Fortson steals the show

The hype was about Blake Griffin, but everyone left Bud Walton Arena impressed with Courtney Fortson after Arkansas defeated Oklahoma, 96-88, Tuesday night.

The star attraction was Oklahoma center Blake Griffin as the No. 4 Sooners rolled into Bud Walton Arnea. The real star Tuesday night was Arkansas point guard Courtney Fortson.

Fortson made only three of 14 shots from the field, but did everything else right as Arkansas built a 25-point lead, then held off an OU charge for a 96-88 victory before a roaring crowd of 19,604.

"Like old times," said former Arkansas star Todd Day. "Fortson is a REAL point guard. He was great tonight."

Day played with a great point guard during his Arkansas days. He nodded his head in agreement when a reporter wanted to know if Fortson compared with Mayberry.

"You saw a very good one tonight," he said. "I liked what I saw from him and, yes, he's like Mayberry in some ways."

Mayberry was a better pure shooter, but Fortson probably brings more of an attack mentality to the court. That's what Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel saw.

"Fortson was magnificent," Capel said. "The way he controlled the game was outstanding.

"When we went over the scouting report for this game, there was no question that Fortson was the leader of this team. It speaks volumes for a freshman to play like that. It's not just the way he plays, but the way he talks to his teammates, the instinct to encourage them or get on them or instruct them. He understands the position.

"He was able to anticipate the double team and get the ball to his guys on the back line. They were terrific tonight. They have some freshmen, but youth doesn't matter anymore. He's a great point guard, as good as any you'll see around the country.

"He was tremendous tonight, but so was the entire Arkansas team. They made it difficult for us. Michael Washington is a good player, too. He had 17 points, 8 rebounds at the half. We did a better job on him in the second half, but part of it was he got in foul trouble. They have two good shooters in (Rotnei) Clarke and (Stefan) Welsh and (Michael) Sanchez does a good job with his role."

An old coach who grew up not far from the UA campus was equally impressed. Charlie Spoonhour, a Rogers native, works for the Oklahoma television network these days after retiring from a long career on the bench.

"I've seen Arkansas two or three times (on TV) this year and I liked them in each case," Spoonhour said. "They are athletic and well coached. They played really well tonight. This was not probably a typical game for Oklahoma, but I give Arkansas credit for that. They did a lot of things to disrupt them. I thought Arkansas caused the problems Oklahoma had tonight."

Some of it was the way they befuddled Grffin on the low post to start the game.

"For whatever reason, (Griffin) was not aggressive to start the game," Capel said. "For example, the first play he got the ball, it looked like he was anticipating the double team. It didn't come and he was looking to pass."

Griffin said it wasn't a case of his offense not being up to par.

"We scored enough, but we didn't stop them," Griffin said. "It was a combination of us not being able to play defense and them being able to beat what we were trying to do. Fortson beat our double teams. He split us and got to the lane and then got it to their big men. They finished. Washington is a good player and he finished down low.

"I thought Arkansas made big shots, too. Give them credit.

"As far as what they did to me, it was normal stuff. They did double down, but it wasn't something we haven't seen. We are used to that."

Fortson came up with some deflections on the double downs. He had a little bit of everything in a full stat line. He had eight rebounds, 10 assists and two steals to go with his 12 points. He led everyone in minutes played with 39.

"I got a little tired down the stretch, but this is a man's game and you have to keep going," Fortson said. "I knew I had to help on the boards tonight. Our big men had their hands full with Griffin. I knew Mike (Washington) was going to have a good game. I've been telling everyone, he's a great player. He's one of the best big men in the country."

Fortson might have been heavy legged down the stretch, but not any more than UA reserve Marcus Monk. He said he did have to ask for a rest at one point.

"I was tired, but Coach (John) Pelphrey kept subbing for me," Monk said. "I had to ask out once. I just don't have my legs yet and I'm still learning some things we do.

"What I can tell you is that this team is together. We played as a team tonight. I think we are going to keep getting better."

A reporter brought up the Monk story -- late addition to the hoops team after spending his last four years on the grid iron -- to Capel after the game.

"He's a good player," Capel said. "He helped them tonight. They are a good team. I was impressed. I don't know what other adjectives I can use."

All had praise for the Arkansas crowd, including Capel. Griffin called it "a great atmosphere." Day never played in Bud Walton Arena, but he likened it to a big Barnhill for this night.

"Same atmosphere, just a different court," Day said. "It was great tonight."

And, what did he think of the Razorbacks just before he was whisked away to the locker room by an assistant coach?

"I like them a lot," he said. "The starters are really good and Monk gave them a lift off the bench. They keep adding to this group and they are going to be right back where we used to be. And, this was pretty close to that. Like I said, I thought it was a lot like old times tonight."

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