FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Arkansas travels to Spokane, Wash., on Wednesday for Friday’s first-round NCAA Tournament contest against fifth-seeded Southern California (23-11). The Razorbacks, 21-13 and seeded 12th, have earned their 28th bid to the NCAA Tournament and have recorded their 27th 20-win season. Arkansas’ game is scheduled to begin 30 minutes following the Texas-New Mexico State contest, which tips at 6:25 (central). Following is a partial transcript of head coach Stan Heath’s press conference.
“We are pumped, but we are not satisfied. We’ve had a great run down the stretch. We didn’t do anything (Monday) and we’ll go light today. I’m really proud of our team. We lost so much from last year. We lost Ronnie Brewer, Jonathon Modica, Eric Ferguson and Dontell Jefferson off our perimeter. Your backcourt dictates so many things like the shots you get. To see this team come together was an inspiration.
“I’ve always felt as a coach that if you could play your best basketball at the end of the season, you were barking up the right tree. For us to do that and be an NCAA Tournament team, we had to grow and things came together for us.
“USC is good. They spread you out and shoot the three well. (Nick) Young is a great scorer. (Lodrick) Stewart is a wildcard and can get it going. Our size should be an advantage for us and their guards should be an advantage for them.”
Suggestions that Arkansas was the last team in:
“We’ll just move on and not worry about all those comments. We’re in. That’s all that matters.”
Being the No. 12 seed:
“I didn’t feel like we were favored last year (as a No. 8 against a No. 9). Those teams (8 & 9) are good so they let them duke it out. We are clearly the underdog (this year) and we do have a little chip on our shoulder. We’ll use that to our advantage. I haven’t seen any of the kids whining or crying. We’re focused on USC. We can’t get caught up in that.”
Charles Thomas (played just the first minute against Florida before leaving with a left ankle injury):
“Charles is day-to-day. We need him to be available. He helps us in these small matchup type of games, but he needs to make some recovery. We need to see him on the floor by Thursday.”
“He just wants to win. He doesn’t care how many points he scores. To see him vocally step up and challenge his teammates is good and shows that he doesn’t want to lose.”
“He has been big the last two weeks. He’s playing very well. You can see how much talent he has, and he’ll get better. With Charles out, he will get extended reps in practice. His defense is an area we need to work on. We have to help him be effective on the defensive end, but I have not coached a guy with his skill set and athletic ability.”
“There’s not a lot we can do about it. We get a chance to leave a day early where as on a normal trip, you leave the day before the game. We’ll leave Wednesday and play on Friday, so we have 48 hours to get ready.”
“Outside of the top 1, 2, 3 and maybe 4 seeds, I think the balance in college basketball is at an all-time high. You just don’t know until you play.”
“We have great size. When our big guys are effective and get things done, we’re pretty good.”
NCAA Tournament experience:
“We have a few guys that got a sniff last year. I think this is the first time for USC’s players, so we have a little edge, maybe. Since both teams made it to the conference tournament finals, they both have post-season experience.”
“Point guard play is huge, and his play down the stretch is one reason things were positive for us over the last two weeks. He’s helped us with his scoring, decision-making and his leadership.”
“They have really been the X-factor in our games. It’s a team thing, but their jump a notch has helped our team. Patrick has been there all year, but Stefan and Michael have stepped up.”
“He’s the ‘Erasure back.’ Isn’t that what the call him? Teams like to spread us out, but we have that one guy who stays in the middle and then they have to face him.”