Hogs Avoid Kentucky-Like Upset In Opener

FAYETTEVILLE -- When Wofford's Corey Godzinski, a 6-foot-8 finance major, split Arkansas' press and threw down a thunderous two-handed dunk in the early minutes Friday night, a collective groan swept through Bud Walton Arena.

With it went any hope of making it through Arkansas' season opener without thinking about pesky Gardner-Webb, college basketball's new upset king. For much of the next 20 minutes, as Wofford players knocked down jumpers, drew offensive fouls and kept the Razorbacks from zipping, zooming and pressing their way to easy points, flashes of Kentucky's monumental loss earlier this week couldn't have faded far from anyone's mind.

No, the John Pelphrey era at Arkansas didn't open to rave reviews. Unless you like drama against a team that was projected to finish third in the South Division of the Southern Conference and hasn't had a winning record since 1994-95. The new head coach stomped his foot in frustration. Players were sloppy and out of sync. And Arkansas fans spent a good portion of the night groaning and booing (at officials, not the home team).

But there's one thing the Razorbacks took away from the season opener. They got a 67-45 win. At the end of the night, that didn't sound so bad to Pelphrey, considering his alma mater was embarrassed by an 84-68 loss to Gardner-Webb two nights earlier.

"Every time someone walks into an arena where there is tradition, there is history and there's a large crowd, those guys want to go show they can play and compete," Pelphrey said. "Guys around the country would give anything to play Arkansas. When they show up here to play, it doesn't really matter where they're at. They want to prove a point."

Pelphrey didn't see all of the Kentucky loss, but enough to figure this much: "It was something you don't want to experience." He relayed that message to his players. But several Hogs said he didn't have to. Most of them watched in disbelief, too.

Point guard Gary Ervin said he was at home and "shocked." Several other players tuned in with coaches upstairs in Bud Walton Arena. Townes said his first thought during the unbelievable upset was Appalachian State's football win at Michigan in September.

"I caught the second half," the senior said. "I couldn't believe Gardner-Webb was beating them. But any given night you can lose a game."

As much as the Hogs tried to avoid it Friday, they really flirted with the possibility in the first half against Wofford, a team that upset Auburn in 2004-05.

Arkansas, much like Kentucky, is a team in transition. Literally. But the Razorbacks struggled to pick up their full-court pace against the Terriers. When they couldn't get going, the half-court struggles that plagued them under Stan Heath re-emerged.

There was early foul trouble (Steven Hill and Michael Washington), careless mistakes (four turnovers in four minutes) and impatient shots (the first four were from behind the 3-point line). Arkansas didn't score until the 14-minute, 28-second mark, when Sonny Weems found Darian Townes alone underneath the bucket. But they Razorbacks trailed 10-2.

Ervin said Arkansas understood it was a 40-minute game and didn't panic. Townes eventually led the comeback by scoring 14 points in the first half. Arkansas held firm to a 30-26 halftime lead. The defense settled in. The points came. Disaster was avoided.

And Pelphrey didn't have to answer the questions that his coaching colleague, Kentucky's Billy Gillispie, faced in Lexington. So, to him, it wasn't a bad beginning.

"We feel fortunate here to win," Pelphrey said when it was over. "With what's going on in college basketball already, you never take winning for granted."



ROBBIE NEISWANGER IS A MORNING NEWS SPORTS WRITER. E-MAIL: RNEISWANGER@NWAONLINE.NET

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