Razorbacks Take Show On Road

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Arkansas freshman center and Branson native Steven Hill didn't exactly get the reception he was hoping for when the Razorbacks played in his home state of Missouri on Dec. 7.

"When I went to Missouri, I was hoping they'd boo me," Hill said. "You feed off that and get a little extra motivation."

Tigers fans spent as much time razzing their struggling team as they did the Razorbacks in Arkansas' 62-52 win.

But don't expect a replay of such lack of support today when the Hogs (13-1, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) visit Florida (8-3, 0-0).

The 12,000-seat O'Connell Center, or "O-Dome" has developed a nasty reputation for visiting teams since Billy Donovan took over for the 1997 season. The Gators have enjoyed 19-, 13-, 12- and 11-game home winning streaks since then.

Arkansas hasn't won in Gainesville since a 94-85 victory during the 1995 season and the Razorbacks are 1-5 all-time at Florida.

Florida is trying to recapture some of its "O-Dome" magic after already losing twice here this season -- to rival Miami and in wire-to-wire fashion against Louisville and Donovan mentor Rick Pitino.

The Gators will be without 6-foot-6 junior guard and leading scorer Matt Walsh (16 points per game), who is out at least a month with torn ankle ligaments.

"Arkansas is off to a phenomenal start," Donovan said. "They will present a big challenge for us. Every game we play from here on out, even if we play well, we could lose."

Even without Walsh, the Gators are much more talented than Ole Miss' collection of clutch-and-grab players the Hogs mashed 69-46 at home Wednesday night.

"It's almost a complete opposite game of what we faced (Wednesday)," Heath said. "Florida is very high-powered offensively. They can score from a lot of different spots. They're a very talented team.

"It's a more uptempo pace and our players are comfortable with that style."

The Razorbacks have lost nine consecutive SEC road games. Their last road win was at Vanderbilt in 2003 during Arkansas coach Stan Heath's first season.

A win today could propel Arkansas from the "also receiving votes" category into the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time since being No. 25 in December 2000, but that's not necessarily on the Hogs' minds.

"We're just thinking about Florida," said junior guard Eric Ferguson. "We're not worried about being in the Top 25."

Arkansas already has won four times away from Bud Walton Arena this season with its season-opening tournament win at the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands Nov. 19-22 and at Missouri.

Heath compared the tight setting of the O'Connell Center as a "big high school environment" with the fans "right on top of you."

Heath feels the strides his team made by winning the close affair at Missouri, the confidence it has built on its current eight-game winning streak and the continued solid play from his veteran backcourt of Ferguson, Jonathon Modica, Ronnie Brewer, Olu Famutimi and Dontell Jefferson can be enough to overcome any hostile crowd.

"This is a different team," Heath said. "Our team is older at the positions it needs to be older at on the perimeter. I don't expect us to get rattled."

The key will be getting off to a good start, Heath said.

Florida still has plenty of offensive weapons with junior guard Anthony Roberson (15.5 ppg), senior forward David Lee (12.5 ppg, 6.5 rebounds/game) and sophomore guard Lee Humphrey, who scored a career-high 15 points in Florida's 82-69 loss to Florida State in its first game without Walsh last Sunday.

Ferguson has respect for Florida, but even more confidence in the Razorbacks' defensive pressure that held Ole Miss to 25.5 percent shooting and led to 25 points off 24 turnovers.

"They're a good team, but I don't think they play that good on defense," he said. "If we attack them from the beginning, we'll be all right.

"Their crowd is real aggressive. If we jump on them, they'll be quiet."

Heath said he has players who can "feed off" negative energy. But there's a fine line between achieving positive or negative results from such motivation.

"Different guys get up for different types of games," Brewer said. "You have to do it in a positive way. You have to stay focused and have a lot of intensity - don't let the crowd get you to do something you haven't been doing."

Heath said the Razorbacks played better on the road than their 0-8 record away from home last season seemed to indicate.

Arkansas held halftime leads at Alabama (35-34), at Auburn (41-28), at Tennessee (36-35) and at Ole Miss (21-16) before falling in the second halves.

"We didn't play bad on the road," Heath said. "We just wore down in the second half. We just got fatigued. If a team is not ready, it shows up early, not late.

"It was a fatigue factor more than guys not being comfortable on the road."

Second halves have been a different story this season.

Buoyed by the depth of freshman insiders Hill, Darian Townes and Charles Thomas, Arkansas has outscored teams by an average of 19 points in second halves, matching that margin to break open a four-point game against Ole Miss for a 23-point SEC win, the largest for Arkansas since a 107-83 victory against Alabama in 1998.

After getting six turnovers and just two steals against Ole Miss in the first half, Arkansas forced 18 turnovers and swiped 11 steals in the second.

"Sometimes we start off strong, sometimes not strong. But in the second half we have the fight to win the game," Famutimi said. "That's where we really stand out."

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