Jefferson's Struggles Continue Against Alabama

FAYETTEVILLE -- Coaches tend to shorten up their rotations once conference play starts and junior transfer point guard Dontell Jefferson was one of Arkansas' first casualties of that approach against No. 23 Alabama.

Jefferson played a season-low six minutes against the Crimson Tide with two assists and no turnovers, and his two ill-advised shots after subbing for junior Eric Ferguson in the first half kept him on the bench for the entire second half.

Ferguson picked up his second foul with 14:59 to play and on the next Arkansas possession, Jefferson jacked up a quick 3-pointer that hit the back of the rim.

Arkansas coach Stan Heath brought Ferguson back in at the eight-minute mark, but he took a quick 3-pointer and then immediately made a silly third foul in transition with 7:40 to play.

Jefferson came back in and the Hogs went on 10-4 run keyed by turnovers and easy baskets to go up 33-24, but the offense disintegrated soon after once Alabama forced Arkansas into a halfcourt setting.

Three missed 3-pointers later -- two by Olu Famutimi and one by Ronnie Brewer -- and Alabama was within 33-32.

Jefferson took a baseline feed, drove and forced a horrible shot from nearly behind the backboard to set up two Chuck Davis free throws to give Alabama the halftime lead 34-33.

"I think he can play better," Heath said on Monday before the game. "He's learning his teammates, he's learning a new coach and learning the SEC. It's an adjustment. We're trying to get him to understand ball movement and being more solid and selective with plays is better for us and better for him."

Jefferson is 2 of his last 11 shots, most on poor looks, and his one turnover against Florida was a crucial one as he got caught just holding the ball over his head for five seconds in the second half.

Jefferson has been called for three five-second calls this season but does have a very positive 47 assists to 26 turnovers, a nearly 2-1 ratio.

But Jefferson has not responded well to tight on-ball pressure and Heath acknowledged the scouting report against Jefferson is probably to get in his face and force mistakes or make him give it up to a non-point guard.

"It just appears when he gets (turnovers), they come at a time you don't need it like the five-second count," Heath said. "Sometimes he just forces something he doesn't need to. He has the ball in his hands longer than he needs to. Those are the nuances of the position that's hard to teach and learn. You almost have to go through it and you're better."

Jefferson's confidence is "not as high as it could be," Heath said, but Arkansas' third-year coach still has confidence in him.

"I don't think confidence is the question, it's adjusting," Heath said. "He's not quite there yet."

Alabama coach Mark Gottfried sees a lot in common with some of his first Alabama teams and the current Razorbacks squad.

He called Heath's bunch "very improved" from last season and noted the freshmen post players Darian Townes, Steven Hill and Charles Thomas remind him of when he had to use freshmen like Rod Grizzard and Erwin Dudley during his second season in 1999-2000.

"He's building his program a little like I did, not that that's right or wrong," Gottfried said. "But he's got some good young players. We were in the same boat. We got Grizzard and Dudley in that group and we played them when they were young and we took our lumps and we weren't very good.

"But then they started to get better. Now they're in games where the game's on the line. That's a good basketball team. They're going to hit some bumps in the road, but I like where they're going. They're running some good stuff offensively and defensively. They're good."

Alabama junior Kennedy Winston, who was a little critical of Arkansas' offensive sets last season in October at SEC Media Days, said he saw improvement as well.

"They've settled down," he said. "They're not as wild as last year. Last year it was one guy taking one shot. Now they run their sets and try to get good shots. They got some post players, too, so you got to guard them down there, too.

"They're going to be pretty good down the road."

Arkansas, which came into the Alabama game leading the league in attempts (385) but ninth in percentage (63.9), shot lower than its season average with just 6 of 10 against the Tide.

While Townes has hit 26 of his last 36 after starting the season 4 of 15, the biggest culprits lately have been Jonathon Modica (13 of 28), Brewer (23 of 40), Ferguson (4 of 9) and Olu Famutimi (4 of 8).

All four guards are hitting better than 42 percent from 3-point range, but Brewer (60.7 for season), Ferguson (54.8) and Modica (61.1) have poor averages at the line.

Ferguson shot 85.7 last season, Modica 78.2.

"There are guys that could be averaging three to four more points per game and we could have four or five guys in double figures," Heath said. "As a team, there's probably a six-point average that we're not getting that would make us one of the highest scoring teams in our league. We know it.

"It's a fine line of not all of a sudden creating pressure where you overblow it and I don't want to minimize it where the guys don't see how it can affect us and help us win basketball games."

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