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January 6, 2007

Tide falls flat in SEC opener

FAYETTEVILLE (AP) - Gary Ervin stood near the Arkansas bench, holding up the No. 1 sign with his left hand. Teammate Charles Thomas strutted off the court behind him.

The Razorbacks led eighth-ranked Alabama by 34 points late in the second half, and they were loving every minute of it.

"We really enjoyed it," Thomas said. "It was great. We did what we were supposed to do today. We came out and we ran."

Ervin had 18 points and 11 assists, and Thomas added 12 points and 11 rebounds to lead Arkansas to an 88-61 rout of the Crimson Tide on Saturday. The Razorbacks scored the game's first 14 points and led by as many as 36 in the second half.

Patrick Beverley and Sonny Weems both scored 18 points for Arkansas.

"Words can't describe how we played today," Beverley said. "We were out to show we are an elite team."

The Razorbacks (12-3, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) finished with 10 blocked shots, including three by 7-footer Steven Hill in the early going that set the tone. The Crimson Tide (13-2, 0-1) lost its SEC opener for the fourth straight season. Alabama appeared rattled after having so many shots blocked early, and the Razorbacks took advantage.

"I thought we got tentative, very tentative," Alabama coach Mark Gottfried said. "Instead of continuing to take the fight to them, I thought we backed off a little bit."

The crowd at Bud Walton Arena was in a frenzy for much of the first half as Arkansas ran the Crimson Tide ragged, bringing back memories of Nolan Richardson's coaching days with the Hogs. Alabama is expected to compete with LSU for the top spot in the SEC West, but the Crimson Tide was overwhelmed from the start by an Arkansas team that had to replace top scorers Ronnie Brewer and Jonathon Modica from last season.

Weems, a junior college transfer, gave the Razorbacks a 23-6 lead with a two-handed dunk after Ervin dropped a pretty no-look pass to him in transition. Vincent Hunter's 3-pointer made it 26-6.

Beverley, a freshman, helped Arkansas finish the first half strong with a 3-pointer, a one-handed dunk and a steal that led to Ervin's layup that made it 44-19 with 1:07 to play. The Razorbacks led 44-20 at halftime.

"The first eight minutes of the first half and the last two minutes of the first half we were pathetic," Gottfried said. "We were absolutely pathetic."

Alabama made eight field goals in the first half and had nine shots blocked. Hill, third on Arkansas' career list in blocks, finished with four. Darian Townes, fifth on that list, had four of his own.

Ervin, another Arkansas transfer, thoroughly outplayed Alabama point guard Ronald Steele, who has battled injuries this season.

"He was big-time," Razorbacks coach Stan Heath said of Ervin, who played at Mississippi State before coming to Arkansas.

Ervin's fast-break layup made it 66-37 with 12:33 to play in the second half, prompting another Alabama timeout and another thunderous "Pig Sooie" call from the home crowd.

Ervin later threw an alley-oop pass to Weems for a dunk that made it 84-50.

Townes scored eight points after playing only three minutes against Tulsa on Tuesday. Townes was sent to the locker room early in that game by Heath after losing his temper.

Alabama's Alonzo Gee had 14 points and 10 rebounds. The Crimson Tide's Richard Hendrix was held to seven points, ending a streak of four straight double-doubles.

Steele had eight points, four assists and four turnovers.

"This loss is frustrating to all of us, especially me because I'm point guard and leader of my team," Steele said. "Ervin did great and did exactly what he was supposed to do. Being a competitor you never give up, but we just couldn't match their intensity and they were a step faster than us."


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