Can Hogs Measure Up To Memorial?

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Stan Heath is breaking out the measuring tape for tonight's game in Vanderbilt's Memorial Gym.

Only four of the third-year Arkansas coach's players have ever played on its wide-open floor that more resembles a stage than a court or shot on its goals supported by guide wires or heard the reverberating cheers of Commodores fans bouncing from the rafters.

Courtside seats are more like court level as they are lowered and more than 20 feet from the sidelines.

The team benches are under the baskets, not on the sidelines, and there's plenty of visual distractions to throw off a visiting team.

But like Gene Hackman's character proved to his wide-eyed Hickory Huskers in "Hoosiers," Heath wants his team to understand the dimensions that count are still the same.

Heath won't have to perch Sammy Muncey on Steven Hill's shoulders to measure the rims like Ollie and Strap did before the Huskers' epic state championship game, but the point is the same.

"We're playing on a 94-foot floor," Heath said. "The rims are 10 feet. And we're playing with an orange basketball."

Arkansas juniors Jonathon  Modica, Eric  Ferguson and Rashard Sullivan and senior Mike Jones, who will dress today but won't play because of a groin injury suffered against Kentucky on Jan. 29, have played in Memorial Gym, helping beat Vandy 60-50 in 2003 during Heath's first season.

As freshmen, Modica had 12 points on 4 of 9 shooting (2 of 4 from 3), Ferguson added 14 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists and Sullivan collected 9 rebounds.

Until defeating Ole Miss 66-65 on Feb., 5, that win at Vanderbilt stood as the most improbable -- and only -- road win for Heath at Arkansas in one of the Southeastern Conference's toughest venues.

Including Arkansas' 70-62 win against Sweet 16 bound and then-No. 22 Vanderbilt in Fayetteville last season, Heath is 2-0 against the Commodores and owns one of only two wins by Arkansas ever in Nashville.

The Razorbacks' only other win came in 1995, 97-94 in overtime.

Heath called tonight's matchup a game of "monumental" importance to Arkansas (17-8, 5-7 in the SEC) with both the Razorbacks and Vanderbilt (15-10, 5-6) fighting to get on the NCAA Tournament bubble.

Arkansas gave good effort in its 72-63 loss at No. 16 Alabama on Wednesday in spite of problems against fullcourt pressure and zone defense.

The Razorbacks are postseason eligible for the first time since 2001, but talk of banishment to the NIT won't become reality unless Arkansas loses today.

A loss leaves Arkansas needing to win out to go 8-8 in the SEC, and anything short likely will mean only a four-game sweep of the SEC Tournament will get the Hogs to the Big Dance.

"We have made progress," Heath said. "We are, worst-case scenario, a postseason team. But we're still growing and we have games coming up we do match up well with. We do have the ability to beat (them).

"You can't compound getting down by losing another game."

The Commodores' style is as unique as their gym.

Vanderbilt leads the SEC in 3-pointers made (244) and attempted (611) and runs the Princeton offense that favors backcuts for easy baskets.

Only Mario Moore (12.2 points per game) and Corey Smith (11.9) average double figures for Vandy, but six players have made at least 27 3-pointers and four are shooting better than 40 percent from outside, including 7-foot-2 center David Przybyszewski (41 of 91, 45.1 percent).

Heath said Vanderbilt is a "different team at home," where it beat Alabama 70-56 on Jan. 5, and Ferguson may have put his finger on a reason for the Commodores' hot shooting at home.

"They got some nice, soft rims there," Ferguson said.

Ferguson figures that could work in favor of Arkansas' top scoring trio of Modica, freshman center Darian Townes and sophomore leading scorer Ronnie Brewer.

"It will be a great game for guys like Modica, Townes and Brewer to hit their shots," Ferguson said.

Arkansas has favored man-to-man defense most of the season, but Heath has gone to zone, particularly on the road, to slow opponents.

The Razorbacks are leading the SEC in 3-point defense, allowing only 28 percent, but they have been susceptible to giving up easy baskets in their halfcourt defenses.

"I've seen them annihilate some man (defenses) with backdoor cuts and 3s," Heath said. "I think it comes down to two things. If you can defend the 3 and take away their layups, it's a big part of their offense.

"It's easier said than done, but that's the main thrust of what they try to do."

Arkansas lost control of the tempo against Alabama by turning it over against the Crimson Tide's press and walking it up against its 2-3 zone.

"We're an athletic team and we should be running and getting easy baskets," Ferguson said.

Heath wants Arkansas to be more unselfish at all times and not fall into individual tendencies when the going gets rough as it did in the second half against Alabama.

Vanderbilt is leading the SEC in turnovers with 15.4 per game and the Hogs are second in turnovers forced with 17.9.

Heath said Arkansas must dictate the tempo today both offensively and defensively if it wants to remain in control of its postseason destiny.

"It's important not to get caught up in the aura of the building, and it has a little of that," Heath said. "But we'll need to get off to a good start, set the tone defensively and shoot well.

"I want my players energetic and with the same effort they played in the Alabama game."

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