FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Arkansas plays Bucknell on Friday at 11:30 a.m. in the American Airlines Center at Dallas in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Following is a partial transcript of head coach Stan Heath’s press conference.
“The more I watch film on Bucknell, the more I appreciate how good they are and how they were able to beat Kansas (in the NCAA Tournament) last year and Syracuse this year. The 8-9 spot is the most evenly matched. We have more size, probably, but they are very skilled. The minute you make a mistake, they take advantage of it.
“They don’t play a Princeton-style offense, but Vanderbilt had a similar philosophy. They spread you out and make you cover them for the entire clock. We have to do things to disrupt their flow.
“Chris McNaughton (6-11 center) had a big game against Syracuse. He’s a high-level player. He can play in the post with his back to the basket, he can go out to about 15 feet and he does a good job of getting open. Hopefully Steven Hill can slow him down a little. We’ll have to pay close attention to him along with Kevin Bettencourt and Charles Lee. Bettencourt can go off the dribble, hit threes or post you. He does it a lot of different ways. Athletically, Lee matches up well with our guys. He’s the toughest matchup we have. He plays the wing spot, so that falls in Jonathon Modica or Ronnie Brewer’s area.
“They are a high percentage shooting team. If they get an open shot in 10 or 20 seconds, they take it, but if the defense is solid, they go all the way through the clock. We have to have patience on the defensive end and guard them through the clock, but find a way to disrupt their rhythm.
“The speed and tempo, we have to do some things there. If we don’t, the game will end up in the 50s and that’s not to our advantage.
“We are very, very excited to be back in the tournament. I’m happy for the team and for the fans who have stuck with us. It’s really been a team effort. After the Ole Miss game, our players knew they had to step it up and they did.”
The SEC getting six teams in the tournament when the conference was expected to be down:
“Going in, you could see why there was criticism, but our talent was young. We did very well out of conference. We proved that criticism to be false as the season went along. You could see the
emergence of some players. In the sophomore class, on our team, you could see the development of Charles Thomas. He’s a different player.
“It’s important, now that we’re in the NCAA Tournament, that your league does well.”
Using past NCAA experience to prepare the team:
“The first thing I want to do is not make too much out of it. It’s still basketball, 40 minutes and a 10-foot goal. We will try to do a good job of educating them. We don’t want to play out of character or do things we haven’t done all year. We don’t want to be satisfied with just getting to the tournament.
“When I was at Michigan State, to go to so many NCAA tournaments and advance so deep was an unbelievable experience. I’ve learned how to prepare. One thing we’ll do is look at this as the Dallas bracket. You’ve got to win two games to win it. And we have to be really focused on Bucknell.
“I don’t want them to be too uptight or too loose. We want to keep things as close to normal as we can.”
The seed (No. 8) and playing in Dallas:
“I was hoping we would be a little higher seed because the 8-9 spot is so dangerous, but if you counter that with us playing in Dallas, I’m really happy. We have fans there and we have experience there (beat Texas Tech in Dallas on Dec. 21, 78-65), so I hope that is an edge. I know a lot of people really wanted us to go to Dallas. We’re looking forward to playing in Dallas. It’s a great spot for us.”
Differences between this team and Heath’s 2002 Elite Eight team at Kent State:
“That team (at KSU) had experience in the NCAA Tournament. There were also three or four seniors that were in their fifth year. The thing I see in our team is we’ve developed some of the same traits as that team. They have become a part of our personality.
“I’ve mentioned to them this is a wide open tournament. We need to get on a roll, but that first game is so important. We have to rebound well and ride out our hot guys.”
“I think they key guys in this game for us are Charles Thomas and Vincent Hunter. If there’s one area where we might have an advantage, it’s the forward spot. I don’t mean just scoring, I mean rebounding, defensive plays and getting some garbage baskets.”