BASKETBALL: Early Spurt All Arkansas Needs

FAYETTEVILLE — Rarely a scoreboard watcher, Arkansas sophomore Patrick Beverley was floored.

He knew Arkansas dominated LSU during a four-minute span in the first half of its 87-61 victory Wednesday night. He watched LSU interim coach Butch Pierre signal angrily for two timeouts within three minutes. And after each stoppage, he encountered a hand-slapping, fist-pumping John Pelphrey waiting for the Razorbacks.

Still, Beverley didn't quite comprehend the magnitude of Arkansas' largest scoring spurt this season. Not until he peeked up after Pierre's second timeout. Moments earlier, the game was tied at 14.

Three minutes, 58 seconds later, as Beverley checked out the damage, the scoreboard read: Arkansas 35, LSU 14.

"I didn't even know it was that big of a run," Beverley said.

Pierre did. And his Tigers never recovered from the brief yet devastating onslaught that allowed Arkansas to climb within one game of first-place Mississippi State in the SEC Western Division.

The Razorbacks burned the Tigers with a balanced offensive attack — Gary Ervin led four double-figure scorers with 17 points. Pierre had to see his team struggle without injured leading scorer Marcus Thornton for most of the night.

And Pierre marveled at the stretch in which the Tigers could do no right and the Razorbacks definitely could do no wrong. The 21-0 run had Pierre complimenting the Razorbacks like no other opposing coach had this season.

"If they continue to play and grow as a team, you could perhaps have a Final Four team," Pierre said.

Well, for at least four minutes, the Razorbacks (18-7, 7-4) looked like a legit postseason threat. As for the other 36 minutes, the Hogs had their struggles. They missed eight of their 18 free throws and committed 10 first-half turnovers.

But the period from 12:03 to 8:05 in the first half outweighed all of Arkansas' miscues.

The lead changed four times in the first five minutes as both teams started sluggishly, combining to miss 14 of their first 19 field goal attempts. Sonny Weems sparked the 21-point outburst with a turnaround 8-footer. A Beverley steal followed, which led to an Ervin 3-pointer. Beverley then turned a backcourt steal into a three-point play and 21-0 was in motion.

Vincent Hunter and Stefan Welsh drained back-to-back 3-pointers after Pierre's first timeout. Finally, Arkansas missed a shot, as Welsh blew a layup that stopped a stretch of eight consecutive field-goal makes. The spurt didn't end there, though, as Arkansas went up 35-14 on a Townes dunk, a Weems 3-pointer and a Townes tip-in.

Ervin refused to credit the Razorbacks' hot shooting, which included a 9-for-13 performance from 3-point range before halftime. Instead, he raved about their defense.

"Everything is about defense," Ervin said. "We know if we play defense and play smart basketball, we can get out to a big lead. And that's one thing we did. We came out with intensity."

On the offensive end, the Hogs exhibited an unselfishness that has randomly appeared and disappeared this season. Pelphrey loved that six different players scored during the run. And he loved the "extra passing" that let the Razorbacks record as many assists in the first 11 minutes as they did in Saturday's loss at Mississippi State.

But he was more pleased with the defense, the suffocating man-to-man that forced LSU into four turnovers and six missed shots during the game-changing spurt.

"If we can just be consistent there, the sky's the limit for our basketball club," Beverley said. "We'll be real scary."

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