Arkansas 85, ULM 43

In its last nonconference game of the 2004-2005 regular season, Arkansas (12-1) looks as sharp as it has all year by demolishing Louisiana-Monroe before a New Year's Eve crowd of 14,205 at Bud Walton Arena.

When Ronnie Brewer picked up a steal, raced to the other end of the court and intentionally threw the basketball high off the backboard for fellow sophomore Olu Famutimi to dunk, University of Arkansas head coach Stan Heath did his best to fight back a smile.

But even though high-flying Famutimi got a technical for hanging on the rim, Heath couldn't help but appreciate instead of condemn the play as a boisterous Bud Walton Arena crowd went beserk behind him.

Of course, that's much easier to do when it puts your team up 33 points before intermission.

"When you are up big, those are good," Heath said. "I saw it coming. I had a feeling Ronnie was going to do that. He is a very unselfish player...At that point in time, I wasn't upset. It was just kids being kids."

That was just one of the many highlights as a very sharp bunch of Razorbacks jumped all over University of Louisiana-Monroe early and ended up demolishing the visiting Indians 85-43 before of crowd of 14,205 on New Year's Eve night.

"That was good - very good," Heath said. "I can't argue with that. They didn't score many points, we defended well and shot the lights out."

Jonathon "Pookie" Modica had a season-high 20 points, Brewer addedd 18 points and 7 steals and Famutimi 17 points as Arkansas (12-1) won its sixth straight game.

The UA squad tuned up for its SEC opener against visiting Ole Miss next Wednesday by matching its win total of a season ago before 2005 even rolled around.

"We have a chance to be pretty good, but I still don't know how good," Modica said. "We have a positive atmosphere on this team. We have a very positive approach and that is really helping us. Are we good enough to finish on top of the West? We'll have to see."

The Razorbacks were sizzling in the opening half as they knocked down 67.6 percent (23-34) of their shots from the field, 71.4 percent (5-of-7) from 3-point range, 5-of-8 free throws.

Arkansas, which ended up shooting 56.9 percent from the floor, dished out a whopping 16 of its 24 assists while committing just 2 of its 13 turnovers in the opening half.

"The assist to turnover ratio (16 to 2) was just phenomenal," Heath said. "We had a lot of guys had hot hands. Modica and Famutimi in the first half didn't miss a shot. Modica was storming and Brewer had his hands all over with seven steals."

But for all the great offense, it was the defensive intensity that was much different than in a 73-67 win over Jacksonville State just two days earlier.

"It was a lot better performance," Heath said. "A lot of guys played well and there was good balance and good teamwork. In the first half, I thought we were very strong, not only offensively, but defensively as well."

Arkansas forced 18 of ULM's 30 turnovers before intermission, including three right off the bat for an 8-0 lead before ULM even got off a shot.

One ULM official said after the game "we handled the ball like it was a ticking time bomb."

"We had 30 turnovers and you just can't live with that," ULM head coach Mike Vining said. "We came out and played better in the second half, but we have got to get tougher. They are very, very good and I can see why they have such a great record."

By scoring 23 of 29 points at one time, that lead surged to 49-18 on Brewer's 3-pointer with 3:07 as the crowd roared.

It reached a crescendo when Brewer and Famutimi combined for the spectacular play that pushed Arkansas ahead 54-21.

"We have goofed around at the end of practice on some things like that, sometimes," Brewer said. " I've thrown it off the shot clock and Olu has gotten it and dunked. This time, I was going to throw it down myself, but my steps were off. I looked at Olu first and he was trotting. Then, I caught a second look and he'd picked it up and we made eye contact. I thought, 'Why not?'"

Needless to say Famutimi was excited about the chance.

"When he made eye contact, I knew what was coming," Famutimi said. "We had done it sometimes in practice, after we were done, just playing around. But we had never done anything like that in a game. I got the technical for slapping the backboard. I did that to catch my balance because I was worried how I might come down. Coach (Stan Heath) was laughing. I think he was glad to see us playing so well and having fun."

Modica, 8 of 9 from the field, loved watching it.

"That was wonderful," Modica said. "I was glad to see Olu go get it. To be honest, I was kinda wishing it was me throwing it down, but I just went crazy when he did it. We had fun tonight. We really brought our defensive intensity in the first half. This was probably my best game. I was hitting my shots and I wasn't turning it over, I had some assists and not many turnovers. I want to just keep getting better."

The Razorbacks settled for a 56-23 lead at intermission and coasted home from that point on.

Arkansas posted gaudy leads of as much as 62-29 and 79-39 before taking its biggest lead of the game on Mike Jones' layup that made it 85-41 with 1:44 remaining.

Heath was thrilled with the fan turnout on a night when there was a lot of other things to do.

"I was shocked and I was so pleased that our fans came out tonight," Heath said. "I wouldn't have blamed them if they didn't, but for them to show up on a night like tonight is just a big credit to our fans."

Cecil Hood, a former UA-Fort Smith standout and Heath recruit to Kent State, had 16 points in his first start of the season to lead ULM (6-5) while DeAndre Alexander added 14.

The Razorbacks were rewarded for their play by Heath giving them New Year's Day off.

"The only reason to practice tomorrow would have been basically if I didn't trust the team," Heath said. "I really do. I trust the guys and they handle their business on and off the floor."

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