State of the Hogs: Box it Up

Here's a commentary from HI.com Publisher Clay Henry after Arkansas came from behind to nip Alabama, 65-63, at Bud Walton Arena.

Arkansas'Stan Heath has been characterized as the coach who can't coach, the man with no fire and no emotion.

Heck, we had him all wrong.

Heath coached his team plenty good Tuesday night as the Hogs erased an 18-point deficit over the last 18 minutes. I bet those who tuned in across the country on ESPN thought he had some emotion.

And, I bet most who saw it noticed as Heath dialed up a box-and-one on the Tide's Ronald Steele to key the Hogs' rally.

"I pulled a rabbit out of the hat," Heath said of the box-and-one. "That was the defense we used to get things going. We had to have something to slow Steele."

Heath said the Hogs had never used it before during his four years at Arkansas. They hadn't even practiced it.

"Our guys weren't sure exactly how to play it," Heath said, noting senior Jonathon "Pookie" Modica had some questions.

"I just told Pookie to play an area and to guard anyone who came in there. I told him just to play and not worry about. That's what we did. We played and played hard."

Heath said the Hogs had tried every other defense in their book before going to the makeshift box-and-one. And, they used all of their point guards with no real solution in their man-to-man.

"We just went to the box and tried to give help when we could," Heath said. "That was the answer tonight."

Ronnie Brewer smiled when someone asked if the Hogs had practiced the box-and-one.

"We just threw it out there today," Brewer said. "I mean, we came up with it during a timeout. Coach called timeout and said, 'Let's TRY to do a box and one. We bought into it and it got us some stops."

The Hogs also used some plans that were in their defensive playbook down the stretch.

"We were doing some pro stuff, running guys at Steele to get a double and make him give the ball up," Heath said. "That got some turnovers and got us some stops."

Offensively, the Hogs got big plays from several players, including 6-10 Darian Townes.

"We had to get after him and get him going in the second half," Brewer said. "He can be a force down low and he's a good offensive player. But he doesn't always have his confidence. I tried to encourage him and get him going.

"Pookie was doing the same thing. We needed the big guy because Alabama was in foul trouble inside and that was what we had to have down the stretch."

Indeed, the Hogs took advantage of the Tide's foul trouble. Both Jermareo Davidson and Alonzo Gee fouled out. Davidson, one of the SEC's top inside players, played 27 minutes, not his usual 38 to 40 minutes.

"I thought that was the key, getting them in foul trouble down low," Townes said. "My guys wanted me to go after him."

Heath said it took a bit for his troops to figure that out early in the second half.

"We were shooting threes and they had inside foul trouble," Heath said. "I called timeout to talk to them about that. You can get a three at any point in the shot clock. They are in foul trouble and we kept launching threes. That wasn't smart. I know emotions were running high, but they were not thinking real good."

Heath thought the Hogs were thinking very well down the stretch when Townes, Brewer, Modica, Eric Ferguson and Charles Thomas all produced big plays.

"We just kept fighting," Heath said. "We had a lot of guys make a play, make a shot, force a turnover or do something to give us a chance.

"I'm taken back by the way our guys kept fighting. Early on it didn't look good. We had no answers for Steele. But as it went a long, momentum finally switched. Our crowd stayed with us and it all came together with the way we were playing and the way the crowd came alive.

"Townes was a tremendous presence and Ferguson made some big plays. Then, it kept going back and forth. I give our guys a lot of credit for the way they played tonight."

The Hogs took care of the basketball with just nine turnovers while forcing 17 Tide turnovers. They trailed on the boards, 10-1, in the opening minutes, but finished the game down just 33-27.

"When we began to rebound, the game turned," said Modica. "That was a big key. And, we rattled them with the press a little."

The Hogs got a key 10-second count with their press and also seemed to speed up the Tide, something it didn't want to do because of its depth problems.

"We changed the press just a little and that confused them for a few possessions," Heath said. "But the main thing is that it took the ball away from Steele and some of the other guys didn't handle it quite as good. The press definitely helped us."

Modica was amazed by Steele's performance.

"He played a great, great game," Modica said. "But when we started running guys at him, he didn't handle the ball quite as good. He made some turnovers (five) down the stretch.

"Man, it was loud in here, too. Give the fans credit for making it a great atmosphere for a comeback. Once we got the momentum, they stayed with us and we did just enough to get it done.

"I thought Townes was the anchor tonight. Good for him. He's not done as well lately on offense, but he was our anchor and then everyone else played pretty well with him."

Ferguson and Brewer made sure that Steele didn't get a look at what could have been a winning 3-point shot in the closing seconds. They doubled him and forced him to drive to the lane where Steven Hill waited.

"That was fine with me," Modica said. "We were up two and didn't want him to even shoot a three. He took it to the rack and we had our big hoss there waiting. I didn't think he could make it over our 7-footer."

Heath said they wanted Steele to give the ball up at the start of that possession.

"We doubled him and he split it," Heath said. "But the thing that helped is that we had a 7-footer waiting on him."

It all left the Arkansas coach in an excited mood.

"I'm going home to watch this tape and make sure we really did win this game," Heath said as he sat down in the media room.

"This is a big victory. I am going to say that beating a No. 7 Florida is pretty big, but this one is pretty big, too. The way this one played out, this one is eaqually important. I'd say it's the best comeback I've been a part of -- yes, I'd say that."

Heath was jumping around on the bench, going onto the floor to challenge calls by officials and he came off the floor with both fists clenched when the Hogs got a 10-second call with the press.

Heck, I was pumping my fist right along with him. We've been waiting to see a game or two like this.

When all of this was mentioned to Townes, he didn't even crack a smile. All of it means nothing if the Hogs don't keep winning.

"We need to take it to Tennessee and do it on the road now," Townes said. "I think people know about us a little now, but that would send a bigger message. That's the way we have to approach it and get another victory. We need to keep this momentum rolling."

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