USC faces a pack of agitated ‘Hogs

first_img“Arkansas is one of those teams I took strong exception to,” his colleague, Fran Frischilla, added. Gary Walters, chairman of the NCAA selection committee, was forced to defend the Razorbacks’ inclusion. So the good news for USC is the team it faces Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament was perhaps the final at-large team chosen. On the other hand, Arkansas is a team hungry to prove it belongs. “I think they’re tired of hearing from Syracuse, Kansas State and Drexel that they should be in and Arkansas shouldn’t be,” USC coach Tim Floyd said. “They’re going to come to play because of that.” The Razorbacks (21-13, 7-9) were the only team to make the tournament with a losing record in conference play. However, Arkansas had a better RPI than USC (No. 35 to No. 40 for the Trojans). The Razorbacks had four victories over top-25 teams, including an 88-61 pounding of then-No. 8 Alabama on Jan. 6. Arkansas got in by winning five of its final six games, advancing to the SEC Tournament final before falling to No. 6 Florida. “We do have a little chip on our shoulder,” Arkansas coach Stan Heath said. “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.” The Razorbacks remind USC of a Pacific-10 Conference team it faced three times this season. “They remind me a lot of Stanford,” Floyd said. “They have the ability to score. They make it difficult for you to get second-chance points off offensive rebounds because they are a great defensive rebounding team. It’s difficult to keep them off the offensive glass. They are tremendous in that area.” Like the Cardinal, Arkansas has a 7-foot shot-blocker patrolling the middle in junior Steven Hill. Hill averages 2.9 blocks per game but isn’t much of an offensive threat, averaging 6.2points. The Razorbacks have an abundance of size in addition to Hill. Three 6-10 players split time in Darian Townes, Michael Washington and Vincent Hunter. Charles Thomas, who is 6-8, is recovering from a sprained ankle but the Trojans have to expect he will play. “They usually have two big guys in there at all times and they’re a good defensive rebounding team, so we’ll have to find a way to combat that,” USC forward Keith Wilkinson said. USC lost to Stanford 65-50 in Palo Alto, a game in which the Trojans had 19 shots blocked against the Cardinal’s 7-foot Lopez twins. However, the Trojans made adjustments to deal with the size difference and beat Stanford 69-65 at Galen Center and 83-79 in overtime at the Pac-10 Tournament. “Playing against the Lopez twins, who are really good shot-blockers, now we know how to play against guys like that,” USC guard Gabe Pruitt said. “That should help us out.” Arkansas gets better guard play than Stanford. Freshman Patrick Beverly and junior Gary Ervin are both small, quick guards. Beverly leads the team with 13.8 points per game, and Wilkinson compares him to Aaron Brooks, the Pac-10’s leading scorer at Oregon. Sonny Weems, a junior-college transfer who is averaging 11.7 points in his first year at Arkansas, was recruited to USC and offered a scholarship by Floyd. Floyd said he had two coaches and two NBA scouts tell him that Arkansas is the second-most talented team in the SEC behind Florida. “I had one NBA scout tell us they’re as talented as Kansas,” Floyd said. “They have enough talent to make a long run in this tournament.” Floyd said that Arkansas’ inconsistency can be explained by youth, and that the improvement of first-year players such as Beverly, Weems and Washington is what led the Razorbacks to finish the season strong. “They have really been the X-factor in our games,” Heath said of his freshmen. “Their jump up a notch has helped our team.” [email protected] (818) 713-3607160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Arkansas players were on a plane on the way back from the Southeastern Conference Tournament in Atlanta on Sunday when the pilot told them they had made the NCAA Tournament. A hog call broke out in the sky. By the time the players landed, the celebration was tempered when they saw what the rest of the world thought about their selection. “An outrage,” ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale called it. last_img

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