Overcoming The Elements

FAYETTEVILLE -- Patrick Beverley did a spot-on Gene Hackman imitation Monday, echoing the speech given by fictional Hickory High coach Norman Dale in the movie "Hoosiers."

The Arkansas freshman has heard stories about Vanderbilt's Memorial Gymnasium, much like those Hickory players had heard tales about Butler Fieldhouse.

In the movie, Hackman pulls out a measuring tape. He shows his players that the dimensions of the massive fieldhouse in Indianapolis were no different than in their tiny home gym.

Beverley sounded just like Hackman in describing the site of the noon contest today between Arkansas (17-12, 6-9) and No. 19 Vanderbilt (20-9, 10-5).

"I've heard a lot about the place," Beverley said. "But it's no different than any other place to me.

"The rims are the same height. The distance is the same from the 3-point arc."

As much as opposing teams try to convince themselves that there's nothing to Memorial Gymnasium, that it's just like any other arena, the record doesn't lie.

Vanderbilt is 14-2 at home this season. The Commodores are undefeated in Memorial Gymnasium during Southeastern Conference play.

"They have defended their home court exceptionally well," Arkansas coach Stan Heath said.

To be sure, a more than normal home-court advantage contributes to that mark. The setting in Memorial Gymnasium is as unique as any in the country.

The court is elevated, up on a stage, one of only two in the nation -- Minnesota is the other. Both benches are located behind the baskets, not on the sideline as is customary. Plus, the goals hang down from the ceiling.

Combined, these elements can overwhelm opponents, especially those that haven't been to Memorial Gymnasium before.

"The upperclassmen let me know about all the weird things about it," Beverley said.

Talking about the differences is easy. But actually producing a positive result despite them is arduous.

Two seasons ago in Nashville, Arkansas led in the second half before losing. Miscommunication was a factor that day.

"We have to prepare our guys to play without a whole lot of coaching on one end of the floor," Heath said.

That's where Arkansas' leaders enter the picture.

The Hogs will play without any visibility of their coaching staff on one end of the court and limited visibility on the other. So leaders such as Gary Ervin and Charles Thomas must step up.

"I think at Vandy is a place where you become more of a team," Thomas said. "You can't look for your coaches to call plays because they're on the other side of the floor. We have to be like floor generals just to win at that place."

Heath said he wasn't worried about his players panicking. Their effort Wednesday night proved to him they could rely on just each other if forced to today.

"If there's one thing that I got a lot of satisfaction (from Wednesday), I thought this team fought for each other," Heath said. "They had each other's back. That was a bit of a bonding moment for our team that could go a long ways."



SATURDAY'S TICKET

ARKANSAS AT NO. 19 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


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