Hogs Make History Before Christmas

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas made a little history before its holiday break.

The Razorbacks won 10 games before Christmas for the first time in school history by thrashing Hartford 87-55 before 10,321 on Thursday in Bud Walton Arena.

"Hey, I've never won 10 games before Christmas," said Arkansas coach Stan Heath. "That's a good thing for our basketball program to do something like that, especially with so many great teams that have played here. That's an outstanding accomplishment, but that's all it is.

"We still have a lot of season in front of us."

The Razorbacks (10-1) will be off today and Christmas before a late practice on Sunday to start prepping for Jacksonville State on Dec. 29 in Fayetteville and the start of Southeastern Conference play on Jan. 5 against Ole Miss in Walton Arena.

The current edition of the Razorbacks has the advantage of playing three extra games before the holiday break with its season-opening tournament win in the U.S. Virgin Islands to get to 10 wins.

Heath's first team was 4-4 before Christmas and was 6-3 last season, losing to Western Carolina on Dec. 22 in overtime.

The 1990-91 team had a chance to win 10 games before Christmas but lost in the finals of the preseason NIT to Arizona and was 9-1 before the holidays.

"That's a good little fact, I guess," said sophomore Ronnie Brewer. "But we're not satisfied with that. We're going to keep playing hard and trying to get better."

Brewer, who tied his career high with 23, was his usual do-it-all self, scoring seven of Arkansas' first 10 points and six of its last 11 before halftime to cap a 16-2 run and build a 45-18 lead at intermission.

In between, junior Eric Ferguson was just as active, collecting two steals and scoring eight points in less than two minutes to put the Razorbacks ahead 21-12 with 10 minutes to play in the first half.

Brewer and Ferguson, who combined for 40 points, were everywhere in the final three minutes before halftime with Arkansas leading 33-16.

Brewer came out of a wild scrum with the ball and fed Darian Townes for a hoop and the harm to convert a three-point play. Ferguson found Brewer for an open 3-pointer and Brewer showed why he's such a stat sheet stuffer on the next play.

Brewer blocked a Hartford shot, collected the defensive rebound in one motion and returned the feed downcourt to Ferguson for an open 3-pointer.

"I think (Brewer) plays the game," said Hartford coach Larry Harrison, who was an assistant at Cincinnati for eight years before taking the Hawks' job five years ago. "He plays within the game. He doesn't force a lot of things. That's what good players do. They play within their team and within the system.

"He didn't come down like, 'I'm Ronnie Brewer. I'm the main player on this team and I'm going to take all the shots.'"

Ferguson, who grabbed 6 rebounds and handed out 4 assists in the first half, collected the board on the next possession and threw ahead to Brewer, who drilled a 3-pointer with 26 seconds left before halftime.

"That goes back to practice," Brewer said. "We do a lot of drills that got us going. We know how each other play. He was finding me and I was finding him. We were knocking down shots."

Brewer's stat line at halftime was one most players would take for a whole game.

He had 15 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals and just one turnover in 16 minutes.

Ferguson nearly matched him with 11 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals in 14 minutes.

"We played a terrific first half," Heath said. "I thought that might have been our best first half of basketball all year long. I credit the players for coming ready to play and really strapping it on defensively."

Jonathon Modica and Ferguson added 17 and Townes had 11. Ferguson led Arkansas with 7 rebounds and tied Dontell Jefferson for game honors in assists with 6.

Arkansas followed up a season-low 10 turnovers against Lipscomb on Monday with 19 against Hartford, but with 23 assists still posted its fourth straight game with more assists than turnovers.

"I'd like us to not give it away so much," Heath said. "Those are the kind of things that can come back to haunt you. That's about the only thing I can find to complain about."

Arkansas came out of halftime determined to finish off Hartford and feel good about its last 20 minutes of basketball before Christmas.

Ferguson started it off with a 3, Brewer tossed a lob pass to Steven Hill for an easy basket, Charles Thomas hit a 3 and two free throws and Brewer went on another tear with a 3, a dunk on a no-look assist from Ferguson and another soaring lay-in dealt by Ferguson for a 62-21 lead less than four minutes into the second half.

At that point, Brewer had outscored Hartford 22-21. His first three points of the game pushed him past 500 for his career.

Brewer tied his career high of 23 with one of two free throws at the 6:56 mark and sat down with 5:09 remaining and Arkansas leading 78-47.

Modica scored in double figures for the third straight game on 5 of 9 shooting (2 of 3 from 3-point line, 5 of 7 from foul line).

Townes also continued his strong offensive play with his fourth straight double-figure game and his fifth of the season.

Townes, who scored 51 points in his three previous games, hit 4 of 6 shots and 3 of 6 free throws for 11 points to go with 4 rebounds.

The Razorbacks' defense was as stifling as ever.

While Arkansas hit 57.7 percent in the first half (15 of 26, 8 of 13 on 3s), Hartford was struggling along at 32.1 percent (9 of 28, 0 of 8 on 3s). The Razorbacks hit an identical 15 of 26 in the second half and Hartford made just 9 more baskets in the second half, the seventh opponent in 11 games Arkansas has held to 20 field goals or less.

Fifteen of Hartford's 20 turnovers came on Arkansas steals.

"We're long," Heath said. "I saw Ronnie stick his arm up and it just kept going and going and he got a piece of the ball."

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