Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a past president and member of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
LIKE IT IS:
Players, fans pump life back into Walton
LITTLE ROCK It could have been almost any basketball Saturday afternoon in the 1990s.
Bud Walton was rocking, the Arkansas Razorbacks were rolling.
It was Razorbacks basketball before Stan Heath and John Pelphrey.
It was a rebirth of Hawgball — that perspired-inspired pressure defense that turns strong legs into jelly pegs and makes shot decisions come from the belly instead of the brain.
Michigan could have watched a decade’s worth of game tapes and still not had a clue what it was about to endure: Hawgball feeding off a picc line that ran directly into the hearts of the Hogs faithful who remembered how and when to rally their team. And when the Wolverines’ final three-point attempt missed the Razorbacks had notched a quality victory, 66-64.
It was the first sellout crowd since March 1, 2009, when the 1994 national championship team was honored. Athletic Director Jeff Long, who had the idea of bringing back Nolan Richardson and his troops, knew what the fans expected.
What they wanted and needed.
It wasn’t just a style, system or set of players.
It was a coach and team whose every fiber understood the pride and passion of wearing the Razorbacks uniform. Something the fans totally respect.
A desire that started with Eddie Sutton in the 1970s and swelled under Richardson that could not, would not be satisfied with words or explanations.
What the fan base expected, wanted and needed was simple: discipline, desire and all-out effort.
Like taking charges and diving on the floor for loose balls, two things that aren’t just taught but instilled by example.
Sutton and Richardson, right or wrong, always had intense passion.
So finally, nearly 10 years after being dismissed when he asked to be paid off, Richardson was in the house watching the young man he mentored.
Mike Anderson didn’t disappoint. His charges, young in age, came out firing jabs, hard rights and uppercuts as they went after the Wolverines as if it were the NCAA championship game.
Michigan wasn’t ready for those first 10 minutes when the game was won.
It couldn’t be. It has been more than a decade since so many fans showed up at Walton Arena with one goal, to be the sixth man.
As the crowd roared, the Razorbacks fought to a 30-10 lead, making their first 11 field goals. That was a pace no team can maintain for 40 minutes, but that wasn’t what would win this game.
In those opening 10 minutes the Hogs controlled the tempo and dominated the game. When Michigan slowed it down and closed within 46-33 at the half, it wasn’t really the Razorbacks defense.
What allowed Michigan to get within a field goal at the end was rebounding. The Wolverines got far too many second-chance points.
A flagrant, almost dirty, foul by Michigan’s Zack Novak on BJ Young, who has become the go-to guy, fired up the crowd and the Razorbacks moved back in front 61-48.
Michigan nailed some big threes, the Hogs missed some key free throws and with 21.2 seconds to play, Ky Madden made the play of the game.
He refused to give up on a missed free throw and stole the rebound between two Michigan players.
It resulted in another missed free throw, but it helped get enough time off the clock that Michigan had one shot left and every dribble was contested, forcing a long three by Trey Burke that was just off the mark.
The signs of a rebirth of Hawgball were everywhere.
Sports, Pages 23 on 01/22/2012