Hogs, Heath Correct Trouble Spots During Open Week

FAYETTEVILLE -- Besides getting his team refocused for the stretch run following its disappointing 79-65 loss at Vanderbilt last Saturday, Arkansas coach Stan Heath has a short to-do list for his team before it hosts Tennessee this Saturday.

Heath said Thursday the focal points of this open week in practice have been improving transition defense, zone offense and cutting down turnovers that have become increasingly problematic in the last five games.

While the Commodores shot 6 of 10 from the 3-point line and 12 of 27 for the game, Heath pointed out more of those defensive deficiencies had to do with failure to get back than with the Hogs' halfcourt zone and man-to-man defenses.

"They were 4 of 16 against the zone," Heath said. "We gave up a couple offensive rebounds. It wasn't the zone. It was the easy baskets they got off our turnovers and bad shots we took that led to a fast break.

"We didn't have defensive balance with two or three guys back and we've addressed that with guys who have more responsibility in that area."

Heath said Arkansas (17-9, 5-8 Southeastern Conference) needs to pay more attention to detail and recover and rotate quicker when either the point or shooting guards penetrate.

"When you have one or two guys that aren't going 100 percent getting back, that's where you have breakdowns," Heath said. "The 3s were the backfield of guys not getting back."

Arkansas has struggled to score against zone defenses recently, especially in its 72-63 loss to Alabama and at Vanderbilt.

The Hogs had two shot clock turnovers and fired up several long shots with the clock nearing zero against Vanderbilt. Heath knows Arkansas will continue to see zone as long as it can't execute against it.

Turnovers, an early season problem that appeared corrected midway through the SEC schedule, have again reared their head.

Arkansas has averaged more than 15 turnovers per game in its last three games after 13 or fewer in all but two of its previous 10 SEC games.

Teams have gone after Arkansas guards Eric  Ferguson and Dontell Jefferson in the backcourt with effective results. Ferguson, who still maintains a 2.4 assist-turnover ratio, has had 3 turnovers in each of his last four games.

Jefferson has played 12 minutes in the last two games combined.

Junior guard Jonathon  Modica has 11 turnovers in his last three games.

After his season-high 8 points, 6 rebounds and season-high 4 blocks against Vanderbilt, junior power forward Rashard Sullivan could get his first start since the Paradise Jam against Tennessee.

Sullivan, who is 10 of his last 10 from the foul line, played a season-high 29 minutes off the bench and has had a good week of practice to back it up, Heath said.

Freshman power forward Charles Thomas, who has started the last two games but played a total of 14 minutes, hasn't scored since the Feb. 5 against Ole Miss and hasn't grabbed more than 2 rebounds since Jan. 29 against Kentucky.

"I can see the confidence and intensity level rise in practice from his good play in the Vanderbilt game," Heath said of Sullivan. "Hopefully that will continue. I expect him to play quite a bit if he's playing at that level."

Arkansas senior Mike Jones returned from his Jan. 29 groin injury against Vanderbilt as a late-game desperation move by Heath looking for 3-pointers.

Jones, who practiced all last week before the Vandy game and made 1 of 3 in 2 minutes, is still hobbled and can't get up and down the floor as quickly as he needs to.

Heath said putting Jones in situations before media timeouts and late-half circumstances may be the most he can do with him slowed on defense and on the glass.

"He's giving a great effort," Heath said. "There's things he can and can't do. Where he'll be from now until Saturday, I don't know. There's certain parts of the game that are very difficult for him right now.

"We have to be very wise in how we use him. We have to make sure some of the areas he struggles with don't hurt our team."

Arkansas freshman Steven Hill once looked like a shoo-in to beat Oliver Miller's Razorback freshman record of 60 blocked shots but now he'll have to pick up the pace to get it.

Hill has 53 blocks but has only rejected 3 attempts in his last 9 games while averaging 10.6 minutes in that stretch.

Hill blocked 38 shots in the nonconference season but only 15 in 13 games since. He blocked 5 against Alabama on Jan. 11 and 3 at LSU on Jan. 19, but he hasn't had more than 2 since his 17 minutes against Kentucky on Jan. 29.

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