‘Rowdy Reptiles' Took Toll On The Hogs

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Soon as Arkansas 7-footer Steven Hill flicked the opening tip to Ronnie Brewer in an almost packed O'Connell Center, those ya-hoos in the Florida student section who call themselves "The Rowdy Reptiles" went to work.

"O-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-oh!"

You could see confusion and a bit of panic in the Pigs' eyes, especially those of the two starting freshmen – Hill and power forward Charles Thomas.

With the "Ohs" swirling and the Gators trapping, Arkansas' offense went nowhere. On that first possession, junior guard Eric Ferguson was trapped in the left corner as the shot-clock dwindled. At the top, he finally found Brewer, whose harmless 3-point splat off the backboard barely beat the buzzer.

It was a sign – and sound – of things to come as Arkansas (13-2, 1-1 in the Southeastern Conference) dropped the ball in Saturday's aggravating 82-74 loss against Florida (9-3, 1-0).

The winners of eight straight and bolstered by the 62-52 win at Missouri on Dec. 7, the Hogs came in with confidence. Before the starting lineups were announced, freshman center Darian Townes even grinned and toyed with Florida band members and cheerleaders who were doing those long-armed chomps some 30 feet from the Arkansas bench.

They seemed cool, calm, prepared and rarin' to go.

"That's the thing," Thomas said. "You can't come into somebody else's house thinking they've got the upper hand on you. You've got to come in and think that even though you are on the road, you're very comfortable."

But all yell broke loose.

After two David Lee free throws, Ferguson's pass to Brewer was way too long.

As third-year Arkansas coach Stan Heath stood, hands on hips, Lee, who led the Gators with 17 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks, made another freebie and Anthony Roberson's drive gave Florida a 5-0 lead.

With the "Ohs" still ringing in their ears, the Hogs looked like deer frozen in their tracks by headlights. Thomas' lob to Hill was way over even his head. Corey Brewer's free throw pushed Florida up 6-0 before the Hogs finally broke the ice.

Arkansas' offense was mired by Florida pressure and the noise, and the Hogs were sunk by missed free throws (nine of ‘em), layups (a bucketful) and other assorted opportunities.

"They really weren't dominating," said Thomas of the Gators. "It was about executing plays. With us being freshmen, it was a learning experience. They kind of sped us up a little bit, made us take quick shots and make quick turnovers."

He also said those "Ohs" tossed out so often when the Hogs had the ball really bothered the Hogs.

"That's another thing," Thomas said. "A lot of plays were called, but we didn't really run ‘em. I don't think that we didn't want to run ‘em, I think it was that the crowd was getting to us."

Told what appeared to be obvious – that the noise had, admittedly, really rattled the Hogs, especially the younger ones – Heath looked miffed.

"Well, we have to get around that, I guess," Heath said. "Silly me, I didn't factor that in that they'd be listening to the ‘Ohs.' I thought they would be listening to me.

"I guess they weren't listening to me and that's not a good thing."

Throughout, the Hogs looked flustered, perplexed and downright mad. Early in the second half, Michael Jones' pass while driving was way out of Brewer's reach, resulting in a turnover and some bickering. Two possessions later, Brewer airballed a shorty from the left baseline and almost went berserk.

After a timeout with Arkansas trailing 67-55 with 5:46 left, Hogs assistant Darren Sorenson followed Ferguson on the court for encouragement. The scowling Ferguson blew him off.

Was it Florida's high-pressure defense that had the Hogs so frustrated?

"I think it was more of disappointment in ourselves because we know we're a lot better team than what we showed today," said Brewer, who scored 20 points, but looked out of sync while missing nine from the floor. "This could've been our first (SEC) road win in a long time (10 straight losses), and we had it in our reach. We just didn't execute."

The Hogs got little from their big front line (16 points and 13 rebounds from four players) or the defense that had keyed Arkansas' nice runs of late (managed only 6 steals and 6 fast-break points while forcing only 12 turnovers).

Despite their fair share of point-blank chances, the Hogs shot just 43 percent from the floor and were outrebounded 31-28.

"I think the crowd bothered the younger guys," Ferguson said. "They ain't never been in that situation. When we went to Missouri, it wasn't that loud."

The Hogs did manage a late rally while looking like their old (well, you know what we mean) selves. After falling behind 57-40 with 11:50 left, they closed the gap to 78-72 with 32 seconds remaining because of steals, Brewer playing like Brewer and some timely Olu Famutimi 3-pointers.

Afterward, the Hogs talked about this being "a learning experience" for the freshmen.

What did they learn?

"They can know what to expect next time on the road," Ferguson said. "Just being patient and making layups. A lot of guys were rushing their shots and we ain't flowing because they're rushing."

Said Brewer: "That the crowd really helps the (home) team out. The opponent is going to be helped by (the noise) and be really aggressive."

Still, all was hardly lost here.

"We'll be all right. We're in great shape, you know," Ferguson said. "Hopefully this game will make us better.

"We're gonna just keeping working hard in practice, and we're gonna try to jump on (No. 19) Alabama (in Bud Walton Arena on Tuesday night) and take it out on them the next game."

Thing is, the one after that is Saturday in No. 18 Mississippi State's Hump, which is considerably louder than here.

Uh-oh?




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