Hogs Heath Feels Heat

In his third year as Arkansas head basketball coach, Stan Heath isn't in the hot water Buzz Peterson is in his fourth year at Tennessee, but he is a target of criticism from Razorback fans who are impatient for a return to the glory days under Nolan Richardson in Fayetteville.

Some it seems have forgotten the gory days under the former Boss Hog who was acrimoniously dismissed in 2002, following public taunts to fire him and pay him his money. After UA athletic director Frank Broyles took him up on his challenge, Richardson responded with a lawsuit and allegations of racism against the University, ignoring a steady decline in recruiting and results during his last three years on the job.

Heath was hired from Kent State after leading the team to a 30-win season, a MAC championship and a spot in the elite eight in his first year as a head coach. He faced an imposing rebuilding task at Arkansas and went 9-19 in his first season. This season he has the Razorbacks at 18-11, but the team's 6-10 record in the SEC has some grumbling about a lack of pride and organization. There was even a brief appearance of a firestanheath.com web site after the Arkansas dropped its regular season finale at Auburn.

Heath has heard all the complaints and on Tuesday he returned fire, vowing Arkansas would use what he considers to be unwarranted criticism as motivation going into the SEC Tournament.

"I think to put that out there is just irresponsible, and it's a lie," he said in an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette story. "I think our team was emotionally sapped after our Mississippi State game, and I think it truly had an effect when we lost that lead in that Auburn game."

Heath took particular offense to charges his team laid down against the Tigers.

"We didn't play with great emotion," he said. "I don't think we just dogged it out there and didn't play with any effort. We played with no emotion and no emotion has an effect on your performance.

"But to say our team just laid down, that we don't want to play anymore, that's an absolute joke. It's not true, and I think it's an insult to our players and our program."

Heath anticipates the slight will fuel his team's efforts in the SEC Tournament beginning with the Tennessee game on Thursday.

"I'm pissed off and I'm sure the players are, too, because that's not a true reflection of their character and who they are. They are a little bit sensitive or upset that characteristic would be tagged to them."

Arkansas sophomore guard Ronnie Brewer, who was recently named All-SEC second team, agreed the players took offense to such charges.

"You're playing for Arkansas and that's a big thing, a lot of tradition," he said. "Plus you're playing for the name on your back... so that's probably one of the worst comments going against you that you laid down and just let the (other) team do whatever they wanted to."

Mike Jones, Arkansas' only senior, questioned the team's chemistry after the defeat at Auburn requested a clearing-of-the-air team meeting which took place Sunday night in Fayetteville.

"We've had meetings like this before where players were a little bit reluctant to say what was on their mind, and (Jones) just felt like if we met and he opened it up that some other guys might open up as well," Heath explained. "I think the meeting went very, very well.

"I think the biggest thing that came across during our meeting was that everybody had to make sacrifices for the team and put individual things aside to prepare us and get us ready to win."

Two desperate teams could add up to one dramatic contest.


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