When the University of Arkansas basketball team arrived for practice Thursday, it found an old friend waiting on it.
It was former Razorback Jonathon "Pookie" Modica, who made a special trip to the workout in an effort to lift the spirits of UA head coach Stan Heath and his team after a heartbreaking 80-76 loss at Texas on Wednesday night.
"I definitely just wanted to make sure he stayed upbeat and the team stays upbeat," Modica said. "It's a long road in the season and you don't want to get too down on yourself for one game. I just wanted to give the guys some positive energy. I have been down this road once before and I want to help them come out of this adversity that has come their way."
Arkansas (8-3) will try to put that loss – and one last Saturday to Texas Tech - behind it when the Razorbacks host Oral Roberts University (5-5) Friday night at 7:05 at Bud Walton Arena in the last game before Christmas Break.
The two teams were last in the same building back in March when both competed and lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Dallas.
"I wanted to make sure they know that ORU is coming in here to try and kick our tails," Heath said. "They definitely would like to get an early Christmas present. We have to make sure we put yesterday behind us and we are totally focused on them, that we bring energy and that we come out with fire in our bellies and hopefully play like we can play.
"If we play like we did the other day (against Texas) and clean up a few mistakes here and there, we will win," Heath added. "…"If our guys can physically get themselves back from the game and mentally – more importantly – get themselves back to focus in on the next game, we will be fine."
The Razorbacks played much better – and much tougher - against Texas than they had in an embarrassing 71-56 home loss to Texas Tech in North Little Rock on Saturday.
"The kids were embarrassed, everybody was embarrassed," Heath said. "We were really disappointed because we know we are a better basketball team than they way we played. We stood around on offense, didn't guard worth a crap and we can't play that way. We knew it, everybody knew it and we knew if we did that when we went down to Texas we didn't have a prayer.
"The guys responded and played some of their best basketball and I think now they are starting to see if the intensity is there, the teamwork is there, this team has a lot of mileage that we can get out of it," Heath added.
That and getting back to finishing games they way they did in Orlando while winning the Old Spice Classic over Thanksgiving weekend.
"We are up by one with 22 seconds to go, we are up by 6 with about five-and-a-half," Heath said of the Texas game. "We just needed a defensive stop, a made free throw or a key rebound. It was just one possession here or there – it could have happened at the beginning of the game or the end – that would have been the big difference in the game.
"We were in position to win the game, we could not have asked for better," Heath said. "Now you have got to close it out. We didn't do that. It's a growing pain you have to go through. We had experience with that early in the season and we had success, but we had the other side last night."
The Golden Eagles have a marquee win at then-No. 3 Kansas this season, but lost four of their next six games after the big win over the Jayhawks in a stretch that included blowouts at Georgetown and to cross-town rival Tulsa.
"I think Oral Roberts is a very good basketball team." Heath said. "`I expect them to win their league (the Mid-Continent) and expect them to be in the NCAA Tournament. When they have played the profile schools, you see a little different Oral Roberts."
They are led by 6-8 senior forward Caleb Green and 6-1 senior guard Ken Tutt – the defending Mid-Continent Player of the Week - while 6-7 sophomore Marchello Vealy was big in the Kansas game by making 7-of-8 3-pointers and scoring 22 points.
With one point against Arkansas, Green will get to the 2,000-point career mark.
ORU, which lost four of six after beating Kansas, got back to the .500 mark when it downed visiting Montana 69-58 on Tuesday night.
In that win, junior forward Moses Ehambe had a career-high 22 points and 6-2 junior transfer guard Adam Liberty added 20.
"Caleb Green is an outstanding player," Heath said. "Caleb Green and Tutt, it seems like they have been around forever. They have been playing great since day one. The key factor has been that third guys stepping up. Vealy stepped up huge in that Kansas game. Different guys on their team are capable of stepping up. We have got to do a good job of paying attention to two key guys, but making sure no one else comes up and beats us."
Arkansas did a much better job of getting the ball inside to Charles Thomas and Darian Townes against Texas while still having its perimeter guys involved in the scoring as well with freshman guard Patrick Beverley and junior small forward Sonny Weems playing well.
"That's the biggest thing we are trying to get our perimeter guys to understand," Heath said. "We can use the inside guys – and Patrick still has 19 and Sonny still has 15. They will still be effective players out there on the court."
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