Arkansas-LSU Should Be Red-Hot

FAYETTEVILLE - This one has all the ingredients of one saucy Louisiana Saturday night.

Start with a dash of LSU coach John Brady, a man's man many of us on the Arkansas beats sort of like, but a guy most of you love to hate.

Stir in what is become a heated rivalry between these teams that have been involved in shoving (Arkansas' Jonathon  Modica vs. Ronald Dupree during the 2003 SEC Tournament) and shouting (UA's Eric  Ferguson vs. Brady in the same game) matches.

Toss in the Tigers' domination (LSU has won four straight).

Add a pinch of controversy, dating back to Jan. 19 when what was signaled by one official as a Mike Jones game-winning 3-pointer was reversed to a 2 after regulation of Arkansas' 66-63 overtime loss down in Baton Rouge.

Mix in sheer desperation as Arkansas (16-7, 4-6 in the SEC) and LSU (13-7, 6-3) try to scratch and claw their way into the NCAA Tournament.

Crank up the knobs.

Today's Arkansas-LSU game in what is expected to be a jam-packed Bud Walton Arena should be boiling, one of those spicy matchups we can't wait to get a taste of.

We're not the only ones.

"We're excited about the fact we're playing at home, and we expect to have a great turnout from our fans because I know it's kind of, in a different way, got a rivalry tone to it," said third-year Arkansas coach Stan Heath.

What will be the difference - besides the red background - between here and there?

"I think our intensity level will be a little bit higher than it was when we were down there," said Modica, a junior guard who has returned as a starter for the last two games, both wins. "I think we're going to come out prepared and really ready to play.

"LSU is like our rival right now. We've had a lot of tough games with them the last couple of years, and a lot of confrontations.

"So, hopefully, we can just go out there and handle business."

Arkansas' business today revolves around rebounding and stepping up to challenge LSU's young, but dynamite, inside scoring game.

The Tigers manhandled the Hogs in Baton Rouge, outrebounding them 42-29. Glen "Big Baby" Davis, a freshman built like a noseguard, dominated the paint, scoring 26 points and pulling down 18 rebounds, including 7 offensive ones. Big Brandon Bass, last season's SEC Freshman of the Year, added 15 points and 8 rebounds.

"The difference is we've got to rebound a lot better and we've got to do a better job on Glen Davis," Heath said. "And at the same time, not allow somebody else to ... you know, Bass is Bass. I mean he's good. He's as good as it gets in the league.

"And we did a great job defending their guards in the last game (starters Tack Minor, Darrel Mitchell and Antonio Hudson combined for just 20 points). I don't know - because they're good players - if we can shut them down the way we did last time.

"But we definitely can't give up as many offensive rebounds and let Davis just beat us the way he did."

Modica, who has given Arkansas more much-needed toughness with his primetime return, seemed almost angry when asked how the Hogs can handle Davis.

"Deal with him just like any other man - you step up to the plate and handle the challenge," Modica said.

Lots has been said about the controversial ending to the Jan. 19 game. Heath was even reprimanded by the SEC for criticizing the officials. But the Hogs have mostly downplayed that angle.

"That's not LSU's fault, that the basket wasn't counted," Heath said. "That's not their fault. I do feel like it was a game that we didn't get that we feel in our hearts was ours.

"But our motivation factor is that we need to play well here at home and win. And we've got to play better than what we did (during Wednesday night's 62-47 home win against Georgia)."

Modica admitted he'll be extra pumped for this, but only partly because of the Jones jumper controversy.

"Not just that, but they beat us the last three or four times," Modica said. "So, yeah, we're motivated because of that, not just because of that shot; just because LSU's got the best of us the last couple of years."

Apparently some - including a few players - have taken to calling this "Payback Saturday." But Heath's not buying into that.

"I heard the fans and the paper were calling it that, and our players just picked up on it," Heath said.

"I don't want this thing to be us talking trash in the paper about the game. But if that's something the fans and the media want to write about, that's fine.

"Our job is to get ourselves ready to play and play well against 'em. They're a good basketball team. They've got exceptional talent and we will have to play well to win this game."

The Hogs must have it. We figure an 8-8 SEC record and two wins in the SEC Tournament might just get Arkansas an NCAA Tournament invite. But a 9-7 conference mark would make a huge difference.

Arkansas has six SEC games remaining. To hit 9-7, the Hogs must win five of these - vs. LSU, at Alabama on Wednesday, at Vanderbilt next Saturday, Tennessee and Mississippi State here and at Auburn.

It's possible. But only if Arkansas wins today.

"We have to win this game," Modica said.

Pass the Tabasco.

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