Hogs' Defense Promising Against Missouri

FAYETTEVILLE -- At halftime of the spirited Missouri-Arkansas basketball game on Friday night, former Hogs star Tommy Boyer said, "Our defense in the first 13 minutes was as good as you'll see anywhere."

The Razorbacks (5-2) had raced to a 28-13 lead by trumping Missouri's vintage in-your-face intensity. But now the precocious Tigers (2-2) had clawed back within 34-26, and you knew the game would go to the wire.

Boyer, who scored 1,067 points for Arkansas from 1961-63 and twice led the nation in free throw percentage, now is the resident UA sage, wit, needler, supporter, friend of coach Stan Heath and consumer of prodigious amounts of pop corn in the media room.

Beforre the season, he penciled the Hogs in for a 20-6 record, not counting Maui or any postseason tournament.

To do that, they'll have to keep making big plays in the close games, as they've done in wins over Kansas (65-64) and Missouri (66-63).

"I'd rather win by 10," a relieved Heath said after Friday's game. "We thought we had this game under control, but Missouri didn't fold. Give them credit for hitting tough shots. In the end, we fought to win and stopped their offense."

Norm Stewart, the former Missouri coach who directed 634 wins from 1967-1999 and now does color analysis for the Mizzou telecasts, had an appreciative smile after the game.

Who couldn't love a game like that?

Arkansas had more spectacular plays and runs, but the Tigers kept doing the lunch-bucket stuff to keep them in the game.

It had to please Heath, then, that Arkansas finished with more offensive rebounds (12) than Missouri (10).

Darian Townes, whom Heath has challenged to get eight or 10 rebounds a game, led the Hogs with seven, including four on the offensive glass. Townes also had six blocked shots -- one fewer than his career-high seven against Portland State in the opener.

Just one game earlier, in a 77-35 rout over Southern Miss, Arkansas had actually lost the battle for offensive rebounds, 14-7.

"We improved on rebounding against Missouri," Heath said. "We got second and third opportunities."

The biggest putback was Jonathon  Modica's -- part of a three-point play that gave Arkansas a 63-61 lead with 1:11 left and kept 17,427 fans in Bud Walton Arena from reverting to their groaning mode of the past few seasons.

"The fans kept us in the game," Modica said. "I know I was excited to get that offensive rebound. Missouri has good players, and we knew they were capable of coming back."

Embattled Missouri coach Quin Snyder, who helped his young Tigers keep their poise in an NCAA Tournament-quality atmosphere, had nice things to say about the Razorbacks.

"They've got a better feel for who they are as a team this year," Snyder said. "(Ronnie) Brewer and Modica play well off one another. As their big guys become more confident, their team will become even better."

Steven Hill, Arkansas' bruising 7-footer, hit a snag when he picked up two marginal fouls in the first 1:16 of the second half, but he had one classic moment in the first half that underscores what the Hogs can do when they all start buying into a tough-screening motion offense.

Hill set two solid screens in one possession, then went to the basket and caught a nice pass from guard Eric  Ferguson that zipped past two Tigers and set up an easy Hill hoop on the pick and roll.

Forward Charles Thomas helped again, too, with 3-of-3 field goals and 4-of-4 free throws for 11 points in 28 minutes off the bench. One of his baskets was a 3-pointer, on his first such try of the season.

Brewer had his usual solid all-around game, with 20 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 1 blocked shot and just 1 turnover in 35 minutes. He has a flair for the timely steal and the dramatic basket -- like his 3-pointer that restored a 60-58 Hogs lead with 1:42 to go.

In Maui, ESPN analyst Bill Raftery talked about how nicely Brewer interacted with his teammates.

After Friday's game, Brewer deflected the credit, making sure to mention Arkansas' inside players, Modica's 3-point play and Dontell Jefferson's underrated contributions.

"Dontell has been stepping up every game," Brewer said.

If the Hogs can stay grounded, work hard on their shortcomings and develop a killer instinct with big leads, they can go places this season.

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