The Arkansas Razorbacks didn't win the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. They committed 26 turnovers in a first-round win over College of Charleston. They played even more carelessly with a school-record-tying 32 turnovers in a semifinal loss to Providence.
They slaved through two practices on what was supposed to be a lounging, sightseeing day on Saturday, and they worked out Sunday before their final game against Virginia Commonwealth. But finally, with tired minds and legs, the Hogs looked the way they wanted to in Puerto Rico in a 10-point victory in Sunday's third-place game.
The roller coaster of emotion — from uncertain to embarrassed to vindicated — left Arkansas' coaches and players with a satisfying feeling as they boarded their flight home to Fayetteville.
"I think we came close as a team," said sophomore guard Patrick Beverley, who made the all-tournament team. "I think players understand their roles now, understand what they need to do to win basketball games. That loss really opened us up.
"Who knows where we can go from here? If we keep doing the things we've been doing, and cut down on our turnovers, the sky is the limit for us."
While they improved against the Rams, the Hogs still weren't thrilled with their overall performance on the court.
Arkansas coach John Pelphrey watched painfully as his team failed to show any semblance of discipline with the basketball throughout the three contests at the Coliseo de Puerto Rico. For Arkansas to thrive in his system, Pelphrey realizes that turnovers must be cut down substantially.
He adamantly stated after Saturday's 32-turnover debacle that the Razorbacks are suited physically for his up-tempo style. He talked about how Arkansas' problems were mental, not physical.
Sunday marked progress, but Arkansas still dished just 42 assists compared to 75 miscues in the tournament.
"It just comes down to buying into coach's system," senior forward Sonny Weems said. "We just have to listen to the coaches, and we'll do great this year."
Arkansas' response in the face of a possible Virginia Commonwealth comeback impressed Pelphrey. In fact, he already had been struck by the Razorbacks' collective attitude by Sunday night. There was no complaining on Saturday, when Pelphrey dragged his team to a local gymnasium — with no air conditioning — for two grueling practices.
They carried that same approach, Pelphrey said, against the Rams. Even as VCU rallied, the Hogs stuck together throughout the game's final minutes. They drained key free throws. They grabbed crucial rebounds. And they supported one another.
Those moments, he said, taught him that the Puerto Rico trip could serve a turning point in the season.
"There was no separating — no bad attitudes," Pelphrey said. "Nothing came out of those guys' mouths that wasn't encouraging for the team. We have to embrace that. Even if we're not playing well, if we have that, then we might have a chance to catch (teams) at the end.
"It could make up for other deficiencies."
Top Averages At The Puerto Rico Tip-Off
1. Patrick Beverley, 14.3
2. Darian Townes, 10.7
3. Sonny Weems, 9.7
1. Townes, 6.7
2. Weems, 6.3
3. Beverley, 6.0
1. Beverley, 3.0
2. Charles Thomas, 3.0
3. Stefan Welsh, 2.3
1. Beverley, 35.0
2. Weems, 31.0
3. Gary Ervin, 23.7
1. Weems, 4.3
2. Beverley, 4.0
3. Ervin, 3.7
Razorbacks Pleased With Growing
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