Modica Returns To Form

OXFORD, Miss. -- In case you didn't realize it, Arkansas junior guard Jonathon Modica hadn't started in 16 games.

Until Saturday.

And he did well. Real well.

As a direct result of his play, the Razorbacks ended a long, lonesome Southeastern Conference losing streak with a gut-wrenching 66-65 win against Ole Miss in Tad Smith Coliseum on Saturday.

Modica whipped passes, threw verbal punches, hustled for loose balls and skied for rebounds like never before.

Somehow the fire in his belly was rekindled.

"We had a team meeting last night (Friday night) and we kind of challenged ourselves," Modica said. "That was the difference."

Modica responded with 34 strong minutes. He finished with 13 points, 5 rebounds and a career-high 7 assists, and some dramatic moments.

With 1 minute, 3 seconds left in the game, Modica hit both ends of a one-and-one to cut Ole Miss' lead to 64-63.

He then gave Arkansas a 65-64 lead, when, with 38.5 seconds left, he drove baseline, twisted around Todd Abernathy and popped in a soft, short jumper.

"You know, I'm a clutch player," Modica said. "I know my team looks for me in the clutch.

"During that team meeting, I knew I put a lot of things behind me and put things behind them. We had a team meeting. My role was to make plays.

"I have to put my personal feelings aside."

Razorbacks sophomore guard Ronnie Brewer talked with Modica.

"A lot of guys picked up their game," Brewer said. "We challenged a lot of guys. My challenge to Modica was, I wanted him to be more aggressive."

Arkansas coach Stan Heath just wanted Modica to adjust.

"It wasn't that he wasn't good as a starter ... he's a very talented player," Heath said. "I talked with my staff and said you know, I'm going to think football. You know, he's not a linebacker, not a this, not a that ... just put the best players out there.

"I kind of went with that theory."

It was his first start since the Dec. 4, 2004 game against Illinois. In that game -- Arkansas lost 72-60 against the Illini -- Modica played 11 minutes, had 2 points, one assist, 3 turnovers and no rebounds.

Since then, he seemed to develop an identity crisis.

Saturday, it didn't take the 6-foot-4, 212-pounder long to look comfortable in a starting role. He played 17 minutes in the first half, had 9 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists.

Despite struggling at times, Modica did have his moments. His high water mark came on New Year's Eve when he scored a season-high 20 points in an 85-43 win against Louisiana-Monroe.

His first basket Saturday came with 16 minutes, 22 seconds left in the first half. That was a 3-pointer from top of the key which rolled in after banking off the back of the glass.

Good enough.

"It was nice to be back in the starting lineup," Modica said. "I will be working on staying there now. It feels good.

"Real good."

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