Cerebral Bison Feel They Belong Now

DALLAS -- If today's Bucknell-Arkansas basketball game were played in a classroom instead of in the American Airlines Center, the Bison might win easily.

Chris McNaughton, Charles Lee and Kevin Bettencourt, who have scored 57 percent of Bucknell's points, carry grade-point averages of 3.7, 3.5 and 3.4.

The trio has translated those smarts to the court well enough to lead Bucknell to a 26-4 record this season and a No. 9 NCAA Tournament seed.

While the Bison are proud of that seed, Arkansas (22-9) was a bit disappointed to only be a No. 8 seed.

But the Razorbacks are happy to be in Dallas, with their adoring fans, for today's 11:30 a.m. tipoff.

"Our fans are like a pit bull," said Hogs senior guard Jonathon Modica. "They're loving, loyal people, but they can also be very aggressive and nasty. I own a pit bull (named Randy)."

It's appropriate, then, that Arkansas coach Stan Heath said, "I expect a dogfight."

If any Razorback expects anything less, he just hasn't been listening to Heath.

"It's been pounded into their heads this week that Bucknell is a very good team," Heath said. "I don't think this game will be an upset either way."

Indeed, No. 9 seeds held a 46-38 lead over No. 8 seeds going into this year's NCAA Tournament.

As far as Bucknell goes, Hogs leading scorer Ronnie Brewer said, "They have a lot of sets, and you have to defend a lot of things."

Even if Arkansas gets a stop and a defensive rebound, the Razorbacks can't relax.

"We're going to try to push the ball up the court before they can get in their matchup zone," Brewer said. "And we want to move the ball around without dribbling."

Bucknell plays such good team defense that Heath isn't counting on many baskets from the lane area.

"I don't think you'll see a whole lot of over-dribbling against their zone," Heath said. "I think we know how to attack it. I'll just tell my point guard if he dribbles too much he's coming out."

That point guard could be Brewer, Eric Ferguson, Sean McCurdy or Dontell Jefferson at different times for Arkansas.

Bettencourt, a 6-2 senior who averages 12.6 points, perked up when he was asked about Brewer.

"He's big and athletic -- obviously a special player," Bettencourt said. "It will be fun to see how we match up with him. Modica is an elite player, too."

If that sounds respectful, check out this quote from Lee: "I think we're a humble bunch of kids."

By contrast, the forthright Modica said, "We definitely want to make some noise in this tournament. We plan on getting a win; we're not satsified with just being in this thing."

To win, Arkansas must keep McNaughton (12.9 average) from scoring as well as he usually does in big games. Heath believes he has the antidote for McNaughton in 7-foot UA center Steven Hill.

"McNaughton is a handful," Heath said. "I've got one of the best defensive centers in the country and I hope he doesn't get in any kind of foul trouble. He relishes shutting someone down. He's going to make McNaughton earn every basket. We don't want him to shoot a high percentage -- that's our goal."

The blue-and-orange-clad Bison practiced before their 40-minute warmup in the American Airlines Center on Thursday, as did Arkansas.

Pat Flannery, in his 12th year as the Bucknell coach but only his third year of being allowed to offer the Bison athletic scholarships, said, "This is an opportunity, and it's what the season is all about. We're all out there gawking at the arena. But the challenge is still the same -- to figure out a way to compete."

To have a good chance today, Flannery said, "We have to take care of the ball, find a way to slow Arkansas down in transition, and then be the first ones on the floor to react to the basketball. If we let Arkansas play us 1-on-1, we'll have a whole lot of problems."

Heath said if this were a rec league game, Arkansas might win by 15 points.

But listen to the cerebral Bison talk long enough and you appreciate why they're 26-4.

"It's important to limit Arkansas' penetration and be there on the catch," Lee said. "The key to our defense is just being on the same page."

McNaughton added, "The key is helping each other out. (Hogs forward) Charles Thomas can take you off the dribble, and Arkansas runs the court very well. On defense, Hill makes people alter their shots."

Bettencourt said, "We don't take our success for granted. But the more we're in these games, the more we feel we belong. We'll travel anywhere and play anybody. We only played 11 home games; we've been to Duke, Syracuse. If this game is like a road game, we'll be ready to challenge it."

Brewer figures it will be a road game for the Bison, all right.

"Our fans are diehard fans," Brewer said. "They're going to come out in numbers."

Hawgs Daily Top Stories