Hogs Get Back To Playing 'Our Game'

FAYETTEVILLE -- As for aesthetic value, Arkansas' 75-59 victory Tuesday night over Central Michigan didn't contain much.

The referees blew 52 fouls. Countless times, players from both teams scrambled on the floor for loose balls. Open shots often clanked off the rim. After enduring the ugliness, Charles Thomas could only mutter, "A win's a win."

But Arkansas coach Stan Heath strolled into his postgame news conference in Bud Walton Arena giddy, a gaping smile covering his face.

Sure, the game wasn't pretty. Then again, quality defense doesn't normally thrill the masses, and Heath cares little about tastefully racking up victories.

"I think we're playing really good defense," Heath said. "If we continue to disrupt and force more turnovers like we're doing, that'll make us a better team as the year keeps going."

Though they struggled to get their offense going, a recurring theme this young season, the Razorbacks limited their fourth opponent to less than 60 points in improving to 7-1.

Central Michigan shot just 34 percent against an Arkansas defense that deflected passes, blocked shots, collected steals and constantly frustrated the Chippewas. By consistently hounding Central Michigan on all 94 feet of the Bud Walton Arena court, Arkansas forced the Chippewas into 20 turnovers. The Razorbacks committed only 12 miscues of their own, another source of happiness for Heath. But Tuesday's victory, according to all four of the Hogs players who spoke to the media, materialized because of defense.

Simply put, they perturbed Central Michigan (3-4) the way Heath wants his Hogs to pester every opponent -- the complete opposite of Arkansas' total performance at Missouri and first-half effort against Missouri-Kansas City.

"We got to 'em. You could tell," said Thomas, who led all scorers with 14 points. "Coach has just been getting on us about our lack of intensity. So, we decided to get after it the whole game, like we should every game."

Central Michigan point guard Giordan Watson appeared the most affected by Arkansas' suffocating defense. Watson entered the game with averages of 17 points and 5.8 assists per game.

But Gary Ervin, Patrick Beverley and Sean McCurdy combined to limit Watson to 12 points on 4-of-15 shooting. The explosive 5-foot-10 junior also committed nine turnovers compared with two assists.

"We knew their focus would be to pressure Giordan Watson," Central Michigan coach Ernie Zeigler said. "Arkansas was very successful in attacking their game plan."

Most importantly, Heath said, the Hogs were successful in getting back to their comfortable style of play. In the defeat at Missouri and in the scare with Missouri-Kansas City, Arkansas let its opponents decide how the game would unfold.

Tuesday was different.

"More than anything, our team took from (the last two games) that we've got to play our game," Heath said. "We can't get caught up into playing in a way that's most effective for the opponent. We've got to pressure everything, challenge everything and disrupt and we did that (Tuesday)."

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