After winning at Ole Miss last Saturday for the first time in nine seasons before facing two teams at home they should beat (LSU comes here Saturday), it looked to be a good time for the Razorbacks to inch toward the NCAA Tournament bubble.
Inch they did during Wednesday night's 62-47 win in front of a mostly bored crowd.
Arkansas coach Stan Heath pretty much knew what was coming.
"I expected it to be a grind-it-out game," Heath said. "I expected the game to really be, when it was all said and done, a seven to eight-point win."
While Heath paced, hands often on hips, his halfcourt offense crawled against the short-handed (Georgia fields only seven scholarship players) Bulldogs' mostly man-to-man pressure. Lots of ghost screens and standing around, particularly in the first half when the Bulldogs still had their legs.
Several times Arkansas backup point guard Dontell Jefferson implored the Hogs to move. After Jefferson scooted a high-top for a travel with around 13 minutes left in the first half, he looked perplexed, then instructed the four teammates near him.
"Hey, ya'll have got to work hard to get open!" Jefferson barked.
Boosted by the shooting and driving ability of dandy freshman Channing Toney (21 points), the bullish Bulldogs (forward Steve Newman got in Jefferson's face during a timeout and Sundiate Gaines came close to mixing it up with Arkansas forward Charles Thomas) managed to hang with the Hogs. Georgia even took an 18-15 lead with 7:22 left in the first half, and a Toney trey made it 21-19, Bulldogs, with 4:41 on the first-half clock.
A late Arkansas run of two Darian Townes buckets, two Ronnie Brewer free-throws and a dandy Rashard Sullivan alley-oop to Brewer for a big-time reverse slam put the Hogs up 27-21 at the break.
"We came out a little slow, but we picked it up as the game progressed," said Brewer, who had 15 points.
Heath said he talked to the Hogs about getting after it more defensively and feeding guys like Townes (team-high 17 points), whose stock is soaring.
"I thought they really responded," Heath said.
In his second consecutive start, guard Jonathon Modica scored 14 points and pulled down 4 rebounds.
But like most of the Hogs, it took him a while to get going.
"I'm going to tell you, in the first half I got tired," Modica said. "Got a little winded. I think all the guys felt like that.
"But I think at halftime we got a little boost of energy and started really getting our heads right and having a little mental toughness out there."
In the second half, the Hogs began at least grinding gears, flowing more quickly across the floor and creating more transition through defense.
Brewer fed the ever-improving Modica a nice lob for a dunk and Jefferson followed that with a toss to Townes for 40-31.
The Hogs weren't exactly off and running, but this deal was done.
And that's the most important point.
"Well, it wasn't our 'A' game, but I'll take an ugly win over a pretty loss any day, you know what I'm saying?" Modica said.
At 16-7 (4-6 in the Southeastern Conference), Arkansas' record looks nice, although most everyone knows the overall caliber of nonconference opponents wasn't so hot. Still, should the Hogs win Saturday - and, yes, they should -Arkansas would be in decent shape to net the .500 or better SEC mark necessary for NCAA Tournament consideration.
Only at No. 17 Alabama next Wednesday night seems too long of a stretch for these Hogs.
That leaves at Vanderbilt, against Tennessee, against spiraling Mississippi State and at Auburn.
"It's a great time to make a run," Modica said. "I can remember back right before I got here, the (2000-01) team won six or seven (actually, five) SEC games in a row to get to the (NCAA) Tournament when they lost to Georgetown.
"I think we're very capable of doing that also if we continue to play hard and play together and play good basketball."
They still have a shot, folks.
Offensive, Sure, But A Much-Needed Win For Hogs
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