BASKETBALL: Ervin Not Hesitant To Make Plays

FAYETTEVILLE — In a closely contested game, with the clock ticking down, Gary Ervin knows what he wants.

The 6-foot point guard wants the ball. He always has, back in elementary school and high school in Brooklyn, N.Y., back in prep school in Fitchburg, Mass., back at Mississippi State and now at Arkansas. The fifth-year senior doesn't care if he committed turnovers earlier in the game or if he failed in similar situations throughout his career.

Always confident, always self-assured, Ervin doesn't mind taking the chance of becoming a hero or a goat.

"Regardless of how I play throughout the whole game, when it's crunch time, I want to be on the floor," Ervin said. "I love to be in the position to help my team win."

In an Arkansas basketball program where go-to players haven't emerged the last couple of seasons, Ervin stands out as the boldest. And the Razorbacks likely will need to call on his daring nature down the stretch as they continue their chase for an NCAA Tournament berth.

About this time last season, Ervin played an integral role in sending the Hogs to the NCAA Tournament because of his willingness to simply make a play. His spin move and five-footer with 20 seconds left gave Arkansas a one-point win over Vanderbilt in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament in Atlanta.

This was after Ervin botched two last-second situations earlier in the 06-07 season, missing two free throws at Texas and failing to convert two layups at Ole Miss. Arkansas center Steven Hill said the brave basket against Vanderbilt has allowed the Hogs to feel comfortable with the ball in his hands late in games. That and Ervin's continued courage this season.

"He isn't scared of anything," Hill said. "I mean, you have to give him credit. He did transfer to another school in the (SEC) West. ... We're so confident in his abilities and we're confident in him."

That may not have been the case earlier this season. Ervin committed 10 turnovers in the first two games of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off and found himself benched from the starting lineup for the next 21games. But ever since, Ervin has stabilized the Razorbacks offensively. He hasn't committed more than three turnovers in a game since Dec. 12.

As he has matured, Ervin said, he has learned to merely forget about negative plays and quickly return to positive thinking.

"I watch a lot of NBA games, and those point guards like Steve Nash and Jason Kidd, they can get 12 assists and 10 turnovers, and they can just brush off (the turnovers) like they're nothing," Ervin said. "That's helped me, watching that. They just let it go. They just worry about the next play. I've gotten used to that.

"If I turn it over, I have to just worry about the next play."

That perspective led to the 22-foot 3-pointer he drilled on Jan. 13 to help Arkansas beat Alabama in overtime. He was 2-for-11 before taking the shot. But he released it with the conviction of a player who hadn't missed that entire afternoon. Another crucial play in the final minutes of a game was Ervin's tough rebound that helped seal Arkansas' win on March 1 over Vanderbilt.

His continued growth and his unshakable confidence, has forced Arkansas coach John Pelphrey to thrust Ervin back into the starting lineup. Pelphrey has played Ervin all but seven minutes in the Hogs' last three games. And Ervin has seen action in the final few minutes of all but one of Arkansas' conference tilts.

"I think that he has come a long way (from the start of the season)," Pelphrey said. "I think he has become more coachable, and I think he has become a better teammate."

SATURDAY'S TICKET

AUBURN AT ARKANSAS

WHEN: 5 p.m. TV: ESPN Classic (Cox Ch. 122)

WHERE: Bud Walton Arena

RECORDS: Auburn, 14-14, 4-11 Southeastern Conference; Arkansas, 19-10, 8-7

RADIO: KXIO-FM 106.9; KEZA-FM 107.9; KKEG-FM 92.1; KFPW-AM 1230; KQBK-FM 104.7; KHGG-AM 1580; KHGG-FM 103.1; KDYN-AM 1540; KDYN-FM 96.7; KTTG-FM 96.3

SERIES: Arkansas 22-13 (14-2 in Fayetteville)

LAST MEETING: Arkansas beat Auburn 76-70 on Jan. 10 in Auburn, Ala.

Gary Ervin

Age: 24

Class: Senior

Height: 6-0

Weight: 182

Hometown: Brooklyn, N.Y.

Notables: Over his last six games, Ervin has scored in double figures four times, averaging 12.2 points, 3.7 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.8 turnovers in 32.5 minutes. ... He played in two NCAA Tournaments with Mississippi State before transferring to Arkansas. ... His teams went 27-2 as a high school junior at Robeson High in 2001, 29-4 as a senior in 2002 and 30-9 as a prep school player at Notre Dame Prep (Fitchburg, Mass.) in 2003.

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