Jones Wants To Go Out With A Bang

FAYETTEVILLE -- Gimpy Arkansas senior Mike Jones hopes coach Stan Heath picks up a newspaper today.

Heath has talked about having a personal "boycott" of media reports on his team ever since its 80-55 loss to Mississippi State on Jan. 15, but a smiling Jones tried to deliver a message to his coach through the press on Monday.

"I feel like 100 percent," said Jones, who played little in the first 16 games this season but averaged 11.3 points in three contests before pulling his groin in the first minute against Kentucky on Jan. 29. "If Coach reads the paper and I said I was 100 percent, maybe he'll play me a little more.

"So I feel like I'm 105 percent."

Jones, who has practiced for the last three weeks and played a little more than two minutes against Vanderbilt and Tennessee, will be the lone Razorback honored on Senior Night when Arkansas (18-9, 6-8 Southeastern Conference) hosts Mississippi State (20-6, 8-6) at 6:05 p.m. today in a nationally-televised game on ESPN.

Jones played just 21 seconds against Tennessee in the final minute of the first half but received a warm ovation from the home fans when he was introduced.

A Little Rock native, a fifth-year senior and the last Razorback to play for former coach Nolan Richardson, Jones knows he's earned a spot in the hearts of Arkansas fans despite his intermittent contributions on the court.

"It's real nice that the fans appreciate the things I've done," said Jones.

"I'm not the leading scorer or the leading rebounder or anything like that. Everybody knows I don't play the most minutes. But it's good to know the fans still appreciate me and the things I try to do out here to help the team win.

"It will be a sad moment and I might shed a tear or two when I come out here and see this crowd and hear 'Woo Pig' one last time."

Heath said Jones will get a chance to help Arkansas move a game closer to .500 in SEC play and give itself a chance to earn the Western Division's No. 3 seed in the conference tournament.

"He will play in the game (today)," Heath said. "How much, I don't know. I do want to give him the opportunity in his last game in Bud Walton to go out there and give 100 percent."

Heath welcomed the chance to sing Jones' praises after the senior provided valuable leadership while he was injured -- calling the team meeting at Ole Miss before Arkansas' 66-65 win Feb. 5 -- and through his example of gutting it out in practice even in the sprints when he could have begged off.

"His attitude is just tremendous," Heath said. "Outstanding. He's talking to guys. He's helping guys. He's giving the best effort he can possibly give. He wants to play, but he wants to win. That's what's unique.

"Sometimes you have kids that are so concerned with individual things. He really is concerned with our team winning and him trying to find a way to help the team. It's a credit to him."

Should Arkansas win tonight and at last-place Auburn on Saturday and Mississippi State lose to division leader Alabama the same day, the 8-8 Hogs would have the tie-breaker against the 8-8 Bulldogs by virtue of a 6-4 record within the West Division compared to Mississippi State's 4-6.

If that scenario played out, the Hogs would face SEC doormat Georgia in the first round and get Florida instead of East No.1 and third-ranked Kentucky in the second round.

Heath wasn't getting ahead of himself on Monday, though.

"We have our eye on Mississippi State and winning that game," Heath said. "If we're able to pull that off, that will definitely be something we talk about and mention. But without this game, there's no shot at that at all."

Mississippi State, ranked No. 11 when it played Arkansas in January but hurt by injuries to seniors Winsome Frazier (broken foot) and Lawrence Roberts (bruised thigh), is as close to full strength as it has been since Frazier went down Jan. 8 at Ole Miss.

The Bulldogs have outrebounded their last two opponents by 39 against Georgia (38-19) and Ole Miss (45-25).

Frazier hasn't yet returned to the starting lineup but has played 31 minutes in each of his last two games and has scored in double figures in three of four since returning against LSU on Jan. 29.

He was originally supposed to be out for the season but has made a remarkable comeback and still has the ability to make steals (four against Georgia) and shoot (14 of 30 since return).

"I'm amazed at how he's been able to come back," Heath said. "He plays with a lot of intensity and emotion. He's the leader of that basketball team."

Roberts, a preseason All-American, the reigning SEC Player of the Year and the NCAA's active leader in double-doubles with 54, had 20 points and 15 rebounds against Ole Miss in the Bulldogs' comeback from 13 down to win 71-68 last Saturday.

"He has some soreness, but when the game starts, his stats haven't showed it," said MSU coach Rick Stansbury. "Even though he has some soreness, he seems to be able to block it out when the game starts."

Frazier poured in 23 last season in Fayetteville to help Mississippi State get off to a 41-33 halftime lead and Arkansas junior Jonathon Modica answered with 33 to spur a comeback to within three in the final 90 seconds before the Bulldogs hung on for a 77-70 win.

The Razorbacks got "the bricks beat out of us" according to freshman center Darian Townes in Starkville during this season's first meeting but Heath said his team is "totally different" now.

Heath will start the same lineup from Saturday's 70-68 win against Tennessee with Townes, Rashard Sullivan, Olu Famutimi, Ronnie Brewer and Dontell Jefferson tonight.

"We owe them one and it should be a hard-fought game," said Townes, who played poor defense against Roberts and 7-2 center Marcus Campbell, fouling out in just 14 minutes.

The Razorbacks owe Jones one as well and there couldn't be a better convergence of team and individual success if Arkansas can pull of a win tonight.

"That would be the best way to do it," Brewer said. "It could put us in a real good position going into Auburn and then the SEC Tournament. It's a real big game.

"I respect Mike to the fullest and wish him the best. I'm going to do my best to get him a win."

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