Hogs Eager For Fresh Start Against Vikings

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas' first order of business in its basketball opener against Portland State tonight is to stop a three-game losing streak dating to last season and establish some positive vibes.

The Razorbacks, projected 25th nationally by Sports Illustrated, have a chance to validate that magazine's ranking next week in the EA Sports Maui Invitational, where five Associated Press Top 25 teams await.

Portland State is coming off a 19-9 season and a Big Sky Conference championship at 11-3, but begins this season with four new starters, a new coach and a killer early schedule beginning with six straight road games.

Ken Bone, the Vikings' first-year coach, said, "We understand that we might take some lumps early. We're playing three major programs in Arkansas, Iowa State and Gonzaga. Being so new and young, we need to stay together, trust the system and each other."

By contrast, Arkansas returns four starters including budding superstar guard Ronnie Brewer, whom Sports Illustrated this week called "a future lottery pick at guard."

Hogs coach Stan Heath can play Brewer at several spots, including point guard if senior Dontell Jefferson and freshman Sean McCurdy struggle early.

"Ronnie can impact the game without scoring a lot of points," Heath said.

In three preseason games counting a Red-White scrimmage, Brewer has averaged 25 points and shown more confidence in his outside shooting and free throw shooting.

Heath would like Brewer to take over close games down the stretch -- a trademark of his famous father, former UA All-American Ron Brewer.

Jim Calhoun, in his 20th season as coach of the No. 3 Connecticut team that Arkansas will face Monday in Maui, said last week, "I remember Ron Brewer, and his son is more athletic than Ron."

Connecticut tunes up at Pepperdine tonight while Arkansas plays host to Portland State at 7:05 p.m. in Bud Walton Arena.

The Vikings reportedly played multiple defenses while defeating Seattle 83-74 in an exhibition game last week.

"We worked some against zones, man-to-man and press defense this week, but we won't spend an enormous amount of time on that since we don't know much about what Portland State does," Heath said. "We worked 100 percent on Arkansas Tuesday and about 85 percent through the week."

Heath expected to start Jefferson at point guard tonight, although McCurdy played more minutes against LSU-Shreveport last week.

"Dontell has had a lot of assists and very few turnovers," Heath said. "He's one of the smartest guys in this room. If he throws the ball to Ronnie, Darian Townes or Jonathon Modica, he knows he's got a good chance to get an assist."

Forward Charles Thomas also starts for Arkansas, with 7-foot shot-blocking center Steven Hill ready to play early.

Portland State will counter with guards Ryan Sommer and 24-year-old Jake Schroeder, forwards Juma Kamara and 25-year-old Tyler Hollist, and 6-foot-9 center Anthony Washington, a transfer from Washington.

Reserve center Scott Morrison, a 6-11 sophomore, started last season, and senior reserve guard Josh Neeley, another 25-year-old, provides more experience.

Schroeder is called "Pops," because his wife, Prissy, gave birth to their first child, a son named Nash, last Saturday.

Bone, who assisted at Washington the past three seasons, said after the Seattle game, "We have a long way to go, but it was a good first step. It was the first time we played in front of anyone. We got through that, and I think we handled it well."

Arkansas still is known for some of the rowdiest home fans around, despite an NCAA tournament drought since 2001, but tonight some Hogs fans may be siphoned off by area high school football playoff games or the UA football weekend in Little Rock.

Hogs senior guard Eric Ferguson will sit out his second game tonight since his Nov. 6 arrest on a driving-while-intoxicated charge. On Thursday, Ferguson entered a not guilty plea through his attorney, Virgina Middleton, in Springdale District Court, and his trial date has been set for Jan. 20 at 8:30 a.m.

Heath has not announced whether Ferguson will play in Maui.

Kansas, Arkansas' potential second-round opponent in Maui, has suspended sophomore forward Darnell Jackson for nine games, for receiving about $5,000 in benefits from a booster. Jackson averaged 2.0 points per game last season.

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