Hogs Try To Continue Dominance

FAYETTEVILLE -- Stan Heath is a basketball junkie, but at least Arkansas' third-year coach can admit he has a problem.

"I watch a lot of basketball," Heath said. "My wife gets mad at me sometimes because I'm up all night watching games of teams we'd probably never play."

Heath loves to study the game and how other teams play it.

With Arkansas (10-1) off to its best start in 10 years and winners of 10 games before Christmas for the first time in school history, Heath is also curious about how the Razorbacks' performance stacks up to others around the nation.

For games like tonight's 7:05 tip-off against Jacksonville State (4-7), Heath can only see how his team compares by how thoroughly it dominates the Gamecocks.

Heath's scoreboard scanning last week revealed No. 25 Virginia needed overtime for a two-point win against visiting Loyola-Marymount and No. 10 Pittsburgh struggled to pull away from Richmond.

The two participants in last season's NCAA title game have had their share of hiccups as well.

No. 9 Georgia Tech came within a missed buzzer-beater of losing to Illinois-Chicago earlier this season and defending NCAA champion No. 11 Connecticut played uninspired and lost at Massachusetts a couple weeks later.

Arkansas has won the games it has been expected to convincingly and competed well in the game it was projected to lose against current No. 1 Illinois.

The Razorbacks are second in the Southeastern Conference in scoring margin (plus-22.1) and are leading the league in field goal defense (35.9 percent).

"The thing I've been really impressed with is we have pretty much dominated the opponents," Heath said. "That's not true when you look at some of the other scores. There's some teams getting by in overtime or barely getting by.

"You want to get by, but we've been able to play at a higher level and control our games."

The difference between Arkansas and teams ranked in the top 25 is fairly simple.

The Razorbacks are coming off 9- and 12-win seasons in Heath's first two seasons and have suffered upsets of their own to the likes of Troy in 2002 and Western Carolina in 2003.

This team has shown no signs of taking anyone lightly and has gotten off to fast starts en route to blowout wins in its four games since a nine-day break for finals.

Arkansas defeated Tennessee State, Prairie View A&M, Lipscomb and Hartford by a combined 141 points.

"We're not stuck on what we've done so far," said sophomore Ronnie Brewer, who is eighth in the SEC in scoring with 16.3 per game and is third in field goal percentage (55.8). "We have a lot of season left. We're not satisfied with it. We have a lot of work to do."

The Razorbacks' lack of mercy tells Heath that Arkansas is developing a killer instinct.

"It's not our problem if the other team is struggling," Heath said.

While the latest competition is no comparison to what Arkansas will face when SEC play begins Jan. 5 in Fayetteville against Ole Miss, Heath hopes the desire Arkansas has shown against lesser teams and against the best team in the country will carry over.

"This team is pretty hungry," Heath said. "They've had experiences over the past couple years that keep them humble. As long as they stay humble and hungry, they'll be fine."

Heath is shaking up his starting lineup tonight with a massive size infusion.

His freshman post tandem of 7-foot Steven Hill and 6-10 Darian Townes will start at center and power forward, respectively, for the first time together.

Freshman forward Charles Thomas, who started the previous eight games at power forward, is at home in Jackson, Miss., for the birth of his daughter and will be back Thursday.

Heath said Thomas will play against Louisiana-Monroe on Friday.

"He's excited and nervous as I don't know what," Heath said Monday before labor was induced on Tuesday. "You never know when you're such a young age how that can affect you. He's real anxious to be a dad and excited about it. We're going to try to give him a lot of support while he's going through this time."

Heath noticed some bounce back in his team's legs at its first practice back from Christmas break on Sunday. The Razorbacks played four games in eight days after finals, but now their minds are "free of clutter," Heath said.

Jacksonville State is coming off a 95-53 loss to No. 21 Mississippi State. The Gamecocks are led in scoring by 6-foot junior guard Walker D. Russell, who Heath saw a lot of scouting current Michigan State forward Paul Davis while the two were teammates at Rochester (Mich.) High.

Russell is averaging 15.1 points per game but has been held to 4 and 8 in Jacksonville State's last two losses to Mississippi State and Delaware State.

The Razorbacks are eager to test themselves against the SEC, but Heath doesn't want them looking too far ahead.

"We're ready to rock and roll and get this thing started again," Townes said.

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