Razorbacks Win At California-Davis' Pace

FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas Razorbacks will press often this season. They will run plenty of fast breaks and score in the 80s with high frequency.

They proved Thursday night, though, that they don't necessarily need to sport those qualities to win basketball games. Arkansas junior Stefan Welsh didn't apologize for the way the Razorbacks abandoned their core principles throughout their 68-59 win over California-Davis before 11,600 in Bud Walton Arena.

In fact, Welsh seemed excited to know Arkansas can win at a tortoise-like pace.

"The good thing about this basketball team is we can play fast, but we also showed we can slow it down, execute our offense and play tough defense," Welsh said. "They did a good job of trying to control the pace. But we also did a great job of executing in the half court."

The Razorbacks improved to 2-0 this season by defeating a team that was intent on making the entire evening uncomfortable for them.

Arkansas coach John Pelphrey talked all week about the challenge of guarding Cal-Davis' slow-down, Princeton-style offense. The Aggies make up for their lack of athleticism with their smarts, precision and decision-making ability. But Arkansas didn't allow them to execute properly for most of Thursday's game.

A week's worth of intense preparation evidently paid off. Pelphrey lauded the play this week of the Razorbacks' scout team, who he calls the "Blue Man Group" because of the color of jerseys they wear. He also praised his players for their collective willingness to learn this week.

The result was a mostly dominant defensive performance. Arkansas limited the Aggies (1-3) to 27 first-half points and held them to 32.7 percent shooting. Most shots were contested, most backdoor cuts were covered.

"I'm very, very proud of our team to be able to absorb all of (the game plan)," Pelphrey said. "I'm proud of our coaches for getting the game plan in to those guys, and I'm proud of our guys for coming out and executing. To be able to hold them to those shooting percentages, I'm proud of our guys."

"I'm surprised we were able to guard them without fouling."

Defensive discipline and passion allowed the Hogs to overcome several glaring trouble areas. Four Razorbacks scored in double figures, led by freshman point guard Courtney Fortson's 16 points, but they struggled in many ways offensively.

As they struggled to connect from the free throw line and from 3-point range, the Hogs couldn't turn an early 33-16 advantage into a bigger lead. Without freshman forward Michael Sanchez's first career double-double (12 points, 12 rebounds), Arkansas may not have survived the moments of offensive futility.

But ultimately, the Razorbacks competed hard enough and intelligently enough on the defensive end to outlast the Aggies. Of course, now that this game is over, Arkansas will return to its normal style of play.

For one night, though, the Razorbacks proved they don't have to fast-break and press to win.

"I told the guys that afterward," Pelphrey said. "We'd love to run around with our hair on fire and get out on the break 30 times and be athletic and have a great pace in the game. But sometimes you have to make adjustments. I think the sign of a good team, a good program, is when you're able to make adjustments."

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