FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Arkansas improved to 5-0 over the weekend by winning the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla., and now goes on the road for Thursday’s 8 p.m. game at Missouri. The Tigers are 7-0 following Monday’s win over Coppin State. Following is a partial transcript of head coach Stan Heath’s press conference.
“We want to build on the momentum we created in Orlando, but at the same time we know there are things we have to do better and improve on. This game, even back in the summer, looked to me like a trap game. They play a unique style and pressure you into turnovers.
“We’ll be on the road for the first time (true road game), we will be tested, we’ll have to deal with the crowd and we’ll have to deal with runs – stopping their runs and manufacturing our own.
“Our team, I think, will be a good road team. We need to be intense, bring our defense and play team basketball.”
“I look at this game as Missouri against Arkansas. That’s what it is. With Mike (Anderson) there, it fuels some other things. Mike is a very good person and has done a good job. Neither one of the coaches will be on the floor. None of the kids for either team have played for the other coach. I know Missouri will be sky high, but that’s because Arkansas is coming to town. Both teams will play hard.
“Mike is a great guy. He’s done an outstanding job. Outside of this game, I’m very supportive of him.
“I remember Matt Lawrence last year coming in and hitting a couple of long bombs. (Kalen) Grimes may be the most improved player I’ve seen so far. Jason Horton has done a nice job distributing the ball, and (Stefhon) Hannah was a great late pickup.
“They have great speed, good athletes and they are shooting the ball well.
“Missouri is playing good basketball. They are going to pressure us, but we don’t know what kind of pressure it will be. It’s not the same press. It could be man, trap man, a 2-3 zone, a 1-3-1, a 2-2-1 press or they could run and jump. We will have some turnovers, but our players are used to pressure.
“The key to any press break is spacing, good decisions and attacking.”
Old Spice Classic:
“That gave us some confidence. Southern Illinois was a war. West Virginia plays a unique style. Our team showed a lot of character. Down the stretch we made some free throws (in both games). Going into the tournament, we were okay. We left playing great, but there are still some things we need to improve on.”
“Since the exhibition season, we’ve done some things (in practice) to make free throws more important. Patrick Beverley and Sonny Weems have been shooting very well, but against Southern Illinois, Steven Hill stepped to the line and buried two for us. Free throws can be contagious and right now they are contagious in a good way.”
“He has a pure jump shot. He’s an emotional guy and he’s a very good defensive player. I like the way he is playing right now.”
“It’s just a feel for who is playing well. At some point, Steven Hill and Darian Townes will play together. I don’t have a set rotation. Things could change. Don’t be surprised if we get Cyrus McGowan or Michael Washington in. We have to keep them ready. I don’t see any game where we don’t play at least nine players.”
“There are turnovers and there are bad turnovers. Bad turnovers are when you don’t get a chance to play defense and they lead to layups. We have to stay away from those, which means challenging the guys. Most of our turnovers aren’t necessarily passing. Some are shuffling feet or fumbling the ball. Against West Virginia, I didn’t think our turnovers were due to their pressure. I think they were due to mistakes on our part.
“We have to have guys find open areas and attack them. Southeast Missouri is not at the same level as Missouri, but I think they are similar. We want to be aggressive and attack, and be smart enough to get the ball inside when we don’t have a break.”
“We have tough guys that play with a lot of heart and intensity. There will be pressure from Arkansas, too. There’s a building respect factor for our defense going on. We’ve talked about that since Day one. Defense needs to be our identity, and it needs to be consistent at home, at neutral sites and on the road.”