Hogs Winning More, Enjoying It More

FAYETTEVILLE -- Just for fun, every time Steven Hill dunked during Arkansas' two-and-a-half-hour basketball practice on Tuesday, Ronnie Brewer screamed approval.

Between shared laughs with freshman teammate Sean McCurdy, Hogs senior guard Eric Ferguson played his brand of tough defense all over the floor, to the point of muscling 6-foot-10 Vincent Hunter away from the basket.
"You can tell it's Southeastern Conference time," said Arkansas coach Stan Heath. "For our first day of practice this week, we were focused and we practiced very hard. We had good camaraderie."
The Razorbacks (11-2) have three more days to get ready for a 7 p.m. Saturday game against Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss.
"Everything escalates now," Heath said. "Each possession is magnififed. Every team knows each other and dissects each other. But this is the first time we've gone into an SEC season with veterans."
Brewer said the older Razorbacks have talked among themselves about how to approach SEC play.
"It's definitely a different feeling," Brewer said. "We're starting a new season. Guys like Pookie (Jonathon Modica) and Ferg (Eric Ferguson) have been here since this team went 9-19 (in 2002-03). They know it's important to go hard every day and try to get better every day. But we also feel the need to have a different mentality, and have fun playing together."
Hence, the levity on Tuesday, with smiles mixed among the grimaces.
UA assistant Dan Hipsher even had to laugh it off when a stray basketball hit him hard in the left thumb.
"He'll be OK," said UA trainer David England. "But it might affect his golf game."
McCurdy nearly duplicated the long shot he made against Texas Tech, as his 65-footer in practice grazed the bottom of the net.
"It's fun," Brewer said. "We have some of the best chemistry we've had. It's no fun losing, so we're enjoying the (nine straight) wins right now."
Brewer ranked Charles Thomas as the No. 1 jokester on the Razorbacks, followed by Ferguson and Hunter.
"I like to do it, too," Brewer said. "If you're uptight, you're not going to have fun. We're trying to just relax and have fun playing together."
Ervin Staying Home
Former Mississippi State point guard Gary Ervin, who is sitting out a redshirt season at Arkansas following his transfer, will not make the trip to Starkville.
"They might try to keep him," Brewer joked.
Heath said Ervin, who practices with the Hogs, can help by talking about some of the Bulldogs' sets and tendencies.
"Gary has been a positive influence," Heath said. "He always simulates the other team's point guard in practice, and in many cases he's a better player."
Brewer, who was happy when Ervin joined Arkansas, said, "He's talked to me about Mississippi State some -- just basketball talk."
Brewer has less than fond memories of Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville, where no Arkansas team has won since 2000.
"Oh, man, that's always a tough place to play," Brewer said. "Mississippi State has always had tough teams."
Brewer was asked if the Hogs have paid much attention to other SEC teams.
"Florida has done extremely well," he said. "They're really high. Some other teams have played well and some have struggled. We're going to treat every team with respect, but they have to respect us, too. We have the ability to beat any team, home or away."
Hill Sore
Hogs 7-foot center Steven Hill practiced Tuesday with a protective wrap on his upper right arm, where he has a painful bone bruise.
"It's going to be a nagging thing," Heath said. "Steven had it some last year, too. He just seems to always get hit on the same place on his arm, like a magnet."
Road Test
While it's true Arkansas hasn't played a true road game this season, Heath pointed out, "It will help us, having played Connecticut, Kansas, Maryland and Texas Tech (at neutral sites)."
Jumping The Gun
With 41.2 seconds left in the first half of Arkansas' 83-54 win over Western Illinois on Sunday, Heath called timeout to discuss the situation.
Then when Arkansas got a rebound, leading 39-24 with 32 seconds left before intermission, Heath yelled, "One shot!"
But the Hogs jumped the gun, saw an opening and scored on a Dontell Jefferson layup with 9.3 seconds left
When Nathan Koster countered with a 25-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer for Western Illinois and a 41-27 score, Arkansas was one point worse off than if it had held for the final shot and missed it.
Tuesday, Heath devoted a good amount of practice time to late-game situations.

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