Arkansas Ready For Quick Turnarounds

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas plays the first of four games in the next eight days tonight against Tennessee State, but the Razorbacks aren't worried about the quick turnarounds.

Arkansas played three games in four days to win the Paradise Jam on Nov. 19-22 in the U.S. Virgin Islands and coach Stan Heath put his team through the most grueling off-season of conditioning in his three years in Fayetteville.

"It's nothing new," said junior guard Eric Ferguson. "We've done it already."

Sophomore small forward Olu Famutimi said this stretch will prove just how well-conditioned the Razorbacks are.

"It'll show how hard we worked in the offseason and how much heart we have," he said.

Heath knew his team would open with tournament play and came into the season with the plan to wear down the opposition with fullcourt defense and a steady stream of fresh bodies.

The evidence of the extra work has been clear so far.

Arkansas has consistently shot better percentages in the second half while forcing its opponents lower.

Top-ranked Illinois shot just 7 of 21 in the second half and didn't make a field goal in the last seven minutes of its 72-60 win against Arkansas on Dec. 4.

Three days later, Missouri was 0 of 9 on 3-pointers and 8 of 28 overall in the second half in Arkansas' 62-52 road win. After Arkansas hit only 39 percent in the first half against the Tigers, the Razorbacks shot 60 percent in the second half.

Sophomore captain Ronnie Brewer, who leads the team with 16.3 points per game and is the only player averaging more than 30 minutes, said this stretch is good preparation for Southeastern Conference and postseason play.

"Our SEC conference schedule, you play so many games on a quick turnaround," Brewer said. "Plus, it gets you ready if we make it to the NCAA Tournament. You have to play a lot of games in a few days.

"I think it gets us ready mentally and physically and shows what kind of team we are."

This quick sequence of games will also benefit freshman forward Marcus Monk, who is getting his basketball legs back after leading SEC freshmen in receiving with 37 catches for 569 yards and 6 touchdowns for the football Hogs.

"It's going to take time," Monk said. "I can't just get right in one day. I'm being patient right now.

"It's good to get my wind back right."

Monk, a smart young man by any definition, has picked up quickly on Arkansas' schemes and said his main goal is to refresh his muscle memory in the basketball basics.

"I know the fundamentals, but it's just getting it back to instinct," he said. "Learning the plays and learning the schemes. It's coming along. You just have to be patient."

Arkansas won't travel again until heading to Gainesville to play Florida on Jan. 8, but that's not soon enough for 6-foot-10 freshman center Darian Townes.

Townes had one of his best games of the season with 7 points on 3 of 4 shooting and 3 rebounds in 14 minutes at Missouri.

He grabbed all his rebounds and scored six straight points during a crucial stretch of the first half to help Arkansas gain a lead it wouldn't relinquish.

Townes struggled in the early home exhibition season trying to impress the hometown fans, but he said he enjoyed his success at Missouri partly for the consternation it caused the Tiger fans.

"Playing on the road is kind of fun," Townes said. "You got people going against you. If you make a shot, you can either taunt them back or give them a funny look. I like playing on the road."

Freshman forward Charles Thomas, fourth on the team in scoring with 8.9 per game, has traded in his braids for a straightened-out style with a ponytail.

He looks more like rappers Snoop Dog or Ludacris, but Heath said Thomas' look was a more of a tribute to the "Superfreak".

"Charles was watching some 1980s clips on Rick James and I think he liked his style," Heath said with a chuckle.

Arkansas bumped its total in the "Also receiving votes" list of the Associated Press poll to five in the latest rankings, three more than the first two it received after losing to Illinois.

Arkansas receiving votes after a narrow loss is unusual, but not unprecedented.

The Razorback football team went from No. 10 to No. 9 in the AP poll in 1998 after the infamous "Stoerner stumble" cost previously undefeated Arkansas a win at Tennessee.

Townes said the rankings can be a double-edged sword after Connecticut lost to unranked Massachusetts last week.

"Rankings really don't mean anything," Townes said. "We just come out here to play and do good things. If you do things like lose to an unranked team like UConn losing to Massachusetts, that's like a wake-up call.

"You're going to get a lot of bad pub. It's good and bad at the same time."

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