Five Keys To An Arkansas Victory

1. CONSISTENT DEFENSE Not too shabby themselves, the Arkansas Razorbacks could learn a thing or two about defensive intensity from their opponent tonight. Mississippi State leads the Southeastern Conference in scoring defense and defensive field-goal percentage.



And while Arkansas ranks third in both categories, the Hogs have rarely shown any semblence of defensive intensity throughout an entire 40-minute game.

Tonight, the Razorbacks must defend, and must defend hard, for all 2,400 seconds.

"If we defend well, we always have a great chance to win," sophomore guard Patrick Beverley said.

2. OFFENSIVE EXECUTION

The Razorbacks thrive in transition. They love to get out and run the fast break. They seem totally comfortable in free-lance mode.

In half-court sets, however, Arkansas doesn't appear so cozy. The Hogs have yet to exhibit consistency with first-year coach John Pelphrey's pick-and-roll offense.

"The key thing about this game is executing our plays on the offensive end," senior point guard Gary Ervin said. "We have to throw the ball (inside) and try to get (Mississippi State's) big guys in foul trouble."

3. REPLACING THOMAS

Senior forward Charles Thomas will miss tonight's game, serving a suspension of at least one game handed down by Pelphrey.

And the Razorbacks must get quality production from his replacements considering Mississippi State has quality big men Charles Rhodes and Jarvis Varnado.

Mainly, sophomore forward Michael Washington must produce.

"Mike needs to play better," Pelphrey said. "He played a little more Mike Washington-like on the road (Saturday) night, he hasn't overachieved a whole lot (this season).

"I challenge him to play better — now."

4. TAKE CARE OF THE BALL

Limit turnovers. Those two words undoubtedly are beaten into the heads of the Razorbacks by Pelphrey before each contest. Sometimes the Razorbacks seem to listen, playing with offensive intelligence. Sometimes they don't, competing in an erratic fashion.

But to have any chance at cutting Mississippi State's SEC-West lead to one game, the Hogs can't get out of control with the basketball.

After five consecutive games with less than 16 turnovers, Arkansas has committed at least 17 miscues in each of its past three contests.

5. GET CROWD INTO GAME

Arkansas' players talked adamantly this week about what kind of home-court advantage they get during home games in Bud Walton Arena. Crowd noise boosts their adrenaline, they said, and fuels their defensive energy.

They urged their fans to be loud tonight. Oh, and wear white shirts.

"The guys just wanted to see about doing something different," Ervin said. "So that's how we came up with the white-out. We think that's something that could bring a lot to our crowd."

MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS (14-5, 5-0)

TEAM GLANCE

• COACH: Rick Stansbury (10th season)

• LAST TIME OUT: Mississippi State beat Ole Miss 88-68 on Jan. 26 in Starkville, Miss.

• KEY INJURIES: G Ben Hansbrough, mono, out

LINEUPS

PROBABLE STARTERS

Name Ht. Cl. PPG RPG

G Barry Stewart 6-2 Sophomore 12.0 4.4

G Phil Turner 6-3 Freshman 5.3 3.4

G Jamont Gordon 6-3 Junior 17.6 6.3

F Charles Rhodes 6-8 Senior 14.9 6.8

C Jarvis Varnado 6-9 Sophomore 7.4 8.6

KEY RESERVES

G Riley Benock 6-4 Freshman 2.7 0.9

C Brian Johnson 6-9 Junior 2.7 2.7

F Elgin Bailey 6-8 Freshman 1.9 2.1

ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS (14-5, 3-2)

TEAM GLANCE

• COACH: John Pelphrey (1st season)

• LAST TIME OUT: Arkansas beat LSU 68-52 on Jan. 26 in Baton Rouge, La.

• KEY INJURIES, SUSPENSIONS: F Charles Thomas, violation of team rules, out

LINEUPS

PROBABLE STARTERS

Name Ht. Cl. PPG RPG

G Stefan Welsh 6-2 Sophomore 4.8 1.6

G Patrick Beverley 6-1 Sophomore 11.8 6.4

F Sonny Weems 6-6 Senior 13.9 4.5

F Michael Washington 6-10 Sophomore 5.4 4.8

C Steven Hill 7-0 Senior 5.0 2.9

KEY RESERVES

C Darian Townes 6-10 Senior 10.9 5.1

G Gary Ervin 6-0 Senior 9.0 2.4

F Vincent Hunter 6-10 Senior 2.3 1.4

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