Pesky Bulldogs Next For Arkansas

FAYETTEVILLE -- Tennessee assistant basketball coach Scott Edgar confided to longtime Arkansas media friends before Saturday's UA-UT game, "We're scared to death of Arkansas."

That's because the Razorbacks (19-8, 8-6 in the Southeastern Conference) have the kind of inside strength and overall depth that Tennessee (22-5, 11-3 SEC) lacks.

After Arkansas beat the Vols 73-69, someone asked UT coach Bruce Pearl if SEC West teams presented different problems stylistically from the SEC East teams.

"LSU, Alabama and Arkansas are big, physical and athletic," Pearl said. "Add Oklahoma State and Memphis -- there are our five losses."

When the Vols tired down the stretch, Darian Townes scored nine points in a span of 4:26, and Arkansas even tallied on coach Stan Heath's quick-hitting inbounds plays inside.

"I played C.J. Watson, Chris Lofton and Andre Patterson too many minutes," Pearl said. "I didn't keep them fresh enough to make plays down the stretch. It takes energy to create offense or defense, and we needed more energy."

One result was that Tennessee got into foul trouble. By the 12:35 mark of the second half, Arkansas was in the bonus.

Interestingly, Hogs coach Stan Heath had stared a hole through SEC supervisor of officials Gerald Boudreaux after the first half ended (with UT leading 42-36).

Heath had visibly objected to two calls in that half: a foul on Townes which negated a Charles Thomas basket, and a technical foul on Townes for taunting Tennessee after a Ronnie Brewer dunk. (Townes claimed he had merely been talking to Brewer.)

When Heath walked by Boudreaux's seat just before the second half, Boudreaux explained the interpretations. Heath nodded, though he still felt Thomas' basket should have counted because he believed the ball was in the air before Townes' foul.

Significantly, Heath kept his players' focus on the task at hand at halftime.

"He really wasn't so mad," said forward Vincent Hunter. "He reminded us that being six points down at halftime at their house was not that bad."

Heath said afterward, "Everyone has stuck together really well. There have been times this year when it looked like we couldn't recover, but we've handled adversity really well. Both teams (Saturday) were reaching down deep, and we had more in our tank at the end."

Hogs junior guard Ronnie Brewer seemed pleased as punch after getting nine points and nine assists.

"It's a great feeling, because we've stepped up as a team and showed character," Brewer said. "Coach Heath has asked me to play more at the one (point guard) -- he wants the ball in my hands a lot more -- and today we got some easy baskets down the stretch. We needed a marquee win on the road, and we took that next step."

It was a fun weekend for Brewer, whose old high school team, Fayetteville, nabbed a co-championship in the AAAAA-West on Friday and a No. 1 seed in the state tournament.

"My mom called me and told me," Brewer said. "I was happy for coach (Barry) Gebhart and everybody. The Bulldogs have been doing real well the last couple of years."

If Brewer and the Razorbacks need a nudge to get their feet back on the ground, here's one. Mississippi State, Wednesday's opponent in Bud Walton Arena, has beaten Arkansas four straight times.

Heath wisely reminded, "We can't relax. (NCAA Tournament selectors) have to look at us now, but we can't leave it to chance. We want to win as many games as we can."

If it were up to Edgar, Arkansas would be in.

"Nine wins in the SEC should get you in," he said.

A win over Mississippi State on Wednesday would get Arkansas to 9-6 in the league, with a road game at Georgia remaining on Sunday.

A frisky Hunter, who had 10 points and seven rebounds in 16 minutes against Tennessee, could be Arkansas' secret weapon in postseason.

"Vincent is so active," Heath said. "It's great to see that from him."

Heath said freshman forward Cyrus McGowan did not play on Saturday because of a sprained ankle suffered in practice last week.

The Hogs have won three straight close games, matching their best SEC streak under Heath, who is doing his part.

With 1:31 left and Arkansas leading 68-66 Saturday, Heath called timeout with Eric  Ferguson under duress with 17 seconds left on the shot clock.

"I thought we needed a little rest," Heath said. "I wanted us to get focused on the next time defensively down court. It was a good timeout for us. We responded."

Ferguson made a six-footer with 1:20 to go and six ticks left on the shot clock for a 70-66 UA lead, and UT's Dane Bradshaw missed a 3-pointer on the other end.

"Arkansas just applied a lot of ball pressure," Bradshaw said. "They continued to resist us. This game, we're in a state of shock -- we felt we should have defended our home court.

"But the great thing about the SEC is we have another great opponent, Kentucky, next, and they'll play just like Arkansas -- with their back to the wall."

The Hogs put Tennessee a game behind LSU in the overall SEC standings.

"Now we've gotta hope LSU loses," Bradshaw said. "March is the biggest thing now."

For the first time in awhile, March matters to Arkansas, too.

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