) are making more.

The flip side to those two stats is that Arkansas is second in field-goal percentage defense (37 percent) and is forcing 19.1 turnovers per game for a plus-3 turnover margin good for fifth in the SEC.

Simply put, the Razorbacks are forcing so many misses (Missouri was 17 of 57) that teams have more opportunities for offensive rebounds and Arkansas is creating more mistakes than it makes.

The Razorbacks will work on their shooting, especially from the free throw line where they're hitting just 64.8 percent to rank ninth.

The greatest test for Arkansas in this six-game stretch will be getting up for teams on quick turnarounds.

The Razorbacks play four games in seven days with possible letdown games on Dec. 23 just before Christmas and on New Year's Eve against Louisiana-Monroe, which has already won at Baylor this year.

Heath said his team knows it is better than the competition it will face, so his players must focus on not playing to a lower level.

"More than anything, I'd like to see our team play the game," Heath said. "Not play the jerseys, just play the game. Regardless of who we're playing, if we're playing on one or two day's rest, let's do the things we've worked on and try to play for 40 minutes."

Arkansas will use this stretch to integrate 6-foot-6, 225-pound freshman Marcus Monk into the mix fresh off an All-SEC football season at receiver.

Monk averaged 20.8 points, 16.4 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 3.8 blocks and 2.5 steals for East Poinsett County High's Class AAA state title team last season.

He'll bring another long, athletic presence to an already tall bunch with an emphasis on rebounding and doing the dirty work for Arkansas. Heath will throw Monk in the mix against Tennessee State and said his real contributions likely won't start until after Christmas.

Another focus of this six-game stretch will be getting junior captain Jonathon Modica more involved in the team. Modica averaged 16.5 points per game last year but is averaging just 18 minutes and 7.1 points so far with a deeper lineup, more inside targets and the emergence of Brewer as the focal point of the offense.

Heath wants more rebounding from his guards like Brewer and Modica and a more aggressive approach on the glass will earn Modica more minutes.

Heath said after Tuesday's win at Missouri this is a good time for Modica to get his confidence back.

"I totally agree with him," Modica said. "It's been kind of rough for me as a player lately. But I'm satisfied because my team has been playing great."

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