Brewer Feels Better For Western Illinois Game

FAYETTEVILLE -- Getting Ronnie Brewer back in gear is Arkansas coach Stan Heath's top priority for a rare Sunday night basketball game in Bud Walton Arena against Western Illinois.

A flu-weakened Brewer scored just two points in a 66-38 Arkansas win over Texas-Pan American on Friday, but said he felt better after Saturday's practice.

Arkansas (10-2) takes an eight-game winning streak into the 7:35 p.m. game against the Leathernecks (4-6) of the Mid-Continent Conference.

"It's tough to play sick," Brewer said. "I want to come back and be the player I am. That's what good players do. If my shot is not falling, I can still play hard on defense."

Heath said there was "no chance" he would withhold Brewer from tonight's game.

"Part of the college process is you've got to learn to play with sickness," Heath said. "My responsibility is to help Ronnie develop in that area. I won't let him take the day off, and I'll chew on him if he's not playing good."

Brewer said he had stomach flu and a fever on Friday, but had taken a lot of medicine and felt "a little better."

Rather than celebrating the onset of the new year, he said he planned to "just rest and get my legs back under me" on Saturday night.

Despite Arkansas' 19-point first half on Friday, Heath said, "I liked a lot of things we did. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I've got that old Pistons mentality -- sometimes you just grind out a win with defense and rebounding. The only thing that bothered me was too many turnovers (17)."

Heath is curious whether Western Illinois will continue to play its fast-paced style against the Razorbacks.

"They've been playing fast, attacking the basket and shooting 3-pointers," Heath said. "Their stats don't show a lot of weaknesses. We'll see man-to-man and zone from them."

The Leathernecks have had high-profile losses to Indiana (102-79) and Kansas (86-57), but are coming off a 58-52 win over North Florida on Friday night in Central Florida's tournament at Orlando.

David Jackson, a 6-foot-4 sophomore guard from Memphis, Tenn., leads Western Illinois with 16.6 points per game. He made just 4 of 14 shots against North Florida, but is shooting 51.9 percent on 3-pointers.

NaVonta Kentle, a 6-8 sophomore forward averaging 9.5 points, hails from Pine Bluff.

"We didn't know about him, but I'm sure he'll come in here ready to play hard," Heath said.

Fred Oguns, Western Illinois' second-leading scorer at 11.7, is a 6-7 senior forward from Lagos, Nigeria, by way of Sheridan (Wyo.) Junior College.

The Leathernecks, who start three guards, have been outrebounded by an average of 1.6 boards per game this season.

Coach Derek Thomas is 18-48 in his third year at Western Illinois, including an 11-17 record last season and 7-9 Mid-Continent mark.

While Hogs fans might dub this game a "rent-a-win," don't talk to UA forward Charles Thomas about so-called "breathers."

He got poked in the left eye against Rice, and got hit hard above the right eye in the first minute against Texas-Pan American.

"I'm not going to wear goggles, though," Thomas said Saturday. "I tried that last year and I couldn't see."

Thomas opened the scoring on Friday night with a putback in heavy traffic, but the Hogs had a lull while he recuperated. When he returned, Thomas supplied another burst of energy.

With Brewer ailing, freshman guard Sean McCurdy also gave Arkansas a boost. McCurdy made 2 of 3 3-pointers, compared to his teammates' 4 of 15, and was a catalyst on fast breaks.

"Sean did a nice job," Heath reiterated Saturday. "We'll continue to give him some playing time."

For all of Arkansas' first-half shooting woes on Friday, Heath reminded, "We scored 47 points in the second half -- which we can't complain about."

Jonathon  Modica had 14 points and 8 rebounds for Arkansas, while 6-10 sophomore Darian Townes had 12 rebounds to go with 8 points off the bench.

The Razorbacks, after shooting just 35.9 percent against Texas-Pan American, finished Saturday's two-hour practice with an extended shooting drill.

Ryan McBride, a 6-6, 190-pound guard from Denver, Colo., who had been expected to transfer to Arkansas at semester, is on hold at the moment. McBride, who played junior college ball at Monterey (Calif.) Peninsula last season, reportedly has struggled with the math portion of his correspondence work this semester and may not qualify academically.

Arkansas' second semester begins on Jan. 17.

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