School Back In Early For Arkansas

FAYETTEVILLE -- Classes don't begin for another week, but Arkansas is already cramming.

The Razorbacks (13-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) will try to apply the lessons learned in their 82-74 loss at Florida in time for tonight's nationally televised test against No. 23 Alabama (12-3, 1-1) at 8 p.m. on ESPN.

Florida senior forward David Lee taught a graduate level course on post play to Arkansas' freshmen big men, who were beyond the help of crib notes as Lee scored, rebounded, passed and made things happen at will in and out of the paint and on both ends of the floor.

Florida shot a sizzling 59 percent for the game and 77 percent in the second half mainly on easy shots created by Lee finding the open man against Arkansas' double teams.

Razorback freshmen post players Darian Townes, Steven Hill and Charles Thomas weren't the only ones getting schooled, though.

Arkansas' veteran backcourt also got an education on executing against a fullcourt press and versus halfcourt traps.

"Normally, we want to be aggressive against fullcourt pressure and have patience in the halfcourt," said Arkansas coach Stan Heath. "We played the opposite of that. Why? I don't know.

"We were slow against the press and quick against the halfcourt. That wasn't a good combination. It was a learning experience for everyone, not just the freshmen."

Heath has enough teaching points to fill a syllabus, but he only had a two-day lesson plan to tutor his students of the game before tonight.

The quick turnaround may be a positive.

Arkansas' only other loss of the season came on a Saturday to No. 1 Illinois on Dec. 4, and the Razorbacks responded with a road win at Missouri three days later.

The same scenario sets up now with a Saturday afternoon loss followed by a Tuesday night game.

"For basketball players, that's the greatest thing," said sophomore Ronnie Brewer, who said his sore left ankle was improving and should be fine tonight. "If you have a bad game, you're sort of antsy about getting to the next game because you want to get out there and play better.

"It helps our team out. A lot of guys didn't play as well as they wanted to, so they get an opportunity tomorrow night to come in and do well."

Heath called Alabama's starting five of senior guard Earnest Shelton, freshman point guard Ronald Steele, junior swingman Kennedy Winston, junior forward Chuck Davis and sophomore forward Jermareo Davidson one of the best in the nation.

Alabama coach Mark Gottfried sounded impressed with Arkansas as well, calling them "tremendously different" from last season.

"They're very confident," Gottfried said. "They've won a lot of games, they've got a great record. The young players like Brewer, (Eric) Ferguson and (Olu) Famutimi have matured, they've grown up a little bit. They're much better.

"They're playing at a high, high level."

Heath's team will have its hands full trying to match up, but at long last Heath has the bodies to bang with Davis and Davidson and the long, lanky guards to bother Alabama's perimeter group.

Davis averaged 17.5 points and 8.5 rebounds against Arkansas last season mainly matching up against 6-foot-6 former Razorback quarterback Matt Jones.

"We couldn't guard Chuck Davis, flat out," Heath said. "Once they went to him, he backed us down, he backed us down and he got whatever he wanted to get.

"It will be different than before. We're bigger. But it's not a one-man wrecking show. They can hit you from so many different ways."

Heath said Famutimi will likely start out on Winston, Ferguson can "float" between Steele and Shelton and Brewer could guard all three.

Beyond that, he wasn't giving Alabama any cheat sheets.

"Alabama has a good educational system and they can read, so I don't want to give anything away," he said.

One advantage Heath and his team believe they have over Alabama is depth.

Arkansas has 10 players averaging double figures in minutes while four of Alabama's starters average more than 31 minutes per game and only seven played against LSU on Saturday.

The Razorbacks have prided themselves on getting into opponents' legs by the second half and that will still be the game plan.

Gottfried hasn't been pleased with Alabama's defense this year, particularly from the 3-point line where the Tide have allowed a league-high 120 makes, and the minutes may be having an effect there.

"I think it's hard to play five guys 30 minutes-plus and expect every single possession to be played at a high level defensively," Heath said. "I think it's hard. I'm not saying it's impossible or that a veteran team can't do it, but I think it's hard to have the intensity you want to have for 40 minutes if you're extending the floor.

"Their defense and their players will respond to Mark's challenge. I'm sure they'll get it corrected. At the same time, I'd rather keep them on defense for a long time than to have to play defense against their offense."

The game against Alabama tonight conjures up another hard-knock lesson from last season when Arkansas blew a 22-point second half lead against the Crimson Tide in Fayetteville on March 3 and lost 72-68 in overtime.

Although some reporters tried to squeeze out some good revenge quotes from the Razorbacks, the Arkansas players sounded well-instructed on what was really at stake tonight.

Asked if last season's game in Fayetteville had a bearing on this first rematch, junior captain Jonathon Modica agreed, but not for the payback factor.

"Yeah," he said, pausing just long enough to create suspense. "Because we know they're very talented. We also feel they get a lot of respect in this league because of the returners they have. We feel like this would be a good win for us and the program."

Not to mention another good learning experience.

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