Razorbacks Welcome Red-Hot Vanderbilt

FAYETTEVILLE -- Backed into an 0-2 corner in the Southeastern Conference, Arkansas might wish for a less formidable opponent than Vanderbilt in Bud Walton Arena today.

The Commodores (11-2, 2-0 SEC) aren't just eggheads who shoot well.

Former Razorback Jimmy Dykes, a TV analyst, watched both Vanderbilt and Kentucky warm up before their game last Tuesday in Rupp Arena and concluded that Vanderbilt had better athletes.

Sure enough, the Commodores beat Kentucky 57-52 before 23,643 mostly blue-clad fans at Lexington.

Stan Heath, Arkansas' embattled coach, said Thursday, "This is probably the most athletic Vanderbilt team I've seen. Their three wing players are more talented than Kentucky's."

The terrific trio -- 6-foot-6 sophomore Shan Foster, 6-7 sophomore DeMarre Carroll and 6-7 junior Derrick Byars -- put 43 points on Kentucky. Carroll double-doubled with 15 points, 11 rebounds within Vandy's motion offense.

"They create mismatches against you," Heath said.

Arkansas (11-4) is reeling after barber-close losses to Mississippi State and LSU, but the players are keeping a stiff upper lip.

"We've got to keep on fighting," said SEC-leading scorer Ronnie Brewer. "We want to play a complete game and take every possession like it's our last."

So far, the last possessions have been a problem. Charles Thomas narrowly missed a game-winning 3-pointer against Mississippi State, and then the Hogs couldn't get a tying 3-point attempt off against LSU.

Heath may shake things up by giving freshmen Sean McCurdy and Cyrus McGowan more playing time today, but he said neither player would start.

"I like Sean's energy," Heath said. "He's active, hustling, assertive. What I like about Cyrus is he doesn't back down from anybody. He reminds me of (injured Alabama senior forward) Chuck Davis as a freshman."

Facing zones that Heath described as "really smashed in," Hogs senior point guard Dontell Jefferson has not looked for his shot as much lately and has not scored in 46 minutes of SEC play.

Heath called Jefferson a "solid stabilizer," but he said the Hogs need to get the ball inside more.

McCurdy will get some of Jefferson's minutes and perhaps some of Brewer's, as Heath would like to reduce Brewer's minutes to about 32 a game in order to keep him fresh.

"We're trying to help each other get better," McCurdy said. "It's hurting all of us to lose. I'll try to penetrate a little and get a little inside-out action."

Steven Hill scored 10 points against Mississippi State, and Darian Townes had 14 against LSU for the Hogs. Foul trouble against one or the other has prevented them from being a force at the same time.

McCurdy is still in wide-eyed wonder of the SEC experience in Walton Arena.

"It's amazing, hearing all the fans," he said. "There's nothing like it. There's so much talent on every team."

LSU coach John Brady suggested that Walton Arena brings out the best in both Arkansas and its opponent -- which is not what Arkansas fans have traditionally had in mind.

Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings described Walton Arena this way: "It's very much like a Rupp Arena atmosphere. The crowd is great and it's a tough place to play. I look forward to seeing how we respond to playing there."

Stallings also said, "Anything other than a great performance will result in our getting embarrassed."

Heath is 2-1 against Vandy, but the Commodores won 79-65 last season in Nashville, Tenn. Foster scored 25 points, but Heath called guard Mario Moore "the best player on the court" that day.

Moore, a senior, averages 6.7 points this season. Foster leads the team at 16.0, while Byars, a transfer from Virginia who hails from Memphis, Tenn., averages 11.5. Senior forward Julian Terrell, 6-9, averages 11.1.

The Commodores took a big step this season by defeating Georgetown (10-3) on the road.

"We were such a bad road team a year ago and I take the credit for that," Stallings said. "We have talked long and hard about being a very good road team this season. I told our team the best teams in the league are good road teams. Beating Georgetown got us off on a good foot."

Beating Kentucky at Lexington was almost unheard of for Vandy -- even if the Wildcats are struggling currently.

But Stallings is under no illusions.

"We'll get the very best Arkansas has to offer," he predicted. "It will be a game they really feel they need to win."

So how can Vandy trump the desperate Hogs?

"Guys have to step up and make plays," Stallings said. "Sometimes you need a special performance, like Carroll had against Kentucky."

Heath's prescription for a UA turnaround went like this: "One, we've got to finish plays in close. Two, we've given up second-chance points and we've got to be tougher. And three, be smarter."

Heath wants to see how hungry the Hogs are, and how willing they are to sacrifice.

"I know our team is capable of rattling off three or four wins in a row," Heath said. "We've got to put out the fires and start our own fires."

Hawgs Daily Top Stories