Ronnie Brewer gained weight and strength in the offseason. Arkansas' best player -- and quite possibly the SEC's best -- says he is still carrying the 220 pounds he entered the season with on his slender frame.
It's a good thing. The 6-7 Brewer needed every pound of muscle and every ounce of strength to fight through what Missouri State dealt him in Arkansas' 79-75 victory Thursday at Bud Walton Arena.
MSU coach Barry Hinson admitted afterwards that the game plan was to hit Brewer with physical body checks every time Brewer crossed the lane. The plan was to wear down Brewer so he wouldn't have anything at the end.
It didn't work. Brewer was the man down the stretch. He scored four baskets after MSU took the lead with 3:57 left, all of them just a little different. There was a driving layup, a stick-back and two mid-range jumpers. He finished with 19 points for game-high honors.
"I was proud of Ronnie," said Hinson, acknowledging that the MSU plan was to play physical against the slashing UA guard.
"We knew this was an SEC team and that we had to play a physical brand of basketball. We did feel a need to get physical with Ronnie."
Brewer nodded his head when asked if the Bears were more physical at the outset than he'd seen so far this season.
"A lot of teams try that, but they were a little more physical than others," he said. "I just tried to be mature and take it and not let it affect me mentally. They wanted to frustrate me and I didn't let it happen.
"That first five minutes was worse than later in the game. I think they saw it wasn't going to bother me and that I was going to keep playing through it. I chuckled a little. Their guys were saying stuff when I came through the lane like it wasn't going to be easy to come in there.
"My freshman year, I couldn't have taken hits like that from a post man. Now, I just laugh it off."
Heath wasnn't laughing it off afterwards. He had no direct comments for the SEC officials, but it was clear he thought MSU tried to rough up Brewer. He didn't like it, either.
"So they even admitted it," Heath said. "I'd hope a player of Ronnie's stature would get at least some protection."
Brewer shot only two foul shots despite MSU's rough tactics. Ironically, one of the points of emphasis this season is physical hand checks and body hits on cutters as they pass through the lane. So much for emphasis.
Brewer might chuckle at that, too. Instead, he was happy the Hogs kept their poise even when the Bears made their run.
"This was a good test for us," he said. "They are a good team, probably better than Missouri. They stay in their stuff, play fundamental basketball and keep coming at you. Yeah, they are probably better than Missouri."
Hinson thinks the Hogs are better than they've been, too. He said he's always been an Arkansas fan during his days in Tulsa from coaching high school ball to moving to Oral Roberts.
"I'm a college basketball fan and I've always liked to watch Arkansas," Hinson said. "I think Stan has improved them. The zone didn't bother them like last year. They knew how to attack it and get good shots. They are more prepared. They play harder."
Hinson credited Arkansas' defense for causing the nation's top 3-point shooting team (at over 50 percent) to slip to just five for 21 (23.8 percent).
"We've been shooting threes over 5-11 guys," he said. "It's a little different shooting them over athletic 6-7 guys and 7-footers. They got up into us. I could say we just missed shots, but I thought it was them getting up into us. they had a lot to do with how we shot it on the perimeter."
Hinson also praised the Hogs for making the Bears play at a plodding pace.
"They slowed us down," he said. "They walked it up. We haven't had anyone slow us down and they did. I can't imagine that there is a day when someone at Arkansas slows down someone else, but that's what happened."
Don't read too much into that. The Hogs did put up 44 in the first half while slowing down the Bears. It was the Bears who went to the zone in the second half in hopes of slowing the Hogs.
That didn't work in the end, just like trying to pound on Ronnie Brewer. Maybe Heath can send the game tape to the SEC office, a long with the quotes from Hinson on his strategy. It's sure others will try it again.
Heath didn't bite when this reporter asked about that possibility. That's probably enough to lead most to think the tape is on the way to Birmingham, Ala., this morning.
State of the Hogs: Physical Brewer
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