Red-White Battle

The Red-White game on Friday night at 7:05 p.m. has a little new vs. old flavor to it as the University of Arkansas starts its exhibition season by battling one another at Bud Walton Arena.

It's not necessarily the newcomers versus the returnees, but the two teams in Friday night's University of Arkansas Red-White basketball game do have that sort of flavor.

Junior transfer point guard Gary Ervin will head up the Red squad and join fellow newcomers Sonny Weems, Stefan Welsh, Michael Washington and freshman walk on guard Andrew Boyd along with holdovers Steven Hill and Vincent Hunter.

Freshman guard Patrick Beverley joins a returnee-heavy White team with junior forwards Darian Townes and Charles Thomas, sophomore guard Sean McCurdy, sophomore forward Cyrus McGowan and junior guard Preston Cranford.

"I tried to balance them as much as a I could and I think with our team that is going to happen anyway," Arkansas head basketball coach Stan Heath said. "I tried to look at Sean and Gary going up against each other, the two freshman (guards) going up against each, the frontline guys - it's always going to be a battle there. Probably Sonny is kind of the odd guy out although and although Preston has been doing a great job, it's to his (Weems') advantage there.

"I wanted to keep Charles on the other team, too, so he could get a lot of reps at the small forward," Heath added. "We should see us playing at a fast pace without a lot of subs. There might be times when we work on a little halfcourt stuff since we won't have the depth to maintain and sustain that pace we are trying to get to for 40 minutes."

Heath made it clear for the second week in a row that he plans for this team to be playing at a much-faster tempo than his previous four teams at Arkansas.

"I have always loved playing fast, I have always loved playing pressure-orientated basketball so I want to see that out there on the court," Heath said. "Any thing we do is going to be pressure. If it is halfcourt, it is going to be pressure. If it is fullcourt, it's pressure. Our zone is a pressure defense. That is nothing that we are not going to do that is not pressure. That is what I expect."

That being said, it won't be 40 minutes of all-out pressure in the Red-White game just because of numbers. "Can we sustain it with six guys for 40 minutes? I've got to kind of think about that and realize that probably won't happen to the level that I want it to be," Heath said. "But I do know that if we had 10 or 11 guys on one team there is no reason there should be any dropoff. Everything we are going to do is going to be pressure-orientated."

It is one of the earlier Red-White games in memory as it has usually been played the last week of October and comes just a week after practice started.

"We've had about a week of practice and we are still not quite there, but this team has done a great job of picking things up very quickly," Heath said. "They have been going very hard and I think we will be able to show a resemblance of what we are going to be trying to do without the season."

"A lot of offensive and defensive schemes are in," Heath said. "So now it is just a matter of fine-tuning things. Really it is a credit to these guys that this is the earliest we have been able to put some many things in and them pick it up so quickly.

'It will be good to see us with fans in the stands, with referees out there on the court, seeing how we handle all the different situations out on the court," Heath said. "I think this team is excited about playing in front of a crowd and pretty sure they will be excited about against somebody else instead of beating somebody else."

Heath said that his team has worked about "70 percent" of its practices on defense so far.

"I want our defense to be ahead of our offensive game," Heath said. "I want to see just incredible pressure out there on the court. I like to see us challenge every shot, rotating, helping, talking, communicating," Heath said. "So really in my mind it is going to be focusing a lot on the defense."

That's not to say the motion offense is getting slighted. Heath thinks that is a facet of the game that the Razorbacks - who were third in the SEC in scoring last season - will improve on this season.

"Last year we had 12 or 13 freshmen out there when it came to everybody learning a new system, everybody was trying to see how they would fit in," Heath said of the motion offense that assistant Dan Hipsher brought with him.

"This year you have players teaching players and I can't tell you how valuable that is when you have an older guy telling a young guy that this something you may want to do, this is how you maneuver off a defender when he plays you a certain wa," Heath continued. "The reading of the defense has improved a lot and just our feel, just a guy knowing where the next should be is a lot better. We are able to do a lot more multiple cutting when last year it would be like one or two passes and things seem to stall down."

Weems has been bothered by a sprained ankle, but should be ready to go on Friday.

The Red-White game will be followed by an Oct. 31 exhibiton game against Xavier-New Orleans and a Nov. 6 one with California-Pennsylvania, who is coached by former UA and Eddie Sutton assistant Bill Brown.

The Razorbacks will then open their regular season against Southeast Missouri State on Friday, Nov. 10 - the night before the Arkansas-Tennessee football game in Fayetteville.

"Really that is what this game is about for me and so are the exhibtion games - to see how guys do in game situations," Heath said. "Some guys are great in practice, some are great when the lights come on. I would prefer a guy to be consistent all the way through, but I also realize that a guy may turn it up a notch when the lights come on."

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