Dancing Again

Arkansas (22-9) and Bucknell (26-4) will get things started Friday morning in Dallas with a 11:30 a.m. game that features two very confident teams. If you are looking for a place to stay in Dallas, HI.com suggests the Dallas Embassy Suites at Love Field. Click the ad inside this story to take you to their website.

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DALLAS - Back in the Big Dance and Back in Big D.

For the first time in five years, the University of Arkansas basketball program will see action in an NCAA Tournament game when it battles Patriot League champ Bucknell in an first round at the American Airlines Center.

The eighth-seeded Razorbacks (22-9) - looking for a 20th straight win in Dallas - and the ninth-seeded Bison (26-4) will begin the day's four-game slate at AAC when they meet at 11:30 a.m.

"For our fans, our team and myself, it's a great feeling to be back in the tournament," Arkansas head coach Stan Heath said. "That's what we play for, what we worked hard all year long for. To have this experience is something I really appreciate.

"For us it has been a process," Heath continued. "We're trying to recreate and restore the tradition of Arkansas basketball...We definitely don't want to be here for one particular game."

They will do so in a city where they have had tons of success as evidence by the 19-game winning streak they have in Dallas, a city that was traditionally overrun by Razorback fans for the Southwest Conference Tournament.

"We will have a large following," Heath said. "Our largest alumni base is actually here in Dallas. I am sure we are going to have a lot of support and that's great for us."

Certainly Bucknell - who as a 14th seed last season upset Kansas - presents a formidable challenge. The Bison went 14-0 in conference play, have won seven games in a row and 17 of 18 since a blowout loss to Duke.

"Since Sunday, if my players left any of the practices or any of the meetings and the communication hasn't been about how we've got to play, how we can't take anybody for granted and how we can't look down on a team because they don't have a major name," Heath said, "then I don't know what these guys have been listening to because it's pounded into their heads that this is a good team."

Bucknell head coach Pat Flannery said there should mutual respect from both sides.

"The great thing for our kids was to win the league championship and get this opportunity again," Flannery said. "I think that is what our kids try to express. This is an opportunity. We are very happy to be here, but we are here for a reason. It is obvious that we played some good ball to get here. We have a group of kids who are confident. We are certainly playing a great team."

Bucknell boasts a talented trio in 6-3 senior Patriot League Player of the Year Charles Lee, 6-2 senior sharpshooter Kevin Bettencourt and 6-11 center Chris McNaugton - all who are averaging 12 points per game.

They have the attention of Arkansas stars Ronnie Brewer and Jonathon Modica.

"They run a lot of sets and you have to be able to defend late in the clock," Brewer said. "They do a lot of things that we have been preparing for...They have a great shooter, a player of the year in their conference and a big guy inside. They have everything you need to be successful."

Although Arkansas is the favorite according to seeding and the oddsmakers, Bucknell has been a fashionable pick to "upset" the Razorbacks according to some pundits.

"I think the reason that some people may think Bucknell is going to win this game is for one they are a good, solid team," Modica said. " But at the same time, the University of Arkansas, we really just haven't been on the national scene in a long time and also this is our first tournament in a long time.

"We haven't played on national television a lot so people haven't really gotten a chance to see us," Modica continued. "We respect the team, but I think me and my teammates are very motivated to play against them. We're also not going to take them lightly. We plan on getting a win. We are not satisfied just by getting here."

The game will certainly be a case of teams wanting to set different tempos with Arkansas wanting to pick up the pace and run and Bucknell wanting to slow things down using its match-up zone.

"Their match up zone is very good and we have looked at some opponents who have had success against it and some opponents who have not had success against it," Heath said. "We have played against a couple of teams in our league that do something similar so I think we will be pretty effective against it. It's still a very good defense but I think we know how to attack it and will do a good job against it."

Conversely, Flannery doesn't want Bucknell getting into a track meet.

I think we have to take care of the ball in order to get good shots against them. They get the ball up and down very quickly. We are going to have to figure out a way to work with that so we can gets ourselves back and gives ourselves a chance to defense."

Bettencourt will be the second in his family to play against Arkansas with his brother Teddy getting two minutes against the Razorbacks in 1993 in a 94-64 loss to the UA.

""My first reaction is that I was so excited to be (seeded) that high. We were not expecting to being seeded so high. Then I remembered that my brother (Holy Cross' Teddy Bettencourt) played Arkansas in the NCAA Tournament back in 1993. I know all the history of the Arkansas program so I was real excited about that matchup."

Bucknell, who won at Syracuse this season, isn't worried about a potential huge crowd here rooting for Arkansas in a game in which the winner will move to a Sunday game against the Memphis-ORU victor.

"We've played road games all year and done well so I'm not really worried about that," Lee said.

But maybe he hasn't seen a crowd of pit bulls, which Modica described Arkansas crowd as when asked by one Dallas-based TV personality if they were a bunch of NASCAR lovin', RV driving, rowdy ones.

"I think our fans are more like pit bulls," Modica said. "They can be loving and loyal. But they also can be agresssive and nasty if they want to be...They were always with us when we are going through the tough times."

All hope the tough times are now in rear view mirror.

"We've made some people's whole year," Modica said. " It just feels great because for the first time at Arkansas, I'm giving back and I'm making people happy. Making it to the tournament was great, but I think if we could win, that would make people feel awesome.

"And I also think if we can just get past this first game, there's no telling what we could do because we are a team that capable of doing a whole lot," Modica said. " Usually when we get over humps, we're over it. We keep on trucking. Hopefully that's what happens."

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