Heath: Starting Lineup Is "Wide Open"

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas coach Stan Heath changed the school colors to blue and green on Sunday.

After he saw signs of complacency from his team Saturday during its 80-55 loss at No. 11 Mississippi State, Heath traded the Razorbacks' reversible red and white practice jerseys for blue and green tops and declared his starting lineup for LSU on Wednesday is "wide open."

Heath wasn't happy with the way his team fell behind 21-4 in the first nine minutes in Starkville and he's opened up every position for playing time before Arkansas (13-4, 1-3 SEC) tries to snap its 11-game Southeastern Conference road losing streak in Baton Rouge.

"It's starting a new identity," said sophomore and captain Ronnie Brewer, who has started 16 of 17 games and had a season-low 7 points Saturday. "We really don't want to have any starters. Some people get the mindset that you're a starter, so they don't have to play as hard. They're not a starter, so they don't have to play as hard.

"We're just going to practice and have everybody play tough."

Brewer's new identity sounds a lot like Arkansas' calling card early in the nonconference season.

After priding itself on depth, Arkansas' rotation has been narrowed in minutes and in practice since Heath solidified his starting group of Brewer, junior guard Eric Ferguson, sophomore small forward Olu Famutimi, freshman power forward Charles Thomas and freshman center Steven Hill.

With the exception of Thomas' excused family absence from the Jacksonville State game following Christmas break, Heath has used the same starters in 9 of the last 10 games.

Arkansas' starters and top reserves Darian Townes and Jonathon Modica don the red gear in practice and lesser-used reserves Mike Jones, Dontell Jefferson, Rashard Sullivan, Sammy Munsey and redshirt Preston Cranford wear white.

Coaches naturally shorten their benches in conference season, but Heath said he saw the effect Brewer described creeping into player attitudes toward their roles as either starters, contributors or scout teamers.

"This was totally for our players to forget about who the starters are and come into practice fighting for minutes, for positions and not worry about, 'Am I on the red team or the white team? Is Coach thinking this or is Coach thinking that?

"It doesn't matter."

Heath said how Arkansas starts is more important to him than who, but acknowledged such things are often important to the players.

The Razorbacks lacked urgency in the opening moments at Florida and for the first nine minutes at Mississippi State, falling behind 8-2 and 21-4.

He's hoping the added intensity from his starters trying to keep their jobs and their teammates trying to take them will lead to a hungrier team against the Tigers (8-5, 1-1), who have won two straight, including a 113-101 win in double overtime against Ohio State on Saturday.

"I want them to know coming into practice knowing that any position is wide open," Heath said. "Don't worry about red or white. Nobody knows who's red or white. We're competing. We're battling. I want to carry that into our game."

Heath said his reasons for taking away the red and white jerseys aren't the same as his first season in 2003 when he said his team wasn't playing like Razorbacks.

Ferguson, who flourished coming off the bench in the first seven games and was a key spark once inserted into the starting lineup, had had two and six points in his last two games while shooting 3 of 19 from the floor.

Brewer is four points below his season scoring average of 15.8 in his last two games and has made 4 of his last 14 three-pointers.

"We have to get Ronnie and Eric going a little bit," Heath said. "Those are two key players we need for us to perform well."

Ferguson remembers getting his Arkansas gear taken before and said this is not the same.

"It's not like two years ago," Ferguson said. "I think we're better than two years ago."

Besides intensity, Heath has offered minutes to anyone who will rebound, especially on the offensive glass.

Mississippi State outrebounded Arkansas 20-10 in the first half, but the Razorbacks reversed that to a 27-19 advantage in the second half.

Heath said Arkansas has boxed out better in the last three games, but the Hogs are still losing the rebounding battle by 6.2 in four SEC games.

"This team doesn't go after the ball the way I want it to go after the ball," he said. "That was one thing I told our team. I'm looking for that. If you want to improve your minutes and grab some status, grab a whole bunch of rebounds. You'll find yourself out there a lot."

Rashard Sullivan has led Arkansas in rebounding with five each against Alabama and Mississippi State while playing 16 and 13 minutes, respectively. He's also 5 of 5 from the floor with four offensive rebound tip-ins.

Sullivan's time has been limited because he also has nearly as many fouls (32) and turnovers (30) as rebounds (66).

Arkansas needs more easy baskets and getting easy looks on putbacks is a good start.

Unlike Heath, LSU coach John Brady knows what his starting lineup will be.

The five LSU starters took all 73 shots, all 31 free throws and played 214 of the 250 minutes in their win against Ohio State.

Guard Darrell Mitchell scored 32, sophomore forward Brandon Bass had 29 and 11 boards, senior Antonio Hudson had 20, point guard Tack Minor had 17 and 10 assists and 6-foot-7, 320-plus pound freshman Glen "Big Baby" Davis had 15 and 11 rebounds.

Much like Alabama, the Tigers have a short rotation with senior and two-year starting guard Xavier Whipple coming off a bench unit averaging a combined 9.8 points and 9 rebounds per game.

LSU plays a patient style on offense and defense to stay fresh but is more than capable of running and gunning led by the speedy Minor, who is just as quick as MSU burner Gary Ervin, who wreaked havoc on the Hogs' transition defense.

For the fourth straight game, Arkansas' freshmen post players Townes, Hill and Thomas will be facing a tall challenge in the post, this time from Bass and Davis, who average a combined 30 points and 16 rebounds per game.

The "Big Baby" could leave Arkansas black and blue, but the Razorbacks will remember the blue and the green and try to snap their string of road defeats.

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