Yet when he entered the Bud Walton Arena interview room after the Arkansas' 108-80 win over Dillard on Thursday night, coach John Pelphrey didn't ooze optimism. Instead, he constructively critiqued his inexperienced Razorbacks.
"From our guys' side of it, I wasn't overly impressed," Pelphrey said. "I don't think we were flat. But I think we can play harder. I think we can play better."
Arkansas' players couldn't argue with Pelphrey. While the Razorbacks had plenty to be thrilled with, most notably the succesful debut of point guard Courtney Fortson, they also had difficulties with their NAIA opponent from New Orleans.
The Blue Devils shot 52 percent in the first half and drained 14 3-point shots, working the ball around for high-percentage looks on many possessions. The erratic defensive intensity meant Pelphrey spent considerably more time yelling, stomping and making faces than he did in Arkansas' first exhibition win on Monday.
"We just didn't play as hard as we possibly could," Clarke said. "We have a week to come back and get our defense right before our next game. ... We just came out a little unfocused. I think we can play harder than we did, especially on defense."
Conversely, the Razorbacks couldn't have performed much better offensively, and it was obvious that Fortson's presence makes Arkansas more dangerous. The Razorbacks, not only Fortson, shared the ball consistently and dished out 27 assists.
Fortson had nine of them by halftime. Four of them came on drive-and-kicks to fellow freshman guard Rotnei Clarke.
Clarke drained 4 of 6 of his 3-pointers in the first half and was rarely covered because his defender had to help on Fortson.
"Courtney's awesome for me, and (Stefan Welsh) and all our other guards," said Clarke, who led all scorers with 20 points. "You know he's going to find you and put you in a good situation to score."
Fortson's aggressive nature opened up the floor for all of his teammates. Junior forward Michael Washington, who had 13 of his 19 points in the second half, benefitted from the scrappy 5-foot-11 lefty. So did freshman forward Andre Clark, who had 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting, and freshman guard Jason Henry, who had 14 points in 15 minutes.
But still, Pelphrey couldn't get past the shoddy defense. Dillard scored 42 points in the first half and didn't slow down its scoring pace until midway through the second half.
"In the first half we gave up 52 percent shooting, and our rebounding is suspect right now," Pelphrey said. "I didn't think our enthusiasm and passion was very high. I thought it was much more of an exhibition game type of play. The other night, we were more cohesive.
"We have a lot we need to evaulate."
Blowout Win Not Enough For Pelphrey, Hogs
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