Bearcats Offer Arkansas A Challenge Tonight

FAYETTEVILLE -- Southwest Baptist of Bolivar, Mo., is a Division II basketball team coming off a 16-13 season, but Arkansas coach Stan Heath looks for anything but a breather against the Bearcats in tonight's exhibition opener in Bud Walton Arena.

Frans Steyn, a 7-foot-2 transfer from Oklahoma State, and Sheldon Pace, a solid 6-1 senior point guard from Los Angeles, give the Bearcats a major-college look.

"Southwest Baptist is a good team," Heath warned. "Steyn started some games for OSU, and the point guard is very good."

Jeff Guiot, the Bearcats' second-year coach, is approaching the 7:05 p.m. game with his eyes wide open, however.

"Every time you play, you try to win," Guiot said. "At the same time, Arkansas is a Division I major power in the Southeastern Conference. We're not stupid. They're very talented and coach Heath does a good job. So this will be a big challenge."

Heath tentatively planned to start both 7-foot center Steven Hill and 6-10 forward Darian Townes to help combat Steyn, although Heath said 6-8 forward Charles Thomas and 6-10 forward Vincent Hunter would also see significant playing time.

Guiot downplayed the presence of Steyn, who played 17 games for OSU last season and started four.

"He just needs to play," Guiot said. "He hasn't played much the last three years. He got mostly mop-up time at the end of last year. But he's getting there."

Pace, by contrast, led SBU with 13.7 points and 5.8 assists per game last season, and also in steals with 63.

"Sheldon can hold his own," Guiot said.

Arkansas will try to keep Pace with 6-5 senior point guard Dontell Jefferson, who scored 16 points in the Red-White game last week.

"Dontell has experience, knows his teammates and doesn't over-dribble as much this year," Heath said. "But he knows it's poison to pick up his dribble on the sidelines."

Sean McCurdy, an energetic 6-1 freshman from Westport, Conn., is also vying for time at point guard for Arkansas.

"I guess there's a competition," Heath said. "Sean gets a little hyper at times, but he and (UA freshman forward Cyrus) McGowan will be fine. The thing I like is they play hard every possession. Most freshmen, you have to challenge to do that, but I never question those two on their effort."

If McCurdy can push the ball under control and create a quicker tempo, he'll make Heath smile.

"We didn't push it in the Red-White game as well as we have in practice, and we didn't do a good job with full-court pressure," Heath said. "We've either got to get better at pressuring the ball and recovering to protect the basket, or take another look at it. But we have time to clean that up."

In junior Ronnie Brewer and senior Jonathon Modica, Heath has two known commodities at guard. Brewer is the SEC Preaseason Player of the Year, and Modica says he'd like to make All-SEC.

"Our big questions in this game are, can we execute our schemes, are we tough and are we together?" Heath said. "We've had very demanding practices this week. I want to see how we guard and how we match up offensively and defensively."

Guiot suspects that Hill and Townes will match up fine.

"I imagine coach Heath wants to play both of them together," Guiot said.

Heath has been so taken with Hill's preseason play that he said, "I think there will come a time when we'll call him one of the best defenders in the country. The things he does that don't show up on the stat sheet are special."

Besides blocking 54 shots last season in limited play, Hill altered countless others.

Another player who intrigues Hill is 6-7 sophomore sharpshooter Preston Cranford, who made 5-of-6 3-point tries in the Red-White game.

"Preston will never be nicknamed The Glove," Heath joked. "But he stays in front of his guy, talks on defense, doesn't have breakdowns. He knows his limitations and uses angles. He can give us a spark shooting the ball and creating great spacing."

When someone asked Heath if Cranford reminded him of former Hog Blake Eddins, Heath said, "Preston makes shots for me and Blake didn't. Blake will laugh about that."

Hogs senior guard Eric Ferguson, who suffered a broken nose Monday, will miss tonight's game but should resume practice by next Wednesday.

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