Is This Mod's Squad Again?

FAYETTEVILLE – You know the 6-foot-4, 212-pound bundle of muscles from some place appropriately called Smackover is a tough guy.

You just wondered when the heck Jonathon  Modica, Arkansas' leading scorer the last two seasons, would get past some tough luck.

After Saturday's massive all-out performance in Arkansas' critical 65-62 home win against LSU, there's no need to ponder what's wrong with this junior guard whose teammates call him Pookie, a nickname dished out by his grandmother.

Modica exploded for a game-high 25 points and tied teammate Darian Townes with a game-high 9 rebounds in 33 high-flying, super-octane minutes. He drove to the basket, finishing what he started. He popped jumpers, some of them 3-pointers that were out of this league.

He soared for rebounds, often snatching them over larger Tigers because of his vertical ability.

Afterward, the former go-to guy for reporters was again surrounded by cameras and tape recorders in the home locker room of Bud Walton Arena.

What's the deal with this sudden reemergence?

"That's me, man," Modica said. "You know what I'm sayin'? That's not a surprise. I mean, I don't want to sound cocky or anything, but that's how I'm expected to play."

So is he back in the groove? For good?

"Oh, yeah, definitely," Modica said. "Coach (Stan) Heath has given me the opportunity to go out there and play and make some mistakes and everything, and I appreciate him.

"Yeah, my teammates are looking to me. They want to go to me. They want me to make things happen. So I take it upon myself to do that – come through for my teammates."

Modica, whose third straight start coincides with Arkansas' first three-game Southeastern Conference winning streak in Heath's three-seasons era, just went nuts from the get-go.

He opened Arkansas' scoring with a 3-pointer from the right side 29 seconds into this, then drove around big Glen Davis for the Hogs' second score. His next drive pushed Arkansas ahead 9-7.

Talk about a hot shot. Modica nailed his first six attempts – three of them those picture-perfect 3s we remember from the last two seasons – and scored 15 of the Hogs' first 21 points.

For the game, he hit 10 of 16 from the floor (4 of 7 treys).

Modica said it didn't take long to realize Saturday was his day.

"Probably after the first jump shot, after I hit that first 3," he said. "I was in my rhythm then. I knew it because I came off a screen and faced up and knocked it down.

"I wasn't going to force a lot of things because that's not what I need to do. We're trying to win games. If it was there, I had to be aggressive. If it wasn't, I was going to give it to Darian and let him do something with it or give it to (another) one of those big guys and let them do something with it or pass it on to one of my fellow guards.

"I felt really comfortable pulling up. You know, the big guy (Davis) was sitting down there waiting for me to come to him, and I'd just stop and pop on him."

The Hogs have been waiting for this. Modica had been a bit erratic, even from point-blank range. He was averaging just 9.6 points in 20.5 minutes.

LSU coach John Brady is a Modica fan, but he took LSU by surprise, particularly with his outside accuracy.

"Yeah, a little bit," Brady said. "He only shot 44 3s for the year and he's throwing up – couple of them were NBA.

"Daryl (Mitchell) and (Antonio) Hud(son) missed better shots, I think, than some of the ones Modica made. Wow!

"I've always liked him, though."

Brady also thinks Modica is the difference in the way Arkansas played Saturday and during the 66-63 loss in Baton Rouge on Jan. 19.

"I think they're better now because, you know ... it's none of my business, but Modica's getting more minutes now," Brady said. "He's only playing 20 minutes a game if you look at the (stats) sheet.

"That guy ... I think he's a winner. I think he's tough."

Arkansas guard Ronnie Brewer, this season's leading scorer, grinned when asked who this Modica guy is.

"He's been playing more aggressively, and that's what we need," Brewer said. "He hadn't been that the entire season, and the past two seasons he's been aggressive and been our leading scorer. So we need that same player, and he's been stepping up the last few games.

"It helps us out a lot. Teams can't focus on me or Darian. It's sort of like a three-dimensional thing. They've got to dig in the post and then Jonathon knocks down shots."

Clearly Modica is the main difference in Arkansas' late-season run that has the Hogs – at 17-7 and 5-6 in the SEC – at least in position to make a move toward the NCAA Tournament.

"You know, that was the guy that played a lot last year," Heath said. "He didn't start the year off that way, and it just seems like in the last three games – game by game by game – he's become more and more aggressive. And his teammates are feeling really confident in him as well.

"The other thing that helps him now, too, is having an inside presence. You saw it a couple of times – he threw it inside, they backed away and he was able to get his feet set. I think that makes a big difference with him getting better and more looks than he used to."

Heath was absolutely giddy about Modica's coming (back) out party.

"Hey, he's back! He's back!" Heath said. "Playing with a little swagger, playing very aggressive.

"Don't mess with him."

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