Razorbacks Impressed By Bucknell

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas sophomore Darian Townes wasn't sure what state Bucknell was from (he guessed Virginia; it's Pennsylvania), but he knew how formidable the Hogs' first-round NCAA Tournament opponent was.

"When I saw we were playing Bucknell, it kinda shocked me," Townes said Tuesday. "We had watched them beat Holy Cross on TV last week. I knew they beat Kansas last year and we beat Kansas this season, so it's two teams that beat Kansas playing each other. It's a small world."

The Razorbacks (22-9) meet Bucknell (26-4) at 11:30 a.m. Friday in Dallas.

Arkansas guard Ronnie Brewer, who also watched the Bison play Holy Cross on TV, said, "They're very fundamental. They run their sets and play as a team. We've got to play smart. We can't make many turnovers."

Hogs coach Stan Heath said the more film he watches of Bucknell, the more he's impressed with the Bison's skill level.

"Chris McNaughton, their center, is a high-level player, and Charles Lee (6-3 senior wing man) is kind of a silent assassin, like Derrick Byars of Vanderbilt," Heath said. "Kevin Bettencourt (6-3 senior guard) can shoot the 3."

Arkansas senior guard Eric Ferguson sees Friday's game as a challenge.

"When I saw Bucknell next to our name, I was excited," Ferguson said. "I remembered Bucknell upset Kansas last year, and I know they play real hard. We just have to take them like a Southeastern Conference team."

Brewer, who was named to the All-America Defensive Team by CollegeInsider.com and the AP All-SEC team on Tuesday, may get the chance to guard Lee, a two-time Patriot League Player of the Year.

"That's a well-deserved honor for Ronnie," Heath said. "We may put him or Jonathon Modica on Lee, who is very explosive and is Bucknell's leading rebounder (6.1 average). Lee can hit the 3 or shoot off the dribble."

McNaughton, Lee and Bettencourt have scored 57.6 percent of Bucknell's points this season, overshadowing steady 5-11 point guard Abe Badmus.

But Badmus has caught Heath's eye on tape.

"He runs the team and he's a good defensive player," Heath said. "Bucknell's defense is really underrated. They really protect the lane in their matchup zone, and it's very congested."

Hogs reserve point guard Sean McCurdy contrasted the Bison defense to that of Florida, which halted Arkansas' six-game winning streak last week in the SEC Tournament, 74-71.

McCurdy, who had four assists and no turnovers against the Gators, said, "In Florida's zone the guards were kind of wide, and sometimes the middle was open."

Heath noted that much of Arkansas' attack involves Brewer, Modica and Ferguson driving the lane.

"It's not going to be easy to attack the rim against Bucknell, because they're in the lane on defense," Heath said.

Modica, who sat out all contact work in Monday's practice because of a mild ankle sprain, was able to do more on Tuesday.

"My ankle is getting better," he said. "I believe if we play together, we can make it happen in Dallas. We want to keep the tradition (of 19 straight UA wins in Dallas) alive. We just need to make sure we don't let the name of the school (Bucknell) affect how we play."

Modica said it didn't matter to him whether the Hogs wear their throwback jerseys (in which they're 7-1).

"I'm not superstitious," he said. "I'd just as soon go back to the regular uniforms."

Modica said he was aware that Arkansas played in Dallas on their way to its 1990 and 1994 Final Four appearances, under former coach Nolan Richardson.

"We want to keep the tradition alive," Modica said.

Heath said Tuesday that Richardson had called to wish him and the team well each of the last two seasons, most recently in January.

Before Tuesday's practice, Heath reminded the Razorbacks of their 78-65 win over Texas Tech in American Airlines Center at Dallas this season, saying, "We played at Dallas and did all right."

A UA pep rally is scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday near the north entrance of American Airlines Arena.

"I'm very excited to be back in the NCAA Tournament," Heath said. "It was a team effort. Our coaching staff has done a great job, and the players put the onus on themselves after our loss to Ole Miss."

Heath, asked if he had a Final Four pick, grinned and said, "Yeah. Arkansas."

He declined to talk about a possible Arkansas-Memphis matchup on Sunday, saying, "Hopefully, that's a Friday or Saturday conversation."

Bucknell commands all of Arkansas' focus for now.

"They were second best in the nation defensively to Air Force, solid in field goal percentage defense (.381)," Heath said. "They buy in defensively and take pride in it. Offensively, they'll take a high-percentage shot if it comes in the first 10 seconds or 20 seconds, but they'll also go all the way through the shot clock. It's old-school basketball."

Heath commended Bison coach Pat Flannery, a 1980 Bucknell grad with a 293-193 overall record, including a Division III championship. In 12 seasons at Bucknell he's 198-150.

"Maybe you don't see Bucknell on ESPN every day, but they're good," Heath said.

Hogs forward Charles Thomas, who knew Bucknell is in Lewisburg, Pa., is a huge key on Friday, along with Vincent Hunter, Heath said.

"That's one spot where we might have a little advantage," Heath said. "Maybe Charles and Vincent can get some garbage baskets and post-ups."

The Hogs will fly to Dallas tonight after practicing in Bud Walton Arena.

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