Ferguson: Ole Miss 'Toughest' Team

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas senior guard Eric Ferguson paid Ole Miss quite a compliment on Monday.

Ferguson, who will oppose the Rebels for the seventh time on Wednesday night in Bud Walton Arena, was asked what stood out to him about Ole Miss.

"They're not the most talented team, but they're the toughest team," Ferguson said. "They play harder than any other team in the Southeastern Conference.

The record backs Ferguson up.

Arkansas is 3-3 against Ole Miss during Ferguson's career, and 14-14 against the Rebels since entering the SEC.

"They have a hard-nosed coach (Rod Barnes)," Ferguson said. "They play the way their coach is."

Hogs center Steven Hill is only a sophomore, but he knows all about the Rebels' style, too.

"We have to be ready for a physical game," Hill said. "It's easy for me to play physical on defense, but offensively we have to take it to them."

Dwayne Curtis, who sat out last season after transferring from Auburn, leads Ole Miss with 14.8 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. He's taken up where departed starter Tommy Eddy left off last season.

"I've got to treat (Curtis) like Tommy Eddy," said Hogs forward Darian Townes. "He's an inch taller.

"Ole Miss plays real hard and they play great defense. They have a real good coach, I think. He's tough on them."

Streak In Store?
An upbeat UA coach Stan Heath said Monday, "I think our team has the ability to make a run, and now is the time."

Townes picked up on the theme.

"Auburn played hard, but we kind of beat them up inside," Townes said. "Charles Thomas gave us a spark, and I think he's going to have another good game against Ole Miss. Then we play a good Kentucky team and then South Carolina."

Hogs star Ronnie Brewer, who leads the SEC in scoring with 18.6 points per game, said Heath's current emphasis on speeding up the tempo should help Arkansas.

"When we play our style, we have a lot of athletes who can knock down shots in transition," Brewer said. "SEC teams know our personnel and they try to slow us down. Teams sit back in zones and try to make us knock down shots. But we've been attacking the gaps in practice and in games."

Heath said he thought Arkansas' execution against zones had improved.

Ole Miss, a surprise team at 13-4, 3-1 in the SEC, has mixed things up more this season.

"They shoot faster, and in their last game (a 72-65 loss to Georgia) they played a man-to-man, a matchup zone and a triangle-and-two," Heath said.

'Manimal' On Prowl
Charles Thomas, nicknamed "Manimal" in high school at Jackson, Miss., is starting to live up to his billing.

In the last three games, Thomas has averaged 13 points and eight rebounds for Arkansas (13-5, 2-3 SEC).

"I guess I'm just a blue-collar player," he said Monday. "I'm just happy to be out there, having fun."

On most of his seven offensive rebounds against Auburn, Thomas emitted primal screams as he snatched the ball out of the air.

"That gives me a little edge on the road," he explained. "It gets me fired up to play harder."

Thomas, who celebrated his 20th birthday on Saturday, celebrated with most of his teammates on Dickson Street after the team returned home Saturday night.

"We just hung out," he said. "Nearly everyone on the team was there.

"I wanted to get 20 (points) and 10 (rebounds) against Auburn, but a double-double was OK."

Thomas settled for 12 points and 12 rebounds.

He credited Gary Ervin, a UA transfer guard from Mississippi State who is sitting out this season, with helping him.

"I talked to him about his experience," Thomas said. "About how the SEC is really intense. Last year the older guys in the league were a lot smarter than me, but now I feel I'm getting the upper hand."

Smith Relieved
Kentucky coach Tubby Smith, who will welcome the Hogs on Sunday in Rupp Arena, gave a sigh of relief after the Wildcats' 80-78 escape over South Carolina on Saturday.

"We're coming off a real battle and we were very lucky to get that one," Smith said. "We're still trying to get on the right page and play to our potential."

Kentucky (12-6, 2-2 SEC) plays at Auburn tonight at 6 on ESPN (Cox cable channel 25).

Look for UK center Randolph Morris to do well against the undersized Tigers.

"I think Morris has been playing well," Smith said. "He's working hard at both ends. We haven't delivered the ball to him on a timely basis."

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