Fortson expected to return for LSU
Almost completely out of the disciplinary doghouse, Arkansas freshman point guard Courtney Fortson practiced Monday and should start against SEC West leader LSU tonight (Wednesday) at Walton Arena.
“He does the correct things,” Arkansas coach John Pelphrey said before Monday’s practice, “he will play Wednesday. I anticipate him being back in the starting lineup.”
Pelphrey has not specifically cited what triggered Fortson’s disciplinary suspension, invoked after the Razorbacks lost 75-62 last Wednesday to Auburn at Auburn, Ala.
Sources indicate it was a postgame frustration outburst as the Hogs wallow last in the West, compounded by him getting a technical foul added upon fouling out.
Pelphrey suspended Fortson from playing in last Saturday’s CBS-televised 79-63 loss to Kentucky at Walton and the Thursday and Friday practices preceding it.
The Razorbacks were off Sunday. They began practicing Monday for Wednesday’s 7 p.m. non-televised game against nationally No. 23 LSU.
LSU’s Tigers, 21-4, 9-1 and leading the West by three games over Mississippi State, lead East tri-leaders Kentucky, South Carolina and Tennessee, all 7-3, by two games for the SEC Overall championship with six to play.
Fortson was not made available to media Monday, but Pelphrey and starting guards Stefan Welsh and Rotnei Clarke all talked about what Fortson’s return means to the struggling Hogs, 1-9 in the SEC West and 13-10 overall after a 12-1 nonconference start.
Junior off guard Welsh can go back to the wing in Arkansas’ three-guard setup instead of playing the point like he had to against Kentucky.
“It doesn’t matter where I play,” Welsh said. “I just want to win.”
The chances of winning, Welsh knows, increase with Fortson on the point and Welsh on the wing.
“He makes it so much easier for everybody,” Welsh said. “He brings a mental toughness mindset that everybody feeds off. He’s a smart point guard that knows how to get everybody shots.”
Freshman shooting guard Clarke said Fortson’s return is big for the team and big for his own game.
“It’s big for me,” Clarke said, “because it takes the attention off me. That last game I missed him … but he’s going to come back and he’ll work hard and we’ll get things turned around.”
Both Welsh and Clarke said Fortson has responded well.
Though only 5-11, Fortson brings an intangible toughness on both ends of the court. Tangibly, he’s first on the team in assists, 6.5 average; steals, 28; and minutes played, 712 even missing a game; and second on the team in scoring, 14.6 rebounding, 5.3.
“It means,” Pelphrey said, “the guy who is first or second on the team in every category will be back. The better he is, the better he makes his teammates, which makes our team better.”
Fortson’s drive to win has never been a problem, but apparently sometimes properly harnessing that drive requires a tight rein.
“I fully anticipate him having a phenomenal attitude,” Pelphrey said. “Courtney’s attitude has been great 90 percent of the time. And I can say the same thing about all of them. But certainly to whom much is being given, much is expected, too.”
While Fortson is welcomed back, LSU has lost guard Bo Spencer indefinitely. Spencer missed last Saturday’s 73-66 victory over Ole Miss and will miss this game, too, a LSU spokesman said Monday, because of the ankle he sprained in last Wednesday’s overtime victory at Mississippi State.
When LSU beat Arkansas 79-69 January 31 in Baton Rouge, Spencer scored 21 points, including 5 of 6 threes.
The Tigers aren’t deep in numbers, but do have an experienced senior former regular starter Terry Martin to take Spencer’s place.
Subbing for Spencer against Ole Miss, Martin scored 11 points with 3 shot blocks, 3 rebounds an assist and no turnovers in 25 minutes.
Hogs Causing Honors
Arkansas furnished two SEC Players of the Week this week.
Unfortunately, neither were Razorbacks.
Kentucky’s Jodie Meeks, setting a Walton Arena scoring record 45 points on Arkansas after his game-winning trey over Florida, was named SEC Player of the Week. Auburn freshman Frankie Sullivan, effective off the bench last week in wins over Arkansas and Mississippi State, was named SEC Freshman of the Week.
During the Hogs’ 12-1 nonconference run, Arkansas junior forward Michael Washington twice was named SEC Player of the Week, and Fortson one time each was SEC Player of the Week and SEC Freshman of the Week.