Alabama Next On Hogs' Hit Parade
The Crimson Tide (15-9, 8-4 in the Southeastern Conference) is squarely in Arkansas' way to second place in the SEC West, after Alabama's convincing 92-79 win over Tennessee on Saturday.
That's also a result of Alabama's 78-75 overtime win over the Razorbacks (17-8, 6-6 SEC) on Jan. 18 in Tuscaloosa.
Had not 'Bama guard Ronald Steele gotten the best of the Hogs down the stretch, both teams could now be sitting 7-5 in the SEC West.
More likely, Arkansas might even have a better record, with the confidence a road win over Alabama could have created.
But there's nothing the Razorbacks can do about that now, except redouble their efforts against the Tide and try to build on Saturday's exciting 85-81 overtime win over No. 10 Florida.
Not only did Ronnie Brewer score Arkansas' last seven points in overtime of that game, but he also made a quick-thinking steal to preserve an 84-81 lead with just under 10 seconds left.
"I knew (Florida guard Lee Humphrey) had to kick (pass) the ball back, because they needed a 3," Brewer said. "I just got in the passing lane."
Then Brewer had the presence of mind to dribble around, serpentine style, until Florida could foul him with 4.5 seconds left.
He celebrated grandly toward the UA student section in Bud Walton Arena, then made the second of two free throws for an 85-81 lead to make Florida's final (missed) 3-point try meaningless.
Vincent Hunter's rebound at the buzzer did give Arkansas a 38-37 board edge for the game, to go along with more assists (16 to Florida's 11) and fewer turnovers (14 to the Gators' 19).
"This was a good Florida team," Brewer said. "They're well-coached and they play extremely hard. Their guards are some of the best in the country. But we kept grinding on defense."
The Razorbacks got a little lucky, too, when Florida junior forward Chris Richard had a point-blank shot somehow spin out with Arkansas leading 80-79, and the Hogs got the ball out of bounds with 1:17 to go in overtime.
"We were fortunate," acknowledged UA coach Stan Heath. "We got some breaks and made some plays. Just a lot of guys found a way to win. The 3-pointer Ronnie made was huge."
That rainbow shot came with 55.5 seconds left, putting Arkansas up 83-79. Its trajectory and timeliness reminded some of Scotty Thurman's late 3 that helped Arkansas beat Duke 76-72 in the 1994 NCAA title game.
The funny thing was, Jonathon Modica was the first option on this multiple-option play.
"I was going to set a screen and Pookie was going to go baseline, but they double-teamed him, and Ferg (Eric Ferguson) was able to find me in position to shoot," Brewer said.
Heath added, "The screeners (Vincent Hunter, Charles Thomas) did a great job, too. Ronnie was standing there by himself."
When Lee Humphrey missed a 3 on the other end, Ferguson scooted out with the rebound and Arkansas was just about home free.
"That was some ball game," said Jefferson Pilot analyst Larry Conley, a former Kentucky star. "That was entertaining."
Brewer credited Hunter (11 points) with "playing hard in practice all season. He really gave us a boost off the bench."
Brewer also saluted the 10,702 Arkansas fans, saying, "The roads were icy and the fans could have been anywhere but here, but they kept us going."
Modica, who has averaged 20.3 points in his last eight games, was asked about the throwback jerseys Arkansas wore on Saturday.
"It wasn't the throwbacks -- it was the people wearing them," he said, smiling.
Modica threw back Gators guard Taurean Green's last shot in regulation, allowing Arkansas to get to overtime.
"We knew he wasn't going to give up the ball," Modica said. "My man Eric had him under control -- he had him in his sights -- but I'm glad I was able to block the shot. Every shot has a chance to go in."
Instead of finding ways to lose yet another close game, Arkansas found ways to win on Saturday.
That didn't shock Florida coach Billy Donovan, who said, "I'm a big believer that your past doesn't equal your future."
It's Arkansas' future Modica pondered when he said, "We've got to build on this. It's a big victory, but it's only one. We need to win more big games down the stretch."
Heath seemed puzzled afterwards by the big media to-do over Hogs forward Darian Townes shoving Brewer away during a mid-game disagreement.
"I'm actually OK with that," said Heath, who hadn't seen it. "It shows these guys are intense."
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