Modica Trying To Get Head Right

FAYETTEVILLE -- Jonathon Modica is trying to get his head right.

Arkansas' junior captain from Smackover has a freshly shaved head and a chance for a fresh start over the Razorbacks' break for final exams.

Modica, who averaged 16.5 points per game last year, is averaging only 18 minutes and 7.1 points this season.

He's had as many or more turnovers as points in his last two games (3 turnovers, 2 points against Illinois; 3 points, 3 turnovers against Missouri) and has struggled to find his niche on a team deeper than ever at each position.

Modica and coach Stan Heath believe the Razorbacks' six-game stretch against lightweights like Lipscomb and Prairie View A&M is the perfect time for Modica to rediscover his game and his confidence.

"That's what I'm trying to do," said Modica, rubbing his hand over his bald pate. "I'm trying every superstition I can. I just really like playing with a shaved head. I'm going to keep it that way. I just have to play hard and play with my teammates.

"It's going to start happening."

Part of the problem finding Modica minutes has been his turnover tendencies.

Heath needs an extra ballhandler to take the pressure off sophomore Ronnie Brewer at point guard and that has meant more minutes for juniors Eric Ferguson and Dontell Jefferson.

Sophomore swingman Olu Famutimi is the Razorbacks' leading rebounder (5.0 per game) and one of their top matchup defenders, further curtailing Modica's minutes.

Modica was the Razorbacks' leading offensive rebounder last season (2.1 per game) but is averaging only 2.0 total this year.

Heath said Friday one of the quickest ways for Modica to earn more minutes is to crash the glass harder.

"He's a tremendous athlete and I know he can do a better job attacking the glass offensively and defensively," Heath said. "Don't worry about shots. I'd like to see him get after it on rebounding and I think the other parts of his game will come along."

Confidence can snowball when a player gets on a roll and it can shrivel up when a player struggles.

Modica has never lacked for confidence until now and he said something as simple as hitting his first jumper could be all he needs to snap out of his funk.

"Hopefully I can head back in the right direction and be the player I'm capable of being," he said. "I know I'm capable of doing a lot of things.

"I just (need) something to get me going and make me feel like my old self again."

Heath believes Modica's contributions will be vital to Arkansas' success in Southeastern Conference play. Brewer was the only double-figure scorer against Illinois (21) and Missouri (20).

"We're not going to be as good as we can be if just we're relying on Ronnie Brewer being the only double-figure scorer out there," Heath said. "That's not what we want to do. We want three, four, five guys in double figures every night."



McCURDY BREAKS FOOT

Arkansas signee Sean McCurdy of St. Anthony's High in New Jersey is out for six to eight weeks after breaking the little toe on his right foot in practice this week and undergoing corrective surgery Wednesday.

McCurdy, 6-foot-1, 175 pounds, is one of three returning starters on the Friars team that went 30-0 last year and finished second in the USA Today high school poll.

McCurdy averaged 15 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists per game in 2003-04.

"Obviously we will not be as strong a team without him," said St. Anthony coach Bob Hurley. "This is not something we could have foreseen. He was just coming back to practice after suffering from tendentious in his right knee and just stepped on another player's foot and went down."



HILL ON RECORD BLOCK PACE

Arkansas 7-foot freshman center Steven Hill is doing more than leading the SEC in blocks per game at 3.57 swats.

He's also on a record-setting pace at Arkansas.

The Razorbacks only keep stats on blocks dating to the 1977-78 season, but Hill is on pace to set the freshman block record and possibly challenge Oliver Miller's all-time single-season record of 112.

Miller blocked 60 shots in his freshman season (1988-89) and Hill already has nearly half that number with 25 through seven games.

At 3.57 blocks per game over 30 games (regular season plus at least one SEC Tournament game) would get Hill to 107 if he can keep up his pace.

Extra games in the SEC or NCAA Tournaments would give Hill a chance to break the record held by "Big O." Miller averaged 2.94 blocks in 38 games in 1990-91.



ALLEY-OOP SUCCESS

Not since point guard Kareem Reid (1996-99) roamed the hardwood has Arkansas enjoyed as much success with the alley-oop as the Razorbacks have this season.

The most successful combination has been Brewer tossing to Famutimi and Arkansas has run the play to perfection in nearly every game its played.

Like a football team running its trick play out of a standard formation, so have the Razorbacks succeeded in catching teams off guard.

"It's sort of weird," Brewer said. "We run a lot of plays similar to that, so a lot of teams aren't ready for it. A lot of times we run it when teams aren't expecting it. The back man always falls asleep.

"I always read the backman and it's been working so far."

The Razorbacks love to run the play out of timeouts and the play has usually keyed a scoring run.

The first play Arkansas ran out of halftime against Illinois was a Brewer to Famutimi slam and it kick-started a burst to cut Illinois' lead from 40-31 to 45-39.

The Razorbacks ran it against Tulsa coming out of the first media timeout in the second half leading 56-41. Jefferson tossed to Famutimi and soon the Arkansas lead was 21.

The alley-oop worked four times against Missouri on Tuesday and once when a Rashard Sullivan oop intended for Darian Townes ended up rolling in.

"It's a big momentum change for us," Brewer said. "We score a big basket, it gets the other team back on their heels. It keys our defense, and our defense keys our offense and then we start rolling again. That's when we start pulling away from a lot of teams."



MONK CRAMMING

Freshman Marcus Monk is putting in extra work to learn the Razorbacks' offensive and defensive schemes before Arkansas plays Tennessee State on Thursday in Fayetteville.

After a 7:30 a.m. practice Friday, Monk was back at 2 p.m. for a film session and some individual work. He'll continue to cram for the next three weeks and get a chance to work his way into shape in practice and in six games over 13 days.

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 year.

"This is Marcus' first time and he's getting thrown into a fire right away," Heath said. "We do have a good stretch of games where he can make mistakes and play through it."



UP NEXT

Practice schedule: Practice today, off Monday.

Next game: Tennessee State

When: 7:05 p.m., Thursday

Where: Bud Walton Arena, Fayetteville

Radio/TV: Arkansas Razorback Sports Network

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