These Hogs Will Slam Gators

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Arkansas players hardly took time to digest what they'd done in Bud Walton Arena on Wednesday night.

Right after swallowing Ole Miss 69-46 in their Southeastern Conference opener to run to 13-1, the Razorbacks, clearly in serious cheer, began chatting up today's game at Florida.

The unranked Hogs, who are getting some Associated Press poll votes, but not lots of respect because of a fairly weak diet of nonconference foes, look at this as a big opportunity to net national attention.

"Statement" was the word most tossed about the Arkansas locker room to describe this matchup with the high-powered Gators.

After a two seasons of famine, these Hogs obviously are hungry.

And this time around, they have all the utensils necessary to carve up the Gators.



Unlike the skinny bunch that was pushed around here in the O'Connell Center during the 77-66 Florida win two seasons ago, these Hogs have plenty of frontline beef, a dynamite triple option at the point, slicing, athletic guards and small forwards and the best jump shooters (at least thus far) in the SEC (Arkansas leads the league in 3-point percentage, Florida is tops in field-goal percentage; the teams flip-flop for second place in both).

Minutes after the Ole Miss win, Arkansas junior guard Eric Ferguson said he believes the Hogs can beat anyone they face.

Including the Gators, who cranked the Hogs in Arkansas coach Stan Heath's first two seasons?

Ferguson grinned. He said Florida's offense still is dangerous, but made it clear the Hogs don't fear the Gators' defense.

And the Hogs figure to feast a bit on the vulnerable Gators with more full-Boar pressure.

Florida's offense, of course, was severely weakened recently with the loss of headbanded, hot-shot guard Matt Walsh, who will miss 4-6 weeks because of torn ankle ligaments.

The loss of the Gators' leading scorer (16 points per game) has forced Florida coach Billy Donovan to push freshmen forwards Corey Brewer (6.6 ppg) and Al Horford (6.2) into the starting lineup.

In its first game without Walsh, Florida was hammered, 82-69, at Florida State last weekend.

Even before the loss of Walsh and the game at FSU, Donovan had challenged his underachieving 8-3 team to toughen.

The Gators have had a week to work on that as today is their SEC opener.

With super accurate junior guard Anthony Roberson (15.5 ppg) and rock-solid senior forward David Lee (12.5 ppg, 6.5 rebounds per game) still to contend with, Heath's not putting stock in a sure win because of the loss of Walsh.

"Walsh is a key player for 'em, no question," said Heath late Wednesday night. "He's a top player.

"But it probably means Roberson's going to take more shots and Lee's going to take more shots. That's the scary thing. I think with Walsh gone, (Roberson is) going to be more aggressive, and that's not necessarily good."

At that, Heath laughed. More of a nervous than jolly chuckle.

"They're still going to be good," Heath said. "They have three of the best players in the league. Now with Walsh out, they have two of the best (Roberson and Lee)."

Two dandies aren't enough to beat these Hogs. As usual, Donovan's bench is stocked with young guys whose first names seem to be Mr., followed by Basketball.

Today, name games won't matter. And it won't really matter how the Gators try to keep up with the Hogs.

Each week, it seems, increasingly strutty Arkansas looks to have bigger and bigger things in store.

Thought here is they won't let Florida tarnish this golden opportunity, even on the road, which has been so unkind to the last two versions of Razorbacks basketball.

With a capacity of just 12,000, the O'Connell Center is no big deal. The fans in the student section call themselves the "Rowdy Reptiles" ("Leapin' Lizards" jumps to mind), but they aren't all that. This seems a stretch as far as bragging rights, but the Florida media guide proclaims proudly that 11,000-plus Gators fans have attended 45 of their last 46 SEC games.

Not exactly scary stuff.

"We're very confidant in our ability to go down there and win a game," Heath said.

This is the first of three games that could be big-time attention-getters.

On Tuesday, the Hogs host No. 19 Alabama before traveling to No. 18 Mississippi State next Saturday.

We're expecting some statements.

And a nice ranking.

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