FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Arkansas travels to Atlanta on Tuesday in preparation for Thursday’s first-round SEC Tournament contest against South Carolina. The game is being televised by Lincoln Financial at 2:15 (central). The Razorbacks are the No. 3 seed from the Western Division after finishing the regular season 18-12 overall and 7-9 in the league. USC is 14-15. Following is a partial transcript of head coach Stan Heath’s press conference.
“We’re going to the tournament with some momentum and we need to continue to work and get better. I think our team has learned everybody is good in this league.
“At South Carolina, we didn’t play particularly well. Tre’ Kelley dictated the tempo and played great. We have to do a good job guarding him. Brandon Wallace hurt us. I think he had 10 offensive rebounds.
“I’m proud that our team finished as the No. 1 defensive team in the league (defensive field goal percentage in SEC play, .411). That shows that we give effort, we’re balanced, we fight and we do things well. We realize we have to take that defense with us (to Atlanta).
“Possessions will shrink. Tre’ Kelley does a good job getting the clock down to the last 10 seconds.
“Going in, I know South Carolina will have our players’ attention without the coaches saying a word because they beat us. I’m not worried about that. I’m worried about us executing and finding our players on defense. Kelley is a lot healthier now. We’ll have to guard him with everybody. Seriously, that will be a committee defense.”
“I thought that was our best basketball. The last 10 minutes against Mississippi State (in the previous game) and all of the last game against Vanderbilt have been our best.”
“Early in the season, I don’t think we had any chemistry problems. As you go through the season, you face adversity. I never thought we had poor chemistry, it’s just a process. Anytime you have three guys (in the lineup) who have never played together, there will be bumps along the way.”
Freshman Michael Washington:
“You can point your finger at one thing to tell you why we’re playing well right now – look at our freshmen. They give us an extra dimension. Michael Washington, since January, has made us lift our eyes up and say ‘Wow, this kid has a chance to be very, very good.’ It was good to see him break out. He’s a very talented young man. He’s not going to make a living for us shooting threes, but he can do that. He is a very good passer and an aggressive rebounder. I expect him to give us a lift in the SEC Tournament.
“Our freshmen, and the whole team, are growing up right before our eyes. You would like for it to happen on Day 1, but it takes a while.”
Gary Ervin’s scoring:
“He’s had more patience in our games lately. He’s scoring points in transition and as we move through the offense. We were really patient offensively (at Vanderbilt). Because of that, shots have come to him. Whether that’s been because of double-down situations or passes made, he’s been the beneficiary.”
“The league is stronger because there is strength at the bottom. South Carolina has two wins over the top seeds from the West and LSU has a win over the overall No. 1 seed. I feel like the teams that have done the best are the experienced teams – Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Florida. They have everybody back.”
NCAA Tournament possibilities:
“On a teleconference, Gary Walters (of the NCAA) said conference tournaments are going to dictate a lot on who gets into the field of 65. Neutral-site games will mean a lot.”
Arkansas’ team MVP:
“Everybody has been our MVP. We have so many guys who do different things. Patrick Beverley is a spark. Steven Hill has been valuable with his defense, clogging the paint. I don’t think we’re the most talented team in the league. We may not even be in the top four or five, but collectively, we can be as good as anybody.”