RALEIGH, N.C. – This Sunday it's not the Easter Bunny that's front and center for the University of Arkansas basketball squad.
It's something called Psycho T and his Playmates.
While it sounds like some bad B movie one might find on the Sci-Fi channel, it's actually No. 1 North Carolina (33-2) and NCAA Player of the Year Tyler Hansbrough standing in the way of the Razorbacks (23-11) reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1995.
"It's not everyday that you get a chance to play the number one seed in the whole tournament and it's not every day that you get to play North Carolina and Indiana in the tournament," Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey said. "Quite honestly as a player (at Kentucky) I grew up wanting to be in an environment like this.
"As a coach, I'm excited to be in an environment like this and not discouraged or fearful about this at all," Pelphrey added. "It doesn't scare me and it doesn't scare our players. I don't think it will. That is what makes this thing (the NCAA Tournament) special."
The game is set for 4:20 p.m. CST before a pro-Tar Heels crowd at the RBC Center, just 30 miles from the North Carolina campus.
Arkansas sophomore guard Patrick Beverley said he's certainly not backing down in a match-up that comes about because the Razorbacks took down Indiana 86-72 on Friday night.
The Tar Heels have won 11 straight since their lost to the Blue Devils.
"They are one of every kid's dream schools," Beverley said. "You know, it's North Carolina, but they lace their shoes up just like we do. They sweat just like we do. We're not going to change anything."
North Carolina junior forward Marcus Ginyard, whose team scored 60 first-half points on its way to a 113-74 win over Mount St. Mary's on Friday night, noted there is mutual respect.
"We know we are facing a huge challenge on Sunday," Ginyard said. "We talked about the fact that we may have the toughest match-up in the second round, but everybody that's playing in a second round game is playing a tough game.
"There are no easy games when you get to the second round, so we understand this is a huge challenge for us and I think that this team is focused and ready to take on that challenge."
North Carolina head coach Roy Williams, whose team's only losses this year were both at home to Duke and Maryland, also has a lot of respect for the Razorbacks.
"No question in my mind that we have to play really well," Williams said. "They have some big-time wins down the stretch. They beat Tennessee and they beat Vanderbilt after they had beat Tennessee. So we have a great deal of respect for them.
"So I think their athleticism, the guys that can score, the pace they can play, their unselfish defense – they change it up and play man and zone and they press - and they don't let you get in a rhythm and I think they are very good basketball team."
Williams obviously is well aware of Arkansas senior small forward Sonny Weems, who had a career-high 31 points in the win over Indiana while shooting 12-of-14 from the field.
"Weems, he can score," Williams said. "Last night he was pretty impressive. I think his last miss was 15:45 in the first half, so I think after four minutes and fifteen seconds in the game – that's a heck of a long time that he didn't miss any shots."
Pelphrey knows he is facing a team that includes a bevy of high school All-Americans led by the 6-9 Hansbrough (22.9, 10.2) – the Poplar Bluff (Mo.) native whose nickname is Psycho T.
"I think Tyler Hansbrough obviously has some physical attributes that he has been blessed with," Pelphrey said. "He's not the biggest guy in the world. He's not the fastest. He's not the most fluid, smooth guy. But I tell you one thing. He has unbelievable heart, passion for it, it means a lot to him."
Hansbrough (22.9, 10.2) joins guards Wayne Ellington (16.7) and Ty Lawson (12.7) and forwards Deon Thompson (8.3) and Ginyard (7.5) in the starting lineup.
Danny Green (11.4) is the Tar Heels top reserve on a team that plays nine players at least 14 minutes per game.
"Obviously anytime when you win 33 of 35 games, there's a level of overachieving amongst their team and amongst the program," Pelphrey said. "We will have to digest a lot of information collectively as a basketball team and then each and every one of us will have to be a little bit better than we have been to have a chance."
As UA senior forward Vincent Hunter said, his team is not satisfied with the team's first NCAA Tournament win since 1999.
"It's just the thought of playing North Carolina," Hunter said. "If you can't get ready to play North Carolina, then you don't need to be playing college basketball."
o o o
Williams has been to Arkansas several times.
"I used to go to Arkansas every spring and play in the Nolan Richardson golf tournament," Williams said. "I can't remember if it is was the Pinnacle and changed to Champions or Champions and changed to Pinnacle, but I have some good friends there."
Although Williams confused Jonesboro with Pine Bluff, he was an assistant coach on the bench when Newport native Charles Balentine's shot took down No. 1 Carolina and Michael Jordan back in 1984.
"We were 21-0, had the last shot to win the game and some guy named Jordan went the wrong way on the play and Steve Hale got a shot from the corner and missed it," Williams said. "Not that I remember everything, but I remember that day pretty well.
"(Razorback guard) Alvin Robertson, boy, was he good that day," Williams added. "I just thought he was sensational that day. We had lost Kenny Smith in the 17th game when he was undercut and broke his wrist, but we won four more and stayed number one. The people from Arkansas were out in full force with a great deal of enthusiasm. It was a great atmosphere."
John Pelphrey answers a question at Saturday's press conference.
Vincent Hunter, Sonny Weems and Darian Townes met with the media to discuss the upcoming North Carolina game.
Hunter, Patrick Beverley and Weems compare their tatoos as redshirting freshman Michael Sanchez looks on.
Weems, Gary Ervin and Michael Washington wait for UA head coach John Pelphrey to finish his press conference so they can take the floor for practice.
Charles Thomas, Andre Clark, Steven Cox, Levan Patsatsia and Vincent Hunter joke around in the locker room.
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