Eustachy Brings Golden Eagles Into Bud Walton

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas holds a 4-1 series lead over Southern Mississippi, tonight's opponent in Bud Walton Arena, but the last time the two teams met, the Golden Eagles shocked the Hogs 63-54 in the finals of the John Thompson Foundation Challenge Classic in November, 2000.

Earlier that calendar year, current Southern Miss coach Larry Eustachy had his Iowa State team 13 points ahead of Michigan State in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, before the Spartans rallied to win en route to the national title.

Arkansas coach Stan Heath, an assistant on that Michigan State team, recalled, "Iowa State was awfully good under coach Eustachy."

Though Heath and Eustachy sat on opposite benches that night, Eustachy said Tuesday, "I don't know Stan at all. I just know he's a heck of a coach. We scheduled Arkansas because we're going to need games like this to get our program better."

Eustachy is 272-165 as a college coach, but the Golden Eagles went 11-17 in his first season with them last year and are just 1-3 this season.

"We've really struggled to score," Eustachy said. "We lost by 19 (52-33) at home to Samford on Monday night. We've lost to three teams favored to win their leagues (Denver, San Diego State, Samford)."

Arkansas, meanwhile, has been up and down during a 3-2 start to what Heath hopes is an NCAA Tournament campaign.

"It's important for us to protect our home and play better basketball," Heath said. "Playing a schedule like ours can help you or haunt you. We need to do a better job of finishing possessions defensively, and have our guards stick their noses in there and rebound."

Eustachy is looking for consistency at point guard, where so far he has relied on a committee.

Senior guard/forward Jason Forte leads the Golden Eagles with 12 points per game, followed by 6-foot-3 junior guards Kyle Lamonte and Jarekus Singleton.

"We just need more maturity," Eustachy said.

Arkansas junior guard Ronnie Brewer leads the Southeastern Conference in scoring (21.4) and steals (4.2), although Heath has challenged him this week to play better defense.

"Sometimes when he doesn't get the steal, it can be costly," Heath said. "Ronnie doesn't need to force things. He's dealt with the higher expectations tremendously this year, but he doesn't have as many rebounds (2.8) or assists (2.8)."

Jonathon Modica, a 6-5 senior guard, is second among UA scorers with 14 points per game.

Besides heeding his coaches' advice to shoot more when he's open, Modica said, "I need to take more charges and rotate quicker on defense."

Charles Thomas (9.6 ppg) has started every game for Arkansas, while big men Steven Hill and Darian Townes have started three times and twice respectively.

"I don't think it matters to any of those three who starts," Heath said. "Darian only played 16 minutes Saturday (against Radford), but didn't say a word about it. I'd love to see him get eight or 10 rebounds a game -- if he did that, I'd be off his back. I haven't figured out which buttons to push yet for him."

Hill (3.6 points, 3.6 rebounds per game) wasn't assertive enough offensively in Arkansas' 75-55 win over Radford, Heath said.

"He can do more," Heath said. "He's got to demand the ball. Southern Miss is capable of keeping the game in the 50s or 60s, and it's hard to get the ball inside against them."

Vincent Hunter, coming off a knee injury, could give the Hogs a lift tonight, as could guard Eric Ferguson, who finally gets to shed the mask that protected his broken nose.

So far, Hogs freshman forward Cyrus McGowan is the kid that batted 1.000. He's 4-of-4 from the field.

"Cyrus is going to surprise people," Heath said. "He probably should get more touches. He played six strong minutes against Maryland. He'll rebound, he'll defend. Our older guys better look over their shoulder, or this young buck will steal their minutes."

Eustachy, who once coached under Bob Boyd on a Mississippi State staff that also included assistants John Brady and Richard Williams, is happy to be in the Magnolia state again.

"I'm enjoying it," he said. "I knew from my time at Mississippi State how hospitable the people are, and I'm thankful for the opportunity."

Arkansas beat Southern Miss four times in Pine Bluff -- in 1978, 1980, 1981 and 1982 -- when Eddie Sutton coached the Hogs and M.K. Turk guided the Golden Eagles.

In the 1978 game, a 93-79 UA win, Hogs legend Sidney Moncrief scored 29 points in the first half and 39 for the game.

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