FAYETTEVILLE — The afternoon after holding on for a three-point victory over Quintana Roo, a local professional basketball team, the Arkansas Razorbacks hung out in Cancun, Mexico. The few hours by, and sometimes in, the Gulf of Mexico helped first-year coach John Pelphrey succeed in making his squad more comfortable with its new staff and with each other.
During exhibition victories Saturday and Sunday night, the Hogs bonded on the court. In between, they grew tighter off it.
"The trip was a blessing," Pelphrey said at a Tuesday news conference. "Looking back, I think we were able to accomplish what we wanted. I think they got a feel for the way we want to play and how to go hard.
"We also want them to serve each other, and I think we made some progress. I think a lot of anxiety was relieved in terms of 'how will I fit in?' and 'how will I be able to play in this system?' And it was good in terms of doing things together as a group."
The Razorbacks walked on the beach. They went out to eat. A few Hogs even hopped onto wave runners.
"I saw some smiles," Pelphrey said. "Hopefully we'll come out of this a little closer as a team."
With a tenacity that drew praise from Pelphrey, senior forward Charles Thomas led the Razorbacks in scoring and rebounding on the trip. He followed up a 15-point, 13-rebound effort Saturday night with a 16-point, nine-rebound performance Sunday in Arkansas' 108-37 victory over Belize Select.
In just 10 practices, Thomas has proven to Pelphrey that he is ready to shoulder some of the leadership burden. Pelphrey talked about Thomas, along with sophomore Patrick Beverley and seniors Gary Ervin and Sonny Weems when asked about potential leaders for this season's squad.
"(Charles) was a warrior in practice," Pelphrey said. "His attitude is phenomenal."
The field and schedule for the O'Reilly Auto Parts Puerto Rico Tip-Off was officially released Tuesday by ESPN. Arkansas will play the College of Charleston at 4 p.m. on Nov. 15 in first-round action in San Juan. ... Pelphrey said Weems, freshman Marcus Britt and sophomores Stefan Welsh and Beverley all responded well after violating team rules by being late to the team bus. Britt, Beverley and Welsh sat our Saturday's game. Weems was injured and wouldn't have played anyway. ... Arkansas forward Darian Townes was second in scoring on the trip. He tallied 13 points Saturday night and 17 points Sunday night. ... Welsh's eight assists in the second game were enough to lead for the trip in that category. ... Arkansas' first practice will be on Oct. 12.
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