Hogs Must Cool Hot-Shooting Bears

FAYETTEVILLE -- Something has to give when Missouri State (6-0) meets Arkansas (6-2) in Bud Walton Arena tonight.

The Bears, leading the nation in three-point shooting at 50 percent, aim to vindicate their No. 6 ranking in the Sagarin survey.

Arkansas, last in the Southeastern Conference in three-point percentage defense at .409, wants to extend its winning streak to five and prove it can stop a good perimeter attack.

Hogs guards Dontell Jefferson, Jonathon Modica and Eric Ferguson all will likely get a chance to guard 6-foot-2 Bears junior Blake Ahearn, who averages 21.2 points per game and makes an other-worldly 52.1 percent of his threes.

The offensive battle between Ahearn and 6-7 Arkansas junior guard Ronnie Brewer (20.6 average) is one of the attractions of this regional matchup -- the first between the two schools since 1987.

"Coach (Frank) Broyles jumped in to help us get this game scheduled," said UA coach Stan Heath. "We e-mailed every conference, and at the end it was down to Missouri State or Houston. Both are having outstanding seasons."

Because of Missouri State's quick-striking ability with four three-point shooters on the court at any one time, Heath has spent a lot of time in practice this week putting the Hogs through their perimeter defensive paces.

"Missouri State tries to create a quick tempo," Heath said. "We don't want them to dictate tempo, but we're not going to milk the shot clock to the end."

Ahearn is one of five Bears averaging double-figures in points, but he averages eight more points than the second-highest scorer, 6-5 junior forward Tyler Chaney (13.2).

"Ahearn is a gifted scorer," Heath said. "I don't think anybody can stop him. We just want to slow him down."

Missouri State senior guard Deke Thompson (11.0) came on at the end of last season to help the Bears (19-13) reach the second round of the NIT.

Dale Lamberth, a 6-5 redshirt sophomore who transferred from Northern Oklahoma College in Enid, has sparked Missouri State this season with 10 of 16 threes off the bench and a 10.2 average.

Kellen Easley, another reserve, has averaged 10.2 points and 8.3 rebounds, complementing 6-10 Bears center Sky Frazier's 9.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per contest.

Nathan Bilyeu, a 6-6 junior forward, averages nearly a double-double with 9.2 points and 9.5 rebounds per game for Missouri State.

Arkansas tried to recruit 6-9 Bears forward Drew Richards of Rogersville, Mo., who averages 4.4 points and 3.3 rebounds.

Rogersville is just east of Springfield, Mo., the Bears' home, and not far from Branson, Mo., hometown of Hogs center Steven Hill.

"Robinson, Bilyeu and Hill all played in the Central Ozark Conference in high school," noted Mark Stillwell, the veteran Missouri State basketball sports information director.

Hill blocked a UA record-tying 10 shots in his last game, a 73-67 win over Texas State. He averages just 3.8 points per game and may be called on for more scoring tonight, as 6-10 Hogs forward Darian Townes has been hobbled by a sore left knee and 6-8 Charles Thomas by a tender ankle.

Heath could opt for a smaller lineup against the smooth-shooting Bears, but he reminded, "If we go bigger, they have to guard us, too."

Seventh-year Missouri State coach Barry Hinson directed a Wednesday morning practice in Springfield before going home with a head cold.

"We had to vacate our (Hammons Center) building early anyway because of fall commencement," Stillwell said.

Hinson, a former Oral Roberts coach, has talked this week about Arkansas' size and athleticism and about the challenge of playing a Southeastern Conference team on the road.

But Heath noted that Missouri, a team Arkansas struggled to beat 66-63 at home, recently defeated Texas A&M-Corpus Christi by just one point, after Missouri State had beaten the same team 95-75 on Dec. 3.

"It will be a challenge for guys like Thomas and Vincent Hunter to match up against Missouri State's shooters," Heath said. "They'll have to react quickly in transition. Hunter could be very valuable in this game."

Heath added that Ferguson is coming off his best game of the season -- an 11-point outing against Texas State -- and has had good practices this week.

Modica, who averages 14.6 points for Arkansas, welcomes tonight's test.

"I think we'll play our game," he said. "We'll play off our big guys and play off penetration."

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