Hogs Are On The Defensive

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas did more in its first seven games than get off to its best start in seven years and earn the Razorbacks' first victory against a major nonconference opponent in 19 tries.

The Razorbacks have found their identity.

That's clear within moments of talking to any of them.

"We want to beat a team by scoring, but we don't want to let them score much," said sophomore small forward Olu Famutimi.

"We want to win by playing defense."

Arkansas (6-1) resumes play tonight in Bud Walton Arena - after a nine-day break for final exams -against Tennessee State (5-4).

The Razorbacks ended an 0-18 slump against teams from the Big East, Big Ten, Big 12 and Atlantic Coast Conferences with their 62-52 win at Missouri on Dec. 7.

The game was ugly by offensive standards with 37 missed field goals in the first half and 37 combined turnovers for the game.

But for Arkansas coach Stan Heath, the game was beautiful.

Arkansas blocked 7 shots, swiped 10 steals and forced Missouri into 29 percent shooting (17 of 57).

The Razorbacks lead the Southeastern Conference in blocks (49) and are second in steals (10.4 per game) and field-goal percentage defense (37), just behind No. 20 Mississippi State (36.6).

Arkansas is second in turnovers forced with 19.1 per game, behind only No. 9 Kentucky (20.7).

"Last year, if we were shooting good from the outside, we'd feel good about ourselves," Heath said. "This team, if we're shutting people down, getting deflections, making defensive plays, blocking shots, we feel good about ourselves.

"That's something we feed off. That's something we can do all the time."

Heath knew his team had the size and athleticism to be strong defensively, but with several scorers on the perimeter he wasn't sure how long it would take for them to buy into his philosophy.

"I didn't think they'd pick up on things so quickly," Heath said. "Not just the different things we're doing, but how to help each other, how to cover up for each other, how to be a good teammate on the defensive end."

Arkansas should continue to hone its reputation and pad its defensive stats tonight against Tennessee State as the Tigers average 20.6 turnovers.

The Tigers will be at a distinct size disadvantage against Arkansas, which now has eight players 6-foot-6 or taller with the addition of 6-6, 225-pound dual-sport freshman Marcus Monk, who led SEC freshman in receiving this year with 37 catches for 569 yards and 6 touchdowns.

Monk, who could see limited action tonight after less than a week of real practice, will eventually bring his defensive ability to guard any position on the floor.

The Tigers' tallest player is 6-9, 240-pound forward Rod Flowers, who is averaging 16.7 points and 10.7 rebounds per game after Tennessee State's 86-67 win against Alabama A&M on Tuesday.

Hogs 7-foot freshman center Steven Hill -- who is leading the SEC in blocks at 3.57 per game, and with 25 through seven games is on pace to shatter the Arkansas freshman season record of 60 -- will draw the early assignment on Flowers.

Hill has shown the ability to guard smaller and quicker players with his footwork and excellent timing to block shots.

Hill helped harass Missouri star forward Linas Kleiza into a 6 of 16 shooting night, got No. 1 Illinois' big men James Augustine and Jack Ingram in foul trouble and did the same to Eastern Michigan forward John Bowler in the title game of the Paradise Jam on Nov. 22.

Bowler had averaged a double-double in the first two games of the tournament but fouled out with 13 points and 5 rebounds in only 22 minutes against the taller Razorbacks, who swatted 10 shots in their 82-64 win.

After taking struggling junior captain Jonathon Modica out of the starting lineup for the first time this season against Missouri in favor of junior transfer point guard Dontell Jefferson, Heath may shuffle his starters again tonight.

Heath wants Modica to get more involved during the Razorbacks' final six nonconference games and he's had some good practices over the finals break.

Heath could also switch at the power forward spot, where freshman Charles Thomas has started the last four games.

Junior power forward Rashard Sullivan, who started the three games at the Paradise Jam, has led Arkansas in rebounding for three of the last four games while coming off the bench.

Other than Modica-Jefferson or Thomas-Sullivan possibilities, Heath looks pretty well locked into Ronnie Brewer, Famutimi and Hill as starters.

Eric Ferguson, who is second on the team in minutes (25.4) and scoring (12.6) and first in assists (4.1), comes off the bench and likes it that way.

"The starting lineup isn't a major thing for me," Heath said. "It's who's playing well and the combinations that are working well together.

"That means executing, that means defending, that means running the floor and rebounding. If they do those four things, we're going to be a team that plays well. It won't matter who we play. The end result, no matter what the scoreboard says, we're going to feel good about ourselves."

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