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Solid bench play key to hogs' success.

GARY ERVIN KNOWS BETTER than to get comfortable sitting on the Arkansas bench. The senior point guard might begin Razorback basketball games there, but Ervin and at least two of his teammates aren't staying put for long.

Solid bench play has been key to Arkansas' good fortunes in the nonconference season, and Ervin is the most experienced among a group of reserves making key contributions for the Razorbacks. It's something the team needs heading into January and the Southeastern Conference portion of the schedule.

A one-time starter, Ervin seems to have embraced his situation. He's charged with bringing energy and statistical production off the bench along with senior forward Darian Townes and sophomore forward Michael Washington. Ervin and Townes both have a wealth of starting experience but are just fine with providing help when needed.

"We make jokes about it," Ervin said. "We clown about it in a positive way. We're veterans, we've started in the SEC. We feel like we've got six or seven starters. That's a big plus for us."

Washington, Ervin and Townes were combining for 18.8 points and 14.0 rebounds primarily as reserves in a 7-1 Arkansas start. The three were playing more off the bench than the players they routinely substitute for and bringing better defense and rebounding to boot.

Prior to a mid-December break for finals, coach John Pelphrey had no plans of changing how he used the trio. Why would he?

Arkansas exhibited a tendency to start slow and the bench routinely jump-started things. Game-changing runs in victories against Oral Roberts and Missouri State began with the bench, usually a highlight reel-worthy play by Washington or Townes.

"I think we want to have strength in numbers and I don't want to play five or six," Pelphrey said. "We need them all. I like having offense off the bench.... Those guys are doing a really good job for us."

Depth is a key in Pelphrey's up-tempo system, and the first-year coach seems to have found a way to maximize his options. While guard Stefan Welsh, forward Charles Thomas and center Steven Hill were starting, they were playing an average of six fewer minutes than Ervin, Washington and Townes.

With the victories piling up, dwindling minutes are of no concern to the starters.

"We need those guys," Hill said. "I don't think you can worry too much about it when you're winning. It's great to see a guy like Darian Townes going out there and making a big difference."

Townes, whose ample talent and volatile personality would make him seem like a bad choice to bring off the bench, has no problem with not starting. He's bought into Pelphrey's idea that the finish is much more important than the start.

The 6-10, 243-pound forward is just fine with his new role, and Townes bristles at the suggestion he shouldn't be OK with it.

"My role is to score points, get rebounds and play defense. I don't see it as coming off the bench or starting," Townes said. "What I have to do is play hard whenever I'm in the game. That's what my role is."

The fact that Townes ranks second on the team in points and rebounding is a pretty good indicator he's adjusted.

Washington, a 6-10, 224-pound sophomore, also has flourished. He has shown real flashes of talent and with 12 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks was essential to a 70-51 victory against Missouri State on Dec. 3.

Asked about his contributions following that game, Washington quickly pointed out he's not alone. He didn't want sole credit for making a difference, preferring to spread the praise to all the players who sat and watched the start of the game before going in and taking it over at the end.

"We bring a lot of energy," Washington said. "We like coming in and giving them that spark. We want to keep giving that to the team. It's going to make us tough to beat."

FROM THE BENCH

Arkansas reserves played a big role in the Razorbacks reeling off five consecutive victories prior to a break for finals. Point guard Gary Ervin, forward/center Darian Townes and forward/center Michael Washington all have starting experience, but they have been most productive this year from the bench. Here's a look at each player and his best game in a non-start:

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

GARY ERVIN POS. Point Guard

CLASS Senior

POINTS 9.9

ASSISTS 3.1

TOP GAME Ervin led at[ scorers with 16 points in a Dec. 1 victory against Oral Roberts. He added three assists and two rebounds in the Razorbacks' 62-51 victory.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

DARIAN TOWNES POS. Forward/Center

CLASS Senior

POINTS 11.9

REBOUNDS 6.0

BLOCKS 2.1

TOP GAME Townes has plenty to choose from, but his 18-point, seven-rebound effort against Delaware State was his most complete of the season. Arkansas won that game 89-67 on the strength of its inside game, anchored by Townes.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

MICHAEL WASHINGTON POS. Forward/Center

CLASS Sophomore

POINTS 7.0

REBOUNDS 5.5

TOP GAME Washington has shown flashes of brilliance since his freshman season, but consistency has often eluded him. That changed in a 70-51 victory against Missouri State when Washington's 12 points and t2 rebounds highlighted the night.
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Title Annotation:BASKETBALL: University of Arkansas
Author:Bahn, Chris
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Dec 24, 2007
Words:879
Previous Article:Travelin' down the SEC highway: adventure at Arkansas' four games on the road.
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