Preparations Pay Off With Old Spice Classic

ORLANDO, FL. — More times than he cared to remember Saturday, when Sonny Weems admittedly had hoped to explore Disney World, some curious Arkansas fans approached him.

There were a few pleasantries, a few meaningless words — just direct questions regarding West Virginia, the Razorbacks' opponent Sunday night in the championship game of the Old Spice Classic. "Everybody was asking us while we were around the hotel, ‘How are you going to get through their 1-3-1 zone? How are you going to play this team? They're a difficult team to play,'" Weems said. "But you know, we have a good coaching staff and good players. "(The coaches) put together a good game plan, and we executed it." The Razorbacks' ability to carry out those instructions issued by Stan Heath and his assistants resulted in an Old Spice Classic title Sunday night. Arkansas shot 53.5 percent from the field, and Weems tallied a game-high 19 points as Arkansas claimed the championship trophy with a 71-64 victory before 1,827 fans in The Milk House. Sure, the Razorbacks (5-0) did still commit 19 turnovers — a number West Virginia coach John Beilein said would "drive him to the nuthouse," if posted by his own team. But Beilein said it was those other possessions, those times when Arkansas' ball-handlers attacked West Virginia's zone, that let the Hogs consistently take high-percentage shots. "I think they played very unselfish basketball," Beilein said. "Their guards, especially Gary (Ervin), and a lot of their other guys saw the floor very well. They did, at times, look like a really well-oiled machine for Nov. 26." Entering the Razorbacks' fifth game of the season, that description might have accurately described Arkansas, but for defensive purposes only. Arkansas still hasn't allowed more than 64 points in a game this season. And for most of Sunday's game, the Razorbacks' defense was just as pressuring, harassing and frustrating as it has been all season for opponents. On the offensive end, though, Heath has desired a more efficient effort. He got it Sunday night, against one of the most difficult teams to prepare for because of its unique zone defense. It was an arduous proposition, considering Arkansas had just one day to concoct a scheme. So, the Hogs had a handful of walk-throughs and film sessions. They even stayed up past 11 p.m. Saturday to revisit the main strategy, which was to "be aggressive," Heath said. The tenacious offensive approach showed immediately. Arkansas jumped out to a 14-5 lead and didn't commit its first turnover until six minutes, four seconds into the game. West Virginia (4-1) would get no closer than four points. Heath sounded a bit like a running backs coach in describing Arkansas' technique. "We had to attack them," Heath said. "We couldn't play east and west. We wanted to have a vertical attack. We wanted to get through some of those gaps and seams and try to play north and south." Ervin, the junior transfer from Mississippi State, and freshman Patrick Beverley succeeded in penetrating the Mountaineers zone. They found Charles Thomas or Vincent Hunter in the high post. They fed Steven Hill or Darian Townes underneath the basket. They connected with Stefan Welsh for 3-pointers. And most effectively, they set up Weems. The 6-foot-6 junior flashed his entire offensive game Sunday, spending most of his time sprinting back and forth on the baseline. He nailed two of Arkansas' seven 3-pointers. He floated in 12-foot jumpers. He drove hard to the basket. He even tipped in a missed shot by leaping over two taller West Virginia players. With Weems leading the way, Arkansas finally appeared comfortable on both sides of the court. Before the victory, even in hard-fought wins earlier in the tournament against Southern Illinois and Marist, the Hogs only looked completely at ease when guarding opponents. "It's been an adjustment, with a brand new backcourt," junior Charles Thomas said. "But as you can see, we're starting to click on all cylinders. We played, for the first time, as a team. And it was a good win, as a team."

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