FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – After breaking for semester exams, the Arkansas basketball team returns to action on Thursday when the Razorbacks play host to Missouri State at 7:05 p.m. in a game televised by ARSN. The Bears are 6-0 following Saturday’s 85-71 victory over Detroit. The Razorbacks are 6-2. Following is a partial transcript of head coach Stan Heath’s press conference.
“We’re finishing up exams. About two-thirds of the team is complete, but four or five still have either an exam left or a paper to turn in.
“We had a full practice on Sunday. It was a very intense, hard practice. We got a lot done.
“The only guy we have who is still banged up is Darian Townes. His knee is sore (sprain suffered against Texas State on Dec. 6). He will have some swelling and soreness throughout the year. That is something he will just have to deal with.
“As for this game, the three-point shot is the great equalizer in college basketball. In our last two games, I thought that was a weakness for the teams we were playing. Part of me thinks we have to clean up some things in that area and part of me thinks those teams just got hot.
“Missouri State has four guys on the floor at all times who can shoot it. They are one of the best teams in the country at shooting the three. They can score in a lot of different ways – off threes, in transition or by spreading you out.
“We knew going into the season we were playing a top-notch team. I really believe they are an NCAA Tournament team. The league they are in (Missouri Valley Conference) is underrated. Their teams are under the radar screen.
“This is a quality opponent. If you don’t believe me, look at the Sagarin ratings. They are No. 6 in the country.
“It will be a big challenge. We have to defend the three, get back in transition and at the same time put up (offensive) numbers as well.”
“We have the ability to guard four perimeter shooters. The challenge is for Charles Thomas and Vincent Hunter to match up with those shooters. We’re athletic enough and quick enough. We have to react and be in the right spots. When the ball changes from offense to defense, we have to be ready. The strength of their team is on the perimeter. We will probably leave Steven Hill alone
inside to handle their big guys. Most of their inside scoring comes from driving to the basket. It’s more of our perimeter defense being challenged than our inside defense. We have to be on our guard and be in spots defensively, pressuring the ball, giving help and being on their shooters. They typically get up on you and try to create a fast tempo.”
“We went through all of the practice on Sunday. I took him out right at the end. He’s not in the rhythm he was in last year. He has to get used to it (knee). He’s not the kind of guy who will whine. When we got the MRI back and he knew everything was okay, it helped him psychologically. He was on his way to a very good game (against Texas State) before he got hurt.”
“This is probably the healthiest we’ve been the whole season. We’ve had injuries to Eric Ferguson (broken nose), Darian Townes (knee), Charles Thomas (ankle) and Vincent Hunter (knee). This is the first time Vince has had a lot of practice. He’s moving around very well. He will be very valuable in this game. With his size, he can move around, he’s a good defensive matchup and he’s an offensive presence.”
MSU’s Blake Ahearn (averaging 21.1 ppg):
“They have a lot of tough matchups. For Ahearn, Dontell Jefferson is an option, Jonathon Modica is an option and so is Eric Ferguson when he comes off the bench.
“Ahearn is a gifted scorer. I don’t think anybody can stop him. We just want to slow him down.”
“Where he has improved is if he has a task in front of him, if you can tell him ‘this is your guy,’ he’s been pretty good at that. Even in practice, I can see Jonathon focusing on the things he needs to do to defend. The challenge is for our team to defend their team, not for one player to stop one of their players.”