BASKETBALL: Razorbacks Jump All Over Gators

FAYETTEVILLE — Early Saturday morning, long before Arkansas' 80-61 thrashing of No. 20 Florida, John Pelphrey sent Billy Donovan a text message.

Anxious during the buildup to their second meeting as head coaches, Arkansas' first-year leader longed to be back on the two's summer golf trip.

"This is ridiculous," Pelphrey tapped into his cell phone. "I'd much rather be in Ireland."

The Gators' coach may have wanted to tag along if he had known how the day would progress.

Arkansas looked every bit the bigger, faster, stronger, more mature team Saturday afternoon, imposing its physical will throughout its third consecutive victory. The Hogs excelled in every area, repeatedly captivating the season-high, sellout crowd of 19,881 in Bud Walton Arena. And because Tennessee won Saturday night at Mississippi State, the Hogs (16-5, 5-2) moved into a tie atop the Southeastern Conference Western Division.

After Florida's worst loss this season, Donovan willingly admitted the Razorbacks' vast size advantage overwhelmed his Gators (18-4, 5-2).

"When they come out, they look like an NBA team physically," Donovan said. "We look like a very mature high school team."

In claiming their second dominant victory in four days, and building a lead as high as 30 points, the Razorbacks again outhustled, outscrapped and outmuscled their opponent. This was evident on Arkansas' first possession Saturday.

Patrick Beverley missed a 3-pointer, but Michael Washington darted past Florida's Dan Werner, grabbed the rebound and drew a foul. Off the inbounds pass, Stefan Welsh bricked a 3-point attempt, but the 6-foot-1 Beverley skied past 6-10 Gator center Marreese Speights for the rebound. Sonny Weems, who scored a game-high 17 points, then missed a 19-footer and Florida rebounded the ball.

But a statement had been made, a statement that Arkansas wouldn't hesitate to produce unselfish plays.

"Those are the plays that win ballgames," point guard Gary Ervin said. "We made a lot of hustle plays — diving for loose balls, getting jump balls, jumping out of bounds. Those are the plays that are going to win games down the stretch."

Pelphrey lauded the Hogs for the altruistic nature of their performance, saying they needed to "protect it and understand what we've got."

One of those hustle plays, a Weems block on Florida freshman Nick Calathes, seemed to spark Arkansas' game-changing spurt in the first half. Moments later, Calathes tied the game at 8 with a 12-footer. But Weems quickly responded with a left baseline drive and soaring one-handed dunk.

The jam induced a loud roar from the home crowd and fueled an 11-0 Razorback run that lasted just 2 minutes, 37 seconds.

"My eyes got as big as goggles," Weems said. "Every time I see an open lane, my eyes get big. I think ‘dunk first, no layup.' I think it boosted us, especially the crowd. My teammates got real fired up."

And they remained energized on the defensive end. Arkansas consistently hounded the inexperienced Gators, who brought only one player, junior Walter Hodge, with experience of a game in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks didn't exactly rattle Florida into unnecessary miscues.

Florida committed only nine turnovers. But the Hogs had a hand in the faces of the Gators' shooters more often than not. Florida missed its first 13 attempts from 3-point range and posted its second-worst field-goal percentage this season (33.3).

"Our defensive intensity is getting us easy victories," Beverley said. "Our mindset is if we defend well, we can win any basketball game. Basically, that's what happened (Saturday) and the game before that. If we can just keep that focus and intensity up on the defensive end, the sky's the limit for our basketball club."

Beverley wouldn't refer to Arkansas as "perfect" Saturday. He wasn't happy with 14 turnovers. He wasn't pleased with the Hogs' sluggish first two minutes to start the second half. He wasn't thrilled about missing seven of his 10 shots.

But he was optimistic because the Razorbacks didn't get sucked into the Pelphrey-Donovan storyline and merely took care of business.

"This wasn't not just for coach (Pelphrey)," Beverley said. "It was for everybody. It was for the Arkansas family. We lost to Florida twice last year. You really don't look in the past, but we really wanted to get them back, and we did."

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