Gradually Arkansas's experience took over. For every Georgetown mistake or weakness, the Hogs found a way to exploit it. Each time Iverson penetrated, Arkansas took the ball back the other way in a hurry. "He does get to the basket," McDaniel said of Iverson, "but he doesn't always get back."
Every time Georgetown trapped, Arkansas patiently found a seam, usually with Williamson in it. The big man redeemed himself with a nearly mistake-free 22-point, 16-rebound effort. The Hogs' other forward, 6'6" junior Scotty Thurman, as efficient a player as there is in the college game, posted up the Hoyas time and again and finished with 16 points.
The most telling snapshot of the game, one that suggests the relative status of the two teams, occurred on an inbounds play with about 10 minutes left and the Hogs ahead by 20 points. Iverson found himself chest-to-chest with junior forward Reggie Garrett, another in a long line of lean, mean Arkansas defensive machines. The 6'5" Garrett put his body on Iverson and, like a boxer at the prefight instructions, stared down into Iverson's eyes, daring a challenge. The Hoya freshman never met his gaze. The day will come when he will stare right back.
Then again, the Hogs are good enough to stare anyone down. Yes, the loss to UMass was bothersome, particularly because it was so decisive, but gone are the days when powerhouse teams can cha-cha-cha through November and December. One could, in fact, advance the theory that some coaches don't mind losing a couple of tough early nonconference games because they help guard against peaking too soon. By Sunday night that was the spin Richardson was putting on the Hogs' eventful weekend.
"What we've got to do with the UMass game is paint a picture and keep it in our heads," he said. "Somewhere near the end of the season, I might be saying, 'If it weren't for UMass, we might not be where we are today.' "
And clearly, where the Hogs expect to be is at the top.