Hogs Desperate For Win Against Florida
The Gators (22-3, 8-3 in the Southeastern Conference) come to their 1:05 meeting today with Arkansas in Bud Walton Arena as the glamour team.
They have five players averaging double-figures scoring.
Joakim Noah (12.9) is the son of former French Open tennis champion Yannick Noah. Joakim's mother is a former Miss Sweden.
Taurean Green (14.0), Corey Brewer (12.5), Al Horford (11.7) and Lee Humphrey (10.4) are household names in college basketball circles. Florida is on TV more often than American Idol.
Arkansas, on the other hand, is still searching for an identity after 24 games.
The Razorbacks (16-8, 5-6 SEC) are still searching for a difference-making point guard, for that matter.
Dontell Jefferson, the Hogs' 6-5 senior who has started 23 games at point guard, likely will yield his role today to either Sean McCurdy, Eric Ferguson or Ronnie Brewer.
Hogs coach Stan Heath has said he'll likely start either McCurdy or Ferguson, but that if he starts Ferguson, Brewer will open at point guard.
With its NCAA Tournament cushion nearly gone, Arkansas needs to find a new spark, a new path to confidence, in game No. 25.
Early in Arkansas' 73-70 loss at Ole Miss on Wednesday night, the active Rebels defense was pushing Jefferson back nearly to midcourt, making it difficult for the Hogs to get their inside players involved on offense.
Green, meanwhile was laboring through a 1-of-9 shooting game against Vanderbilt as Florida's point guard, but the Gators still won 73-68. Corey Brewer scored 26 points, Noah had 12 points and 8 rebounds.
"Florida has great balance, and that makes them difficult to guard," Heath said. "They have great team chemistry with their sophomore group. We have a tough task, but I really feel we'll bounce back and respond."
Green, Corey Brewer, Horford and Noah are all sophomores. They bonded through a 24-8 season that took them to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last year.
Hogs senior guard Jonathon Modica, desperate for a first NCAA Tournament chance in his final go-round, said, "We've got to get together and climb out of this hole. There are no excuses for the loss to Ole Miss. We just didn't get the job done. We really need this win over Florida on our resume."
Modica took part of the blame for not getting the ball to UA inside guys Charles Thomas, Darian Townes and Steven Hill enough at Oxford, but Hill said, "We've still got to post up and be available. We've got, in a way, to create our own touches."
If you want to track today's game, count each team's early assists, rebounds and hustle plays. Thomas often fires up the home crowd by taking charges. Ronnie Brewer and Modica generally run the floor well at home, and McCurdy, if he plays early, could provide some sizzle.
But the Razorbacks must sustain their intensity for 40 minutes. They led Ole Miss 38-33 at haltime, but it appeared as if they took a nap before the second half and didn't awaken until the last two minutes of the game.
"We had too many inconsistent minutes, and you can't play that way," Heath said. "I think our inability to make shots fed into our inconsistency on the defensive end."
Heath was asked if he might take a page from Rebels coach Rod Barnes' book this week and tell a few jokes to keep the Razorbacks loose.
"No, I talked to my assistants and they thought we were overly loose before the game Wednesday," Heath said. "So I think that's probably not the button I'll push today."
Whatever button Heath pushes must account for Florida's big guys.
"We've got to try to slow them down," Heath said. "When you watch them, you see how they share the ball; there are no egos involved. Guys like (6-8 junior forward) Chris Richards and (6-9 senior forward Adrian Moss) could start for a lot of teams."
Horford leads the Gators with 7.4 rebounds -- which is one of Heath's concerns.
"Rebounding, to me, is the most puzzling thing about our game at Ole Miss," Heath said. "The ball is in our grasp and we don't hold it. You see someone go after it more aggressively. Those are the ones we don't understand."
In trying to push the correct point guard button, Heath has intriguing information to consider.
Even though Jefferson had five turnovers against Ole Miss, his assists-to-turnovers ratio of 2 to 1 is still better than that of Florida's Green, who has 130 assists and 78 turnovers.
Jefferson has one assist for every 5.1 minutes played this season. McCurdy is next among the Arkansas point guards with one assist per 6.1 minutes played. Ferguson gets an assist every 10.4 minutes, and Brewer gets one every 11.7 minutes.
"Some of Dontell's turnovers come at inopportune times," Heath said. "Sometimes he tries to do too much and makes a 50-50 pass. He's not happy about it."
Heath noted that Ole Miss' defensive pressure made Arkansas drive into trouble at times.
"Their aggressiveness made us play faster, and our (hurried) reaction wasn't good," he said.
Heath just knows he and the Hogs must take measures soon.
"I don't know the mathematical equation (for NCAA Tournament status), but we've gotta win," Heath said.
Hill took it several steps farther.
"We understand we've got to win five straight," Hill said. "But right now we need to win one in a row."
How Hill fares defensively against the likes of Horford and Noah could go a long way in determining today's outcome.
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