Lahqinq, Hawaii - The University of Arkansas basketball left the Lahaina Civic Center late Monday night wondering what might have been if they had only gotten their furious comeback started just a little earlier.
But the Razorbacks also exited the 2,400-seat high school gym hosting
the loaded Maui Invitational believing they will be able to play with
anybody they take the court against this season.
UConn preseason All-American Rudy Gay poured in a game-high 27 points,
which proved to be just enough to help the No. 3 Huskies take down
Arkansas 77-68 before a capacity crowd despite the Razorbacks being
down by 17 with just over 11 minutes left in the game and getting to
within three late.
"I thought our team played with great effort and just hung in there and
hung in there and battled, but we didn't do enough things early to get
it done against a team like Connecticut," Arkansas head coach Stan
Heath said. "But I can't say enough about how these guys kept coming."
Ronnie Brewer, the SEC Preseason Player of the Year and a third-team
All-American had 25 points and Jonathon Modica added 13, to lead the
Razorbacks (1-1), who will play Kansas today in a 3 p.m. (CST) game
that will be televised on ESPNU.
UConn (2-0) will face Arizona in a winner's bracket semfinal on
Tuesday. The Wildcats downed Kansas 61-49 on Monday.
"We kept on fighting throughout the game and there was no doubt on
anybody's mind on that bench that we were going to pull it off,"
Brewer said. "But the ball didn't bounce our way at the end and Rudy
Gay hit a few shots."
Arkansas, which had bombed Portland State 107-69 in its regular season
opener on Friday night, were tentative out of the box and gave
themselves too much of a mountain to climb although they clearly had
the Huskies rattled late with their full-court press.
Brewer had six steals in the game and Eric Ferguson - after missing the
two exhibition games and the season opener - also led the defense with
four steals of his own and several other deflections.
"It was my first game back and kind of hard on my legs, but I tried to
do the little things to help my team," Ferguson said. "I just tried to
play hard and tried to help us keep coming on defense."
Steven Hill had 8 points, 3 rebounds and block off the bench.
"It was very exciting and we were just all playing hard on defense,"
Hill said. "We thought if we just kept coming we could get it done so
we just kept laying in on the line. I think we all thought we were
going to win it, but just got started too late."
Arkansas trailed 55-38 when Gay slammed one home with 11:04 remaining
in the game, a basket which was one of this three impressive dunks -
one that posterized Hill.
"I just kind of try to get the ball to the basket the best I can," Gay
said. "It was kind of rough in there today. They are a very physical
team and one that is going to be a very good one this season."
The Razorbacks scored the next seven points and just kept coming,
cutting it to 61-58 on Dontell Jefferson's 15-footer at the 4:44 mark.
"Coach kept on telling us just to get it close down the stretch,"
Brewer said. "We made that run and got it close and at that point
everybody in the huddle thought we were going to pull off the win then.
We just wanted to keep playing hard, but the ball didn't bounce our way
there at the end and we didn't knock down enough free throws down the
a pair of free throws and then Arkansas had a shot to get it
to either two or one, but then Gay took over down the stretch -
canning a pair of acrobatic layups around a 3-pointer from Denham Brown
- to take a 10-point lead and seemingly put the game away with less
than a minute to go.
But the Razorbacks got consecutive steals and points from Brewer and
Modica to get it to within 72-68 with 30.7 seconds left.
Denham Brown, who had 21 points for UConn and had hit a big 3-pointer
with two minutes left, then added a free throw and Gay a pair to salt
the victory away.
"They just kept coming and we didn't do very well at all with our
pressbreaker against them," Brown said. "They just kept coming after us
and have a lot of quick guys and we made some bad decisons with the
ball. I am very impressed with them."
Jonathon Modica (24) defends against UConn's Rudy Gay. AP/Michael Conroy Photo
Stan Heath watches the action in Maui. AP/Michael Conroy Photo
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