Going Up Hill

FAYETTEVILLE -- If ever a game was tailored to a player, it's tonight's Arkansas-Texas Tech clash in the American Airlines Center at Dallas.

Hogs 7-foot center Steven Hill, who has gained 25 pounds up to 248 this season, is a natural to bang with Tech's sturdy inside players.

Arkansas assistant Dan Hipsher, a proponent of Red Raiders coach Bob Knight's physical brand of motion offense, has urged the Hogs all season to set more screens and Hill has bought in to the tactic.

In Texas Tech's last game, an 84-73 loss to Nevada-Las Vegas, Tech starters Tanner Ogden, Terry Martin and Dior Lowhorn scored 5, 3 and 2 points respectively.

Hill could appreciate such disciplined role players. He's averaging 3.3 points this season and was 0-of-3 from the field in an 80-61 win over Rice last Saturday. Yet the Hogs improved to 8-2.

Not that Hill was thrilled by his point-blank misses against the Owls.

"I hurried a couple of them," Hill said. "There was a lid on the rim. No, they were just bad misses. No excuses."

Hill doesn't mind Arkansas fans' perplexity over his lack of offensive production.

"I don't get tired of the questions," he said. "Because all the hype in preseason was, I was going to come around."

Some of that hype came from UA coach Stan Heath, and his praise of Hill's defense has rung true.

Hill has blocked 28 shots, altered or prevented countless others and made seven steals.

"I feel good about this season," Hill said. "Expectations were high, and some of them have been met. Others have been unmet. Obviously, the last game was not one of my best. But I've tried to play good defense in the post."

Though Hill helped hold Rice to 28 first-half points, the Owls held an 11-2 rebounding edge at one point. So at halftime, Heath read the Razorbacks the riot act.

"He probably hadn't reached that (decibel) level this year," Hill said. "He definitely lit us up at halftime, but it was what we needed."

In the second half, Arkansas outscored Rice 50-33 and outrebounded the Owls by 11.

Still, Heath has challenged the Hogs to rebound more consistently and perhaps find a go-to board guy.

Hill, who averages 4.2 rebounds, said, "We'll see whether we have that guy. It starts inside-out, so one of the big men will have to take it on our shoulders. It's just desire."

Tonight would be a good place to start, because if Arkansas loses the physical battle with Texas Tech underneath, the chances are that the Razorbacks will lose the game.

Baylor assistant coach Matthew Driscoll, who has scouted the Red Raiders, said, "This is a typical Bob Knight team. They have young guys who hit the boards, and they will get better and better. They also play in pairs, and they screen and read."

Hill, who picks things up quickly, must walk the fine line of playing aggressively without getting into foul trouble.

"Steven is a very smart player," Hipsher said. "We're getting him to lead more -- like making sure we're in our baseline defense. It doesn't have to just be the guards talking."

If the Raiders -- who are not afraid of a fast tempo -- decide to press, Hill can help there, too, either by taking the ball out of bounds or serving as a big target.

Hipsher pointed out, "Steven is a very good ball-handler. He moves great and has some individual ball skills to help us break the press. I swear, sometimes he's too shy to show that. Someday he's going to blossom, and when he does he'll get the respect he deserves."

Heath echoed Hipsher.

"There are a lot of things Steven can do, but he's reluctant to do them in games," Heath said. "He needs to not worry about missing shots."

For example, Heath said, "He has the ability to drive from the perimeter, and has a pretty decent first step."

Hill had one move along the baseline against Rice that drew oohs and aahs from the fans in North Litle Rock, but he somehow lost the handle on the ball on the way to a reverse dunk attempt.

Troy Hill, Steven's 6-8 father who played for Oral Roberts and Pittsburg (Kan.) State, attended a UA practice recently and showed him an inside move on the court afterwards.

"He wanted me to get deeper in the post," Steven Hill said. "No, I haven't tried it yet, but don't tell him that."

Hill was grinning -- something he's done a lot more of lately.

"Steven has a humorous side to him that you wouldn't expect," Heath said. "I see more of it this season. Life is more normal for him in some ways. He's opening up slowly."

Most Arkansas fans know that Hill's mother, Penny, died last year.

"I think it was difficult for Steven, going away to college, and then his mom's passing compounded things," Troy Hill said.

Hipsher has been impressed by Hill's attitude this season.

"He really has a quick mind and quick wit," Hipsher said. "But he doesn't let his personality show a lot on the floor."

More and more, media members are gravitating toward Hill after practices because they know he's a "good quote." Much of his humor is self-deprecating.

At times, Hill can discourage an entire team's offense because of his threatening presence in the lane.

At other times, Heath must situation-substitute in order to have Darian Townes, Charles Thomas or Vincent Hunter in the game offensively.

ESPN analyst Bill Raftery said during the Maui Invitational, "When Hill starts demanding the ball, he'll be something."

With no Tech player taller than 6-9, Hill could get his opportunity to break out tonight.

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