State of the Hogs: Winning Ugly

Defense can be pretty at times, but the Hogs were anything but that on offense against Texas-Pan Am.

Sittting at a restaurant about 90 minutes before tipoff it hit me that my eye glasses were in another car, the one parked in the garage at home. Went ahead and ate my pre-game meal, then hustled back home to retrieve my bifocals.

That was a mistake. Should have gone to Bud Walton without them for Arkansas' 66-38 basketball victory over Pan American on Friday night. It would have saved me some agony.

There are not many times Arkansas has won by 28 points that I'll call it an ugly victory, but this qualified. Oh, there were some high points. Backup point guard Sean McCurdy made it to double figures and Darian Townes led just the kind of dominant team effort on the boards UA coach Stan Heath had requested earlier this week.

And, if you like defense, one could point to the way the Hogs throttled the Broncs from start to finish. There were few open shots for the visitors. The main thing UT-Pan Am did well was collapse their zone when the Hogs wiggled loose inside, snuffing out their baseline game.

If you like power rebounding, there was some of that to be pumped about, too. The Hogs won that battle, 46-33, including 12 by Townes.

It was obvious from the start that the Hogs weren't with it. Heath spent the night yelling corrections between coughs. He's been bothered by the flu. Hopefully, the doctor prescribed something strong to help him forget this one and get some sleep before Sunday night's game with Western Carolina.

"I'm getting over that stuff and it is some nasty stuff that's going around right now," Heath said. "My family says I've given it to them."

Ronnie Brewer also has the same "nasty stuff." He played through a flu-induced fever, but not well. He made just one shot, a rebound basket of his own miss and finished with two points in 21 minutes.

Texas Pan-Am coach Robert Davenport knew the Hogs' ace was under the weather, but also thought his defenders did a nice job of forcing him away from his strengths. "They told me (Brewer) may have been sick, but hopefully some of what bothered him tonight was caused by us," Davenport said. "Our plan in the first half was to slow Brewer down and keep the score down. We did that."

The plan was to turn Brewer into a "catch and shoot player" instead of letting the sleek guard slash to the bucket off the dribble.

"If he just catches and shoots it, he's not as effective," Davenport said. "If he can put the ball on the floor, then he gets into a rhythm and watch out."

Heath agreed that the Hogs didn't seem fluid on offense, but he wasn't complaining too much. After all, he had preached defensive effort and more focus on the glass this week after the team took four days off for the Christmas holidays.

Despite scoring just 19 first-half points, Heath said there were some good things to point out at the intermission break. He liked the effort and the rebounding, but did mention that there were 14,737 partisan fans who probably expected more from their team as far as offensive production.

"There were probably a few other choice words thrown in that I won't mention here, but I did try to encourage them, too, and challenge them to play a little better for our fans," Heath said.

Jonathon  Modica noted those encouraging words at halftime, too.

"He wasn't down on us because he knows we are a mature team that can and will shoot it better as we move along," Modica said. "We cleaned up some things in the second half and did play good defense. He mentioned those and even congratulated us on our rebound effort. That's one of the things we stressed tonight."

Modica wouldn't touch the question about shooting poorly because of the layoff.

"That's an excuse and I don't think we want to make any excuses," Modica said. "But I think you know we can shoot it better. We missed some easy ones we normally are going to make. I think we all know that. Yes, we missed some threes, but we also missed some layups. We can make those as we get going again."

It wasn't so much that the Hogs shot the ball poorly. They seemed to force things and their assist-to-turnover ratio did a flip-flop from their most recent outings. They committed 17 turnovers, while earning just 15 assists.

That's about as poorly as they've done in that area since the Maui tournament, against much tougher opposition. (I discard the 9 assist, 11 turnover numbers against Texas Tech since the Red Raider stat crew seemed to be stingy in their interpretation of an assist.)

If numbers are your thing, the best one may be Heath's record at Arkansas. The victory pulled him to the .500 mark, the first time he's been at that level since the Hogs were 5-5 after a loss at Oklahoma State on Dec. 30 of his first season in the Ozarks.

A lot has changed since then. Mainly, they are finally talented enough to win big when playing ugly.

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