Defense steals show for Hogs

Arkansas outlasts Florida thanks to steals from Modica and Brewer. Here's some thoughts from the post-game interview room.

Jonathon "Pookie" Modica faked indignation when a reporter questioned whether it was ironic that he made two great defensive plays in the closing seconds of regulation to keep Arkansas from losing to Florida.

"You act like I'm a bad defensive player," Modica said. "I think I've played some pretty good defense this year. But I am proud of those two plays. We might not have gotten into overtime without them. I thank God for them today. I thank God that Taurean Green didn't see me."

Twice.

Modica, senior guard, came from behind to strip the ball away from Green after the Hogs lost the ball on their offensive end with 25 seconds left in regulation still down one point. Darian Townes rebounded Modica's miss, was fouled and made one of two from the line to tie it.

Then, as Green drove for the winning basket, Modica left his man to swat away Florida's last chance at a win in regulation.

The Hogs then controlled the final 1:42 of overtime to outlast the Gators, 85-81, to exorcise some demons of the last month. Ronnie Brewer, the Hogs' other main man, scored the Hogs' last 7 points, including a 3-pointer with 59 seconds left. He hit the second of two free throws with 4.5 seconds left after his own defensive steal when the Gators were working for what could have been a tying 3-pointer.

"We had a lot of heroes today," UA coach Stan Heath said. "Modica's defensive plays, Ronnie's steal, his three-pointer … we had a lot of heroes. Everyone who played made big plays for us."

Modica said he was laying out of bounds when he realized that he had a chance to chase down Green for the steal.

"I was sprinting and praying that he didn't see me coming," Modica said. "I knew we had to have the ball. It was so loud that I didn't think he would hear anyone tell him I was coming. I just tried to rip it from him. I can't believe I missed the shot. I missed some big-time shots today. Thankfully, Darian got it and was fouled and made the free throw."

Modica said there was little doubt Green was going to take the last shot to end regulation.

"My main man Eric Ferguson did a nice job of forcing him to my side and I knew he wasn't going to give up the ball," Modica said. "I went up and got it. I just knew he wasn't going to pass it and I could leave my man."

Heath was proud of the way Modica gutted it out to the end, playing 43 of the game's 45 minutes in an intense atmosphere.

"I thought he might be leg weary and he was leg weary in practice the last two days," Heath said. "He did ask to come out once for a little blow, but a timeout came and told him the timeout would be his little blow."

Brewer gave props to Modica and his teammates.

"We just kept fighting until the end," Brewer said. "We didn't give up and the ball finally bounced our way. Modica made some big plays. His steal and block were very big."

On his steal at the end of overtime, Brewer said, "I didn't take the fake when it looked like they were taking the ball to the lane. We were up three and they had to have a three. I faked like I was going for the drive, then jumped for the pass. I knew they were going to throw it back out for the three and I was waiting for it. I just tried to make a play on the ball."

Modica apologized for missing a breakaway layup after the Hogs beat the Florida press in overtime when the shot clock was off.

"My coaches explained that we just needed to dribble out as much clock as possible," Modica said. "I will learn from that. I'm glad we got the win after I missed that one. Like I said, I missed some big-time shots."

Brewer missed his first four shots and had a charge to open the game. There were two air balls in that ugly stretch. But he came back to lead all scorers with 24 points.

"The three Ronnie made in overtime was huge," Heath said. "We came out of a timeout and got two great screens on Ronnie's man. We had two main options, one with Ronnie and one with Modica. It worked and he got a great look.

"I'm happy for Ronnie and Pookie and for Eric. Those guys really dug down and played some great basketball today.

"You could tell we were hungry. We outrebounded them and got to the line more than they did. And, they are pressing us with some great athletes and we only had 14 turnovers. Those are the three areas I worried about and we did well in all three. But the main thing is that we had intensity and we were hungry. You could see guys were just not going to let us lose. We played hard."

All of the Hogs were calling it the biggest victory of the season, but were aware that they must keep winning.

"It's a big one today, but it's just one," Modica said. "It's only big if we keep winning. We have Alabama here Tuesday night. We need to keep winning. We need to play well again. We have to get ready for them."

Heath, while calling it "win numero uno" in his coaching career, didn't want to celebrate.

"We have to be ready Tuesday night and that's on my mind," he said. "Our players have been through a lot the last two days. Everyone has been down on them and I've had to work to make sure they didn't get their heads down too much.

"I talked to them about perspective Friday. I told them it's not as if we were fighting in Iraq. I wanted to remind them that it's a game of basketball. We need to treat it as a game and enjoy it. I told them to go play and make it a game and have some fun.

"It's a fine line sometimes. You know we didn't play well Wednesday. That was a bad loss. They knew it. They aren't insulated from what is said on TV, in the papers and on the Internet message boards. They've heard what has been said about them. So you worry about their mental state and I worked to get that right before this game."

Now, it's time to worry about their legs.

"It's a short turnaround before Tuesday," Heath said. "We have had two straight hard physical games. I worry about how they are holding up. We have to be careful what we put on them the next two days in practice."


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