Hogs Get Well, But LSU Looms Next

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas' up-and-down basketball team had a definitive answer on Saturday for those who wondered if the Razorbacks' 78-76 loss to Kentucky on Jan. 29 would finish them off mentally.

Jonathon  Modica, one of LSU coach John Brady's favorite players, scored 37 points to provide the exclamation point in a 73-59 Hogs win over South Carolina.

"Everything that happened in the past, we left in the past," said Arkansas forward Charles Thomas. "Today we wanted it more. Pookie (Modica) worked hard in practice all week and played like the Jonathon Modica we know. Everyone knows what he can do."

Count Brady, whose Tigers will host Arkansas on Wednesday, among those who know about Modica.

During preseason, Brady said, "I've always liked Modica as a player. I don't know why he hasn't played more the last two years."

One reason was Olu Famutimi, who shared playing time with Modica before leaving Arkansas early to play professionally and is now with the Arkansas RimRockers.

Another reason was that Modica did not always play defense the way Arkansas' coaches would have liked.

But on Saturday, Modica responded in all areas, with 11 of 17 field goals, 9 of 10 free throws, 3 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 assists, 0 turnovers, solid defense and great energy on the fast break.

"I knew I was going to play a good game but I'm happy that we won, most of all," Modica said. "Coach (Stan Heath) said, 'Keep playing defense -- that's what's getting you going.'"

In one sequence, Modica tipped the ball away from a Gamecock and, at full speed, batted it to a teammate before tiptoeing on a corner of the media table in front of Jefferson Pilot announcers Dave Baker and Cliff Ellis.

Modica somehow kept his balance, continued on the fast break, took a return pass from Ronnie Brewer and scored for a 23-10 Arkansas lead.

Later, after burying a 3-pointer to put the Razorbacks up 35-15, Modica ran over South Carolina coach Dave Odom, who never found a chair to sit in on Saturday.

"I apologized to coach Odom," Modica assured writers after the game. "I've got a lot of respect for him."

Odom, who returned that respect, joked, "I was a lot more concerned about what Modica did on the court than what he did to me on the sideline."

With Modica flying around and Thomas giving up his body to take charges, the crowd of 18,286 in Bud Walton Arena had fun, as it warmed up for upcoming home tests against Auburn, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi State.

Supercharged UA tuba players high-fived fans on a trip to the second level of the arena during a first-half timeout, and one student in the Trough confided, "We're going to bring back the Mad Hatters and the Overall Gang for the Florida game."

That group, founded and encouraged by former Hogs coach Eddie Sutton, helped fuel a long run of Arkansas home success, beginning in old Barnhill Fieldhouse in the mid-1970s.

Basketball Razorbacks from the 1950s including Fred Grim, Terry Day, Larry Grisham, Wayne Dunn, Joe Kretschmar and 6-foot-9 Charlie Brown were on hand Saturday for a reunion that might have signaled a new Arkansas run of success.

Odom suggested so.

"Arkansas is well stocked in talent, and they look like they're coming into their own at the right time," Odom said. "Congratulations to coach Heath and his staff. I told my staff this would be a difficult game, because Arkansas is so balanced. They're at least as physical on the perimeter as their post players are inside."

Heath, while applauding his team's effort, said, "I wish we would get more productive and aggressive in the second half with the lead."

He knows a maximum effort is needed against LSU, a team he called "probably the most talented in the league."

Heath said, "I'm sure they'll be pretty hungry after their loss to Alabama. We've got to figure out what we can do better and maybe steal a road win."

Modica, who had talked confidently about Arkansas' chances before the Kentucky game, declined to provide LSU any bulletin board material on Saturday.

"LSU? I'm not going to speak about that," he said, wisely.

But he seemed surprised when someone asked if he could have envisioned a game such as he played against the Gamecocks.

"I'm a basketball player," Modica said. "Of course I think I can play like that."

It helped that he scored Arkansas' first five points.

"You make a couple of shots and feed off your teammates," Modica said. "Then you feel good. It doesn't take long."

Odom said he thought Arkansas would be a postseason team.

"All any team wants is a chance," Odom said. "And he (Heath) has got that."

Heath was all smiles after the game, even when pressed about why he didn't play freshmen Sean McCurdy and Cyrus McGowan more.

"I couldn't figure out who to take out," he explained.

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