Brewer Black and Blue

FAYETTEVILLE -- It has become a postgame routine for Ronnie Brewer.

Once again, Arkansas' leading scorer grimaced in the locker room as trainer Dave England applied ice packs to his twisted left ankle and bruised right knee after the Hogs' 64-52 loss at South Carolina. Brewer notched a game-high 20 points against the Gamecocks, played a team-high 37 minutes and picked himself off the floor after several hard fouls, but shrugged off the effects of another draining night.

"You're going to get bumps and bruises playing basketball," Brewer said.

Brewer has received his share during the first half of Southeastern Conference play and is expecting a few more when the Razorbacks (14-7, 2-6 in SEC) meet Ole Miss (12-10, 3-6) on Saturday. The sophomore is the catalyst of Arkansas' efforts, but coach Stan Heath is concerned about the wear and tear his best player is sustaining.

Brewer leads the Razorbacks in minutes (30.4), scoring (16.5 points), rebounds (4.7), steals (2.9), field goals made and attempted (123 of 250) and free throws made and attempted (79 of 124). His playing time has increased since SEC play began (34.4 minutes) and Brewer is averaging 19.5 points the past four games.

"I am concerned," Heath said. "I sure don't want to wear the kid out. He's so valuable to us and gets a lot of attention from the other teams. One of the things people try to do is be very physical with Ronnie.

"I think it's really important for some of the other guys on our team to give us more minutes out there on the court so Ronnie doesn't wear down as much."

Brewer has been forced to shoulder more of the ball-handling load since SEC play began because of the struggles of reserve point guard Dontell Jefferson. The junior played a season-low five minutes during the 68-67 loss against Kentucky last Saturday and was 1 of 7 from the floor in 14 minutes against the Gamecocks.

Starting point guard Eric  Ferguson's offensive struggles and guard Jonathon  Modica's ongoing search for consistency haven't helped either. Ferguson is shooting 20.4 percent (11 of 54) the past six games and his scoring average has dipped from 11.7 to 9.9 points during the stretch. Modica entered the South Carolina game averaging 9.5 points, but scored four points on 1 of 7 shooting.

South Carolina coach Dave Odom said it will be hard to leave Brewer off the All-SEC team because of his all-around value to the Razorbacks. Brewer continues to produce even though opponents have pinpointed him as the key to slowing Arkansas.

"I know that's going to happen," said Brewer, who has absorbed several hard fouls and taken 35 free throws the past four games. "They're probably going to look at me since I've been doing well. I've just got to get my teammates involved."

Heath said the Hogs will do what they can to keep Brewer and Ferguson, who is averaging 20.6 minutes in conference games, fresh through the final eight games.

The physical play has been scaled down during practice to rest players. Heath has pulled Brewer off the floor before scheduled timeouts to maximize the breathers he gets on the bench. Arkansas also played more zone defense against South Carolina to take pressure off Brewer, who is the point man of the Hogs' press.

"Ronnie loves the game," Heath said. "He's not going to back down from the physical play or the contact he's getting out there on the court. He's going to give us everything he's got. It's important that we do different things to help."

Said Brewer: "You want to be in the game all the time. You might be tired or whatever, but you want to play. He's the coach. He determines who plays, who sits, so I just leave it up to him and try to play as hard as I can when I'm on the floor."

Nine other SEC players have been on the court more than Brewer during conference play, including Auburn guard Ian Young, who averages an SEC-high 37.7 minutes in seven conference games. But seven of the 10 play at Auburn, Georgia and LSU, depth-starved teams that rely on starters to log lots of minutes.

Brewer, who played a season-high 38 minutes during the 64-61 loss to Alabama on Jan. 11, believes he can handle the extended workload. His left ankle is tender after rolling it against Florida (on Jan. 8), Kentucky and South Carolina, but Brewer said the only thing wearing on him is Arkansas' recent string of disappointments.

And those frustrations won't keep him off the floor as the Hogs press for an NCAA Tournament berth.

"You've got to be mentally tough," Brewer said. "You hear all types of stories about how different players play with broken fingers and things like that and you've got to put (injuries) in the back of your mind and go out there and continue to play.

"I can't be selfish and let these injuries affect how I play. I've just got to get in the training room and get ready and continue to help my team try to win games."

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