Intensity, Energy Return To Hogs Defense

FAYETTEVILLE -- Back on Feb. 8, a day after Arkansas held Auburn to 57 points in a victory, Sonny Weems emphatically and confidently spoke about the Razorbacks' defense.

"We want to hang our hat on our defense," Weems said at the time. "That's what we're going to do for the rest of the season."

Hasn't quite worked out the way Weems envisioned.

Arkansas gave up at least 66 points in each of its next five games. Four of those contests ended in losses.

But, seemingly sparked by the heated incident early in Wednesday's second half, the Hogs' intense defense returned in a 67-58 victory over Mississippi State.

"We weren't perfect, but we did well at the things we were trying to do over the 40-minute period," Heath said. "We tried as much as we could to keep (Jamont) Gordon out of the lane, but he wasn't able to kick out to 3-point shooters the way he did in the first game."

In that first meeting between the Bulldogs and Razorbacks, on Feb. 14 in Starkville, Miss., Gordon pretty much did whatever he wanted.

He drove through the lane for layups. He beat his defender off the dribble and pulled up for jump shots or kicked passes out for open 3-pointers.

But Arkansas clamped down against Gordon, hounding him while still protecting the passing lanes he exploited in their previous matchup. He still scored a game-high 23 points, but Gordon needed 18 shots to get them.

"In that first game, not only was he getting his, but the other guys were getting theirs, too, from the 3-point line," Heath said. "We did a great job of staying with their 3-point shooters and taking away a lot of transition baskets. If we would've rebounded better, it would've been a perfect deal."

Because the Bulldogs shot just 31.7 percent from the field, many rebounds were up for grabs around Arkansas' basket. Again, the Razorbacks failed to limit their opponent's second-chance opportunities.

They gave up 18 offensive boards on Feb. 21 at Auburn. The allowed 17 on Saturday to Tennessee. And they watched Mississippi State snag 20 on Wednesday.

Regardless, Arkansas wasn't ready to let that spoil an otherwise stellar defensive night.

Stefan Welsh took a charge. Charles Thomas had a team-high eight rebounds. Steven Hill blocked four shots. And the Razorbacks contested most of Mississippi State's long-distance attempts (1-for-15 on 3-pointers), something they'll need to do Saturday at Vanderbilt.

Every one of the Commodores' five starters can shoot the 3.

"We've got the energy back now," Thomas said. "We were getting after it there in the second half. It was fun again. Defense was fun again."



SATURDAY'S TICKET

ARKANSAS AT VANDERBILT

WHEN: Noon

TV: None

WHERE: Memorial Gymnasium, Nashville, Tenn.

RECORDS: Arkansas 17-12, 6-9 Southeastern Conference; Vanderbilt 20-9, 10-5

RADIO: KXIO-FM 106.9; KEZA-FM 107.9; KKEG-FM 92.1; KFPW-AM 1230; KQBK-FM 104.7; KHGG-AM 1580; KHGG-FM 103.1; KDYN-AM 1540; KDYN-FM 96.7; KTTG-FM 96.3

COACHES: Arkansas, Stan Heath (78-69, 5th season; 108-75 overall, 6 seasons); Vanderbilt, Kevin Stallings (142-105, eighth season; 265-168, 15 seasons)

SERIES: Arkansas leads 11-7 (Vanderbilt leads 6-2 in Nashville)

LAST MEETING: Arkansas won 78-66 on Jan. 14, 2006, in Fayetteville



WORTH QUOTING

Gary Ervin

On not allowing another opponent to win in Bud Walton Arena:

"We've let a couple of teams come in here and out-tough us, and we weren't going to let that happen. We lost three at home this year, and that should never happen. We wanted to go out on the right note at home."



Stefan Welsh

On a conversation near the end of Wednesday's first half with Ervin:

"I told Gary it was time to turn it on. When he is aggressive, it opens up everyone else. He and everyone else did a great job of finding me when I was open."



Stan Heath

On the Hogs' persistent intensity Wednesday:

"That's what I wanted to see, the Razorback fight. Our team was willing to stand up for each other, and we held our ground."


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