Hogs Hammer Crimson Tide In SEC Opener

FAYETTEVILLE -- Peeking back over his left shoulder, Sonny Weems caught a brief look at Gary Ervin's face.

He saw Ervin's eyes get real wide. And then, Arkansas' point guard raised his eyebrows. That's the signal, the unspoken trigger for an alley-oop pass, and Weems knew he was about to receive a lob.

Ervin tossed the pass from 35 feet away, refusing to let up late in the second half of Arkansas' 88-61 blowout victory over No. 8 Alabama.

Weems skied high and threw down a vicious dunk, sending the 17,935 in Bud Walton Arena into a frenzy. Weems couldn't decide if that moment provided Saturday's loudest roar.

Far too many candidates, far too many ear-piercing outbursts, he said.

"It was crazy like that a lot out there," Weems said. "When you've got 17 or 18,000 hollering and yelling like that, it gets you pumped and wanting to make them holler even more."

The Razorbacks' fans screamed all afternoon it seemed, reveling in the most lopsided victory over a Top 10 opponent in Arkansas history.

Arkansas played its most complete game of this season, possibly of Stan Heath's four-plus seasons in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks (12-3, 1-0) stunned the Crimson Tide in this Southeastern Conference opener, tallying the first 14 points of the game. Arkansas never led by less than 14 after that game-opening spurt.

Every player Heath called upon contributed, starting with point guard Gary Ervin. The transfer from Mississippi State shut down a slightly hobbled Ronald Steele, Alabama's preseason All-American. He dished a season-high 11 assists, grabbed six rebounds and helped set the game's defensive tone.

"I'm like the head of the snake defensively, and I take that seriously," Ervin said.

Seven-footer Steven Hill may have exceeded Ervin in the tone-setting category, though. Hill blocked three shots in Alabama's first four possessions, halting the Crimson Tide's tendency to drive into the lane.

By the end of the first half, Hill and Darian Townes each had four blocks and Alabama (13-2, 0-1) had missed 23 of its 31 shots. Steele, who Alabama coach Mark Gottfried said was limited by injuries, had four turnovers by the half.

Meanwhile, Arkansas' offense produced with high efficiency.

Weems said he couldn't remember many first-half points that didn't result from some type of defensive accomplishment -- such as steals, blocks, turnovers or drawn offensive fouls.

"All year, we've talked about defense creating offense," Weems said. "We got up and guarded them close, made them nervous, and we turned that into a lot of fast breaks."

When the Hogs weren't able to run, Arkansas patiently worked the ball around for open shots.

Against the Crimson Tide's man-to-man defense, the Razorbacks constantly fed the ball inside to big men such as Charles Thomas, Hill and Townes. When Alabama switched to a zone defense, the Hogs worked the ball around to their outside shooters.

Beverley drained three first-half 3-pointers. Vincent Hunter came off the bench and nailed two. Ervin stuck one.

"We felt like we could pretty much do anything there for a while," Beverley said.

And they could, for all but two minutes. Alabama opened the second half on a 7-0 run, trimming the Hogs' lead to 17 points. But the Razorbacks responded, boosting their intensity back to first-half levels.

Arkansas had assists on seven of its next eight baskets and increased its lead back above 20, where it would stay.

Even with less than four minutes left, Arkansas' starters kept pushing. That's when Weems' high-flying slam punctuated a victory he hoped would garner attention around the country.

"This was a big statement we made," Weems said. "When you're the underdog, when people are on TV saying you're going to get beat by 20 points, that gets to you. So we had to make a statement, and we did."

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