FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Arkansas plays host to No. 20 Florida at 2:05 p.m. on Saturday in a game televised by Raycom Sports. The Razorbacks are 14-5 overall and 4-2 in the Southeastern Conference while the defending national champion Gators are 18-3 and 5-1. Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey was an assistant to Billy Donovan at Florida from 1997-2002. Following is a partial transcript of Pelphrey’s press conference previewing the game.
Charles Thomas (suspended for the Mississippi State game for a violation of team rules):
“Charles Thomas is back at practice and will play, provided, like everybody else, we conduct ourselves in an appropriate manner. He is not alone as far as having those rules apply.”
“They have to be as good a handling, passing and shooting team as anyone in the country. They have a lot of offensive weapons. A lot has been made out of their youth. As we all know, a lot of times, youth does not keep you from being an outstanding team.
“Florida has been so good, I think everybody thought there would be a letdown. It’s impressive the way the players have responded. They are as hot as any team in the league.
“They are not the same team. They have a lot of different faces, but that mindset and expecting to go out and compete no matter who they are playing against are still there.
“Their spacing, passing and shooting is lethal. They really, really put heat on you. They are good enough on any given night to make enough three-pointers to beat you, but they get a little bit of everything every night – layups, dunks, free throws and fast breaks.
“Nick Calathes has got to be a top five player in the league right now. He’s averaging close to 20 points with six assists. He’s a phenomenal, phenomenal passer, has great size and has some toughness to him.”
Only other game against Donovan and Florida (2006 NCAA Tournament while at South Alabama):
“To be honest, I thought we were going to win the game. I didn’t think it would be easy and our margin of error was small, but we didn’t work all year to be somebody’s punching bag.”
Relationship with Donovan:
“He was at Kentucky (as an assistant) when I finished playing. I would be in the gym and see the light on in his office. I spent a lot of time in his office.
“After playing overseas for a year, I had been at Oklahoma State (as an assistant) nine months when he called and asked if I wanted to go to Marshall. I said yes and that was the interview process. I loaded my car and left Oklahoma for Huntington (W. Va.).
“I can remember sitting at my desk in my office. I had a yellow legal pad and a phone, and I thought, ‘now what.’” I spent as much time with him as I could.
“We talk or text once or twice a week. We’re not talking about what he’s going to run against us. There’s a respect among coaches. We understand how hard it is and want each other to do well.
“He has been the most influential male in my life outside of my father. He’s dynamite with his work ethic and recruiting. He can look at himself and criticize and use it for growth.”
Sonny Weems and Patrick Beverley:
“I like balance, but those two guys, especially Sonny, have played well. Hopefully we continue to operate and grow and get better.
“Most of those shots Sonny hit were hard. If they weren’t going in, we’re probably having a different conversation.”
“The last couple of games, he’s been back to the form he was earlier.”
Building off win over No. 25 Mississippi State:
“I think we have started a foundation. We need to get walls up and a roof and all those things. The challenges don’t get any easier, but a lot of times effort, energy and togetherness can overrun schemes and other things.”