Razorbacks Revival

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A faint Hog call echoed from the top of Memorial Gymnasium just as Charles Thomas surprised Sonny Weems by leaping onto his teammate's back.

While Weems gleefully piggybacked Thomas toward the Arkansas locker room, Patrick Beverley and Gary Ervin embraced. They bumped chests with massive grins on their faces as fans quietly filed out after the Razorbacks' 82-67 victory Saturday over No. 19 Vanderbilt.

Stan Heath found a television camera as he exited the elevated court, smiled and thrust both pointed fingers into the air. Arkansas enjoyed every bit of the celebration that came after its first back-to-back victories of this tumultuous Southeastern Conference season.

"It just came with togetherness," Ervin said. "We've got each other's back. Our back is against the ropes, and we have the chemistry now. Coach Heath just told us to go out there, have fun and win a game."

It took the entire season, but the Hogs appear to have hit their stride at the right time, with the Southeastern Conference Tournament only a few days away.

They dominated from start to finish in Nashville and limited the talented Vanderbilt duo of Derrick Byars and Shan Foster to 27 combined points.

Mostly, the Razorbacks seemed like they thoroughly cherished every second they spent competing with one another. Earlier this season, Arkansas looked like a completely different team on the road -- save for its victory on Jan. 27 at Alabama. The Hogs played tight. They felt pressure. They bickered.

Thus, they lost all but one of their first nine road games.

"Those games weren't any fun," Beverley said.

But in upping its mark to 18-12 overall and 7-9 in the SEC, Arkansas tapped into recently improved chemistry.

Ervin cited the team's meeting last Sunday, in which the Razorbacks bonded and watched the movie "Facing The Giants." Heath wouldn't argue with his junior point guard, who led all scorers with 21 points and spurred Arkansas' 27-17 game-opening spurt.

"It just seems like since the Tennessee game, our togetherness and chemistry is going through the roof right now," Heath said. "You can see it out there on the floor. Guys are cheering for each other. It's obvious, their mission is about winning and not who gets credit."

That unselfishness now has the Razorbacks in a position where two or three victories in Atlanta could vault them back into consideration for an NCAA Tournament at-large berth.

Everyone, as Heath described, contributed Saturday. Ervin's backcourt mate, Beverley, tallied 20 points and snagged a game-high 10 rebounds. Michael Washington exploded for a career-high 15 points. Byars scored 19 points, but Thomas and Washington hounded the SEC Player of the Year candidate into a 6-for-19 shooting performance. Weems and Beverley shut down Foster, keeping him seven points below his season average.

And after Vanderbilt (20-10, 10-6) ripped off one final run, cutting Arkansas' lead down to five, the Razorbacks drained 17 of their last 18 free throws. Six different Hogs contributed to those final free throws.

"It was a balanced attack all the way," Ervin said. "That's how it should it be, and that's how it will be. We're all on the same page, and we're all ready to keep this thing going."

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