After playing one of the most physical teams in the SEC - Ole Miss - and coming out with a 69-46 win at home Wednesday night, coach Stan Heath was effusive in his praise of 7-footer Steven Hill, 6-10 Darian Townes and 6-7 Charles Thomas.
Hill blocked three shots to pad his SEC-leading total of 41, Townes scored 12 on 4 of 8 shooting and Thomas matched his scoring average with nine points and he snared three rebounds before fouling out.
"I thought they were terrific," Heath said. "They probably didn't have their best game, but in this kind of a game where it's very intense, very physical, they didn't back down at all.
"If anything, they were dishing out some blows."
After hearing all season about how the physicality would pick up without a proportionate increase in foul calls, Thomas found out right away he hadn't been fooled.
Thomas went up for a shot early and was hammered to the court by Ole Miss center Jeremy Parnell. As he picked himself up to head back on defense without a whistle, Thomas realized no one was pulling his leg.
"When I went up on the first play and the dude took me out, I was like, 'Damn, Coach wasn't lying!'" Thomas said. "It really is physical. After that, I wasn't looking for fouls. I was just playing hard."
Townes, averaging more than 13 points in his last seven games, said he noticed the Ole Miss scouting report was better than his previous opponents. He heard Rebels yelling to watch for his turnaround jumper and he found that double teams denied one of his favorite moves.
From the bench, Townes watched where the Ole Miss double teams were coming from and realized he could go to the middle of the paint instead of away from it.
"I saw the middle was wide open, so I tried to get some fouls in there," he said.
Townes responded by knocking down 4 of 6 free throws and his dunk to make it 48-33 capped a 21-10 run after halftime.
Townes also listened to his veteran guard teammates who told him to look for them on the perimeter. He responded by kicking to Ronnie Brewer for a 3-pointer in the first half and to Eric Ferguson for a 17-footer in the second.
"I started to see them come after me," Townes said. "Dontell (Jefferson), Eric (Ferguson), Pookie (Jonathon Modica) and Ronnie were telling me they were coming to double.
"I kicked out and we got some good shots."
Hill said Arkansas' new post players were well-prepared for the pushing and shoving after months of practices during which they banged against each other and 6-8 junior forward Rashard Sullivan.
Hill, who took an elbow to the nose while blocking a shot and still was whistled for a foul, said the Ole Miss game wasn't unlike a Razorbacks practice.
"Our big men, we have four-deep and we get that down low in practice," He said. "Every night you're facing some huge athletic guy and we see that in practice.
"The coaches try to emphasize that to make us tougher. We really want to be physical with teams."
LAYING OFF THE REFS
Neither Heath nor Ole Miss coach Rod Barnes was happy with the officiating Wednesday night, which may mean the officials did a good job.
Ole Miss was called for 24 fouls, Arkansas for 23.
Arkansas shot 33 free throws. Ole Miss shot 30.
Judging by their sideline demeanors in the first half, Heath and Barnes didn't likely agree with that evaluation, but both coaches tempered their complaints in the second half, hoping to get some calls to go their ways.
Late in the first half after Heath animatedly disagreed with a few calls and his players started looking frustrated, he put his hands low and told them -- and himself -- to calm down.
"I have to be careful because I know the players feed off me a little bit," Heath said. "They react to what I'm doing. I don't want to make that a focal point of what we're doing out there.
"(The officials are) working hard. They're doing the best job they can. That's not an easy game to officiate."
DIFFERENCE OF OPINION
Heath has enjoyed hearing how other coaches describe his team this season.
Words like "balance", "intensity" and "defense" are "music to our ears," Heath said Thursday. "Those are the traits we'd like our team to be portrayed with."
One thing opposing coaches and players have been reluctant to concede this season, however, is how Arkansas' nonstop pressure defense takes a toll on legs by the second half.
Barnes and Ole Miss forward Londrick Nolen, who scored 19 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and had a team-high 5 turnovers, said Arkansas' press didn't wear them out or psyche them out.
Brewer begged to differ after Arkansas forced 18 second-half turnovers and held Ole Miss to 12 field goals for the game and 3 of 17 from 3-point range.
"They might not say we got into their legs, but at the end of the night when you look at turnovers ... If you're getting pressured the entire night, it's going to have wear and tear on you," Brewer said. "You lose focus, you turn the ball over and that led to easy buckets at the end.
"They might not say their legs were tired, but their focus went away and they started making careless plays and we capitalized on that."
In preparation to play Florida, Arkansas practiced with Nike brand basketballs on Thursday. The Razorbacks usually practice and play with Baiden balls but have used the Nike balls before playing at Missouri and at Florida, both Nike schools. Players said the Nike balls are less "grippy" than the Baiden balls and Hill said he actually likes them a little better than the ones Arkansas uses ... Sullivan, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native, didn't get to make the trip home for Christmas but will get to see some family members today in Gainesville. "I've got some cousins coming down to see me," he said. "It will be good to see them. It will be nice to see some family." ... Olu Famutimi had his left ear plugged with cotton Thursday after coming down with an ear infection. "It was leaking a little bit," he said.s
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