Heath Making Big Statement With Lineup

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas coach Stan Heath is taking a big step forward with his starting lineup.

Make that "huge."

Heath said Monday he'll start 6-foot-10 freshman Darian Townes at power forward for the first time this season against Jacksonville State alongside 7-foot freshman center Steven Hill.

The game against the Gamecocks (4-7) on Wednesday night in Bud Walton Arena is a good chance for Heath to take his twin towers experiment to another level.

Six-foot-7 freshman power forward Charles Thomas, who started the last eight games and will be in Jackson, Miss., today for the birth of his daughter, won't be back until Thursday and won't play again until Friday against Louisiana-Monroe.

Rather than go to 6-8 junior power forward Rashard Sullivan, who started the first three games of the season and has led Arkansas (10-1) in rebounding five times, Heath will go with Townes and Hill for the first time.

"I'm leaning toward going huge with Steven and Darian together," Heath said. "I felt for whatever reason, Rashard seems so comfortable coming off the bench. I don't want to mess up that rhythm.

"I like the combination. It's a very strong inside team for us. It gives us a lot of size on the defensive end and with Townes scoring so well, it gives us a serious threat on the low block."

Townes has averaged 15.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.2 blocks in his last four games and is brimming with confidence.

Heath liked the Hill-Thomas combination in the starting lineup and the Townes-Sullivan frontcourt off the bench for blend of offensive and defensive skills the two pairs brought.

Hill is leading the Southeastern Conference and is eighth in the nation in blocks with 3.2 per game and Thomas is averaging 9.2 points per game in 20.5 minutes.

Townes is fourth in the SEC with 2.06 blocks per game and has begun to show an expanded offensive game complete with jump hooks and turnaround jumpers.

"That's a really tall lineup," said sophomore Ronnie Brewer, who makes it even taller playing the shooting guard at 6-7. "You have two of the best shot blockers in our conference. We're going to have a force inside. That's one of the things (Townes) does well. He can play with his back to the basket.

"When we play high-low, he can step up and play facing the basket and make the entry pass."

Heath has played Townes and Hill together for 8-10 minute stretches of blowouts as well as early on in the Paradise Jam title game against Eastern Michigan on Nov. 22 when the two forced turnovers with their double teams and came from the backside to block shots.

Heath said the Hill-Townes lineup will be more useful in the SEC when most teams field traditional power forward-center lineups.

Many of the teams Arkansas has played recently have started four perimeter players and one post player, which would have put Townes or Hill at a disadvantage trying to guard shorter, quicker players.

Both Townes and Hill have exceptionally quick feet for big men and Heath has had them chasing around 6-9 senior guard Mike Jones to get ready to guard more agile players away from the basket.

Hill has proved adept at stepping around post players to deflect entry passes and collected two steals off Arkansas' press against Hartford.

"I see some other big kids and it's not even close how well this kid moves compares to other kids his same height," Heath said. "They are capable of doing it. It's just something that over a period of time, they'll get more comfortable playing together."

Townes, who commanded a double team from Hartford for the first time this season, can't wait.

"I've been waiting for this day since it started," Townes said. "By me playing with Steve for the last few games, it gives a good lift on defense. It's a good lift on the defensive end, like 110 percent. You have two supreme shot blockers and two supreme offensive players as well."

Playing Hill and Townes together will present teams with a tough dilemma if they do try to double team Townes.

Should they bring a post player, Hill will get better and closer looks at the rim and if they bring down a guard, all of Arkansas' perimeter players have shown the ability to knock down 3-pointers on a regular basis.

Townes can easily see over a double team and with his game stretching to 15 feet, he can step away from the basket to feed Hill from the high post and open driving lanes for the guards.

Heath said after defeating Hartford 87-55 on Dec. 23 that he believed rebounding would be one of the biggest areas of improvement with Townes and Hill in the game together. Arkansas is already fourth in the SEC in rebounding margin at plus-5.5.

When Townes and Hill go for blocks, it takes them out of position to rebound. Now the two can clean up for each other.

"We both are good shot blockers and we understand when you go for a shot, it's hard to get the rebound," Hill said. "When I see Darian -- or he sees me -- going for a block, it's easy for us to go for the rebound."

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