Arkansas Freshmen Learning On The Fly

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas coach Stan Heath remembers what Alabama junior power forward Chuck Davis was like as a freshman.

Heath remembers him not getting off the bench.

Davis played behind Erwin Dudley and Kenny Walker and played in 13 games in 2002-03, averaging 6.6 minutes and 1.5 points per game.

He played zero minutes in Arkansas' 81-70 win against the Crimson Tide in Fayetteville two seasons ago, but now the 6-foot-7, 230-pounder averages 14.1 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.

When asked for the umpteenth time Monday about why Razorbacks 6-7, 240-pound freshman power forward Charles Thomas is struggling after averaging 9 points in the nonconference season but 2.7 in Southeastern Conference games, Heath offered up Davis as an example of how life goes for most freshmen.

"Most freshmen don't play as much as you'd think," Heath said. "Our guys are getting tremendous experience that's going to help them down the road."

Heath is just hoping his freshmen post players' experience through the first half of the SEC season will help the Razorbacks (17-7, 5-6) on the road this Wednesday at No. 16 Alabama (19-4, 8-2).

Freshman center Darian Townes had a coming-out party on ESPN the last time around with 14 points in two bursts in the first and second halves of Arkansas' 64-61 loss to the Tide on Jan. 11.

Thomas chipped in 5 points and 2 rebounds against 'Bama and hasn't scored more than 4 since, but he did grab 4 offensive boards in Arkansas' 68-67 loss to No. 3 Kentucky.

He also contributed 30 minutes of hard-nosed defense against LSU power forward Brandon Bass, harassing last season's SEC Freshman of the Year into a 3-of-9 shooting day in the Razorbacks' 65-62 win on Saturday.

"Charles' defense was outstanding," Heath said. "We go inside much more to Townes now than we're going to Thomas, so he doesn't get as many touches.

"But his energy level and the way he competed against Bass, to be able to keep him in range was a big part of our success on Saturday."

For that effort, Thomas will continue to start alongside Townes in the Arkansas frontcourt against Alabama, the last ranked team the Hogs will likely see in the regular season.

After falling to No. 1 Illinois, No. 3 Kentucky, No. 16 Alabama and previously ranked Mississippi State (No. 11 when Arkansas lost 80-55 in Starkville on Jan. 15), the Hogs are 0-4 against Top 25 teams this season and need a "feather in our cap" kind of win, Heath said.

To do that, Arkansas will have to beat a team that's 11-0 at home this year and whose closest home win in SEC play was a 15-point spread against LSU.

Alabama has beaten Mississippi State by 49, Georgia by 28 and Ole Miss by 26.

The Tide have looked good at home but have showed chinks at times this year.

Arkansas had a 33-23 lead before going scoreless for nine minutes and allowing a 15-0 run for the Tide to take a five-point lead in the second half.

Alabama has lost to Vanderbilt and Wisconsin by 14 points each on the road and was hammered by 31 by the Florida Gators in Gainesville on Feb. 5.

Arkansas lost 81-65 to Alabama in Tuscaloosa last season, but not before holding a 35-34 halftime lead.

After losing its first three games by three points or less (Alabama, Kentucky and LSU in Baton Rouge), the Hogs are 2-0 in close calls in their last two games with a 66-65 win at Ole Miss on Feb. 5 and a three-point win against LSU.

"We have games under our belt and have a better idea of what SEC play is like," Heath said. "What it's like to be in a close game and some of the things you need to do, what some of our strengths are when we need baskets.

"The difference is more inside scoring with Townes (14.1 ppg last six). Modica is a different player than the first time around (17.3 in last three).

"The chemistry has gotten tighter and closer."

Alabama coach Mark Gottfried, who pretty much plays his starting five for the entire game, has noticed the chemistry and Heath's rotation getting tighter recently.

"We understand that we are playing a team that's really hot," Gottfried said. "They're playing well. I think offensively they're playing well, and defensively as well.

"They've won three out of their last four and have a lot of confidence right now and are playing at a high level. We were fortunate to win at their place, so we understand how good that they are."

Gottfried said on Monday that Davis has the flu and was "nestled" in his bed trying to get well before Wednesday's game.

Reserve Justin Jonus has also caught the bug and freshman backup point guard Albert Weber recently left the team.

"Hopefully we can get everybody ready in time to play," Gottfried said.

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