CONWAY — John Brady has seen this style before.
The fifth-year Arkansas State basketball coach remembers his days in the Southeastern Conference well. Memories of his introduction to the league could play a role for the Red Wolves when they visit Central Arkansas this evening.
Tipoff is 7 p.m. at the Farris Center and the game will be broadcast on KFIN (FM-107.9).
Brady was just beginning his tenure at his former school, LSU, when he crossed paths with coach Nolan Richardson and the University of Arkansas in 1997. Richardson’s Razorbacks ran their famed 40 Minutes of Hell attack, pressing and trapping all over the floor to try and create turnovers and fastbreak points.
"My first game to coach in the SEC was at Bud Walton Arena when Nolan was there," Brady recalled. "We were on the free-throw line with eight seconds to go, shooting two free throws to win the game, and missed them both and got beat."
Over the years, Brady was one of only a handful of coaches who figured out how to unravel Richardson’s system. After losing the first four meetings with the UA, Brady’s team won four of the next six matchups, establishing itself as the premier team in the league at the time.
Arkansas State (2-1) will face a similar attack from UCA this evening.
The Bears (1-1) are coached by former Arkansas All-American Corliss Williamson, who led the Razorbacks to the 1994 national championship. Just like the style Williamson played at the UA, the Bears are finely tuned to play fullcourt for 40 minutes at an exhausting pace.
Brady has seen this style before.
"That’s what he was taught when he played, so that’s what he knows," Brady said of Williamson. "Their team is a pressing team that wants to create tempo and create turnovers by trapping arbitrarily all over the floor. If you can recognize that and make the appropriate pass, then you’ve got some opportunities to score on the other end."
So Arkansas State has spent the better part of the past four days working on breaking the press, stressing clean passes, and getting to the basket when the opportunity presents itself.
The key tonight will be taking care of the basketball and not letting UCA dictate defensively.
"What they would like for you to do is let your turnovers lead to easy baskets, or either you rush your offense or you rush the tempo and you start taking shots that you don’t normally take," Brady said. "If they can do that, then they are going to cause us some problems."
Arkansas State had struggled with turnovers in two exhibitions and its first two games, averaging 17.3 to begin the season. But the Red Wolves are coming off their best effort of the season in regard to turnovers. ASU committed just 12 in a three-overtime victory over Tennessee-Martin last Friday night.
"They need points out of their defense, out of your mistakes offensively in not making the right decisions or recognition out of the trap," Brady said. "They need 16 to 20 points off their opponent’s turnovers. If we can do that, and not turn it over and make them get those points somewhere else, it will certainly be an advantage."
Both teams have been high-scoring in the first two weeks of the season.
Arkansas State is averaging 71.3 points a game while Central Arkansas is scoring 86 points per game. The Bears suffered a 79-64 loss at Arizona State to open the season, then drilled Hendrix College 108-65 last week.
UCA has six players averaging in double figures. Senior guard Robert Crawford leads the Bears with 14 points a game while junior forward Jordan Harks averages 13 points and 6.5 rebounds.
Brady believes this is a deeper and more talented UCA team than the one Arkansas State beat 71-64 at the Convocation Center last season.
"They’re a better team this year than they were a year ago and they’ll be really good at their place," Brady said. "We need to be a little bit tougher with the ball and execute a little better. We need to defend and rebound more consistently. Our biggest thing right now is we need to be a little tougher all the way around defensively."
Arkansas State has four players scoring in double figures and is led by junior Edward Townsel with 15.7 points a game off the bench. Senior Brandon Peterson is averaging a double-double of 11 points and 10 boards.
ASU had not played Central Arkansas in 60 years before last year’s meeting. The Red Wolves lead the overall series 19-18.
Brady said the two schools have agreed to continue the series beyond this season. They have already signed a contract for another home-and-home series that will begin next season at Arkansas State.
"I want to create rivalries somewhere and with UCA maybe it will catch on," Brady said. "Arkansas-Little Rock is a good rivalry for us and UCA can be, too. Anything we can do to create some interest by playing whoever it may be, I think that’s good for basketball and good for the state."