Hogs' Press Fuels Win Over Rice

NORTH LITTLE ROCK -- A lively Alltel Arena crowd of 10,961 helped Arkansas emerge from the doldrums of a 30-28 halftime lead against Rice to sprint to an 80-61 victory on Saturday night.

In one electric sequence starting the second half, Arkansas (8-2) went on a 10-0 run that included six points by Ronnie Brewer and four by Charles Thomas, who had not had a point or rebound in the first half.

The Hogs suddenly led 40-28 and never looked back.

"Coach (Stan) Heath gave us one of those Bob Knight-type speeches at halftime," Thomas said.

Rice (4-5) looked as if it had never seen a press at times, turning the ball over six times in the first five minutes of the second half and 18 times for the game.

Jonathon  Modica, who scored 15 points for Arkansas, echoed Thomas.

"We got a little talking-to at halftime," Modica said. "But we didn't respond like immature children -- we responded like men."

Ronnie Brewer had 11 of his 17 points in the second half for Arkansas, and waved his towel on the bench in glee when Modica scored eight straight points to give the Razorbacks a 73-46 lead.

"I didn't see my teammates standing up on the bench, but I was just happy I let it go tonight," Modica said. "I fed off their energy and got some confidence in myself. I've still got a ways to go, but I'll keep climbing the ladder."

Morris Almond, a 6-foot-6 junior forward, led Rice with 25 points, including 14 in the first half.

"We had good energy and came out strong," Almond said. "We put together a solid first half, but couldn't match it in the second half. We lost one of our high-energy guards, Jamaal Moore, to an injury in the first half, but we still could have handled Arkansas' pressure better."

Moore played just seven minutes but had six rebounds for the Owls, who led Arkansas 18-13 in first-half rebounds despite a two-inch height disadvantage per starter.

"I was really disappointed we didn't take advantage of our first half," said Rice coach Willis Wilson. "We abandoned our plan in the second half. We lost our focus, and one thing definitely led to another."

Rice led 9-3 early, before Darian Townes, Eric  Ferguson and Vincent Hunter entered the game for Arkansas and sparked an 11-0 run for a 14-9 UA lead.

Ferguson finished with 13 points -- his third-straight game in double figures after a slow start this season.

Townes had 16 points and six rebounds, and seemed comfortable again on his 10-foot baseline jump shots.

Besides Almond, J.R. Harrison was the only other Owl in double figures with 15 points.

Brewer said Almond had a lot of success because the Owls were setting good screens for him.

"Pookie (Modica) had him a lot in the first half, and then we all tried to contain him in the second half," Brewer said.

Brewer took just one shot in the first 10 minutes, before making 4-of-4 free throws and a jumper. He ignited in the second half, just as he had done in a 79-75 win over Missouri State on Thursday night.

"All good players let the game come to them," Brewer said. "Scoring is not all I do. I was rebounding (team-high seven boards), playing defense and trying to involve my teammates. I couldn't get frustrated."

Still, the Hogs led by just two points at halftime and knew they could play better.

"Coach Heath sorta got mad at us," Brewer said. "We responded. Eric and Pookie showed good leadership. They can knock down shots when you leave them open -- that's what they're supposed to do."

Arkansas helped its cause by making 8-of-8 free throws in the first half and 19-of-23 for the game for 82.6 percent. Rice was 10-of-14 for 71.4 percent.

Steven Hill had a frustrating game offensively, missing three point-blank shots and not scoring, but he had three rebounds, one official blocked shot and several altered shots.

With 1:14 left in the first half, Heath sent guard Sean McCurdy to the scorer's table to check in. The next whistle didn't come until 26.5 ticks remained, but McCurdy entered on defense and made a steal to help Arkansas take a lead into intermission.

Heath said, "We came out with much better intensity and much better effort on the glass in the second half," Heath said. "But I'm still looking for that elusive two-half performance."

A good time for that would be at 9 p.m. Wednesday, against Texas Tech at Dallas, Texas.

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