Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A double graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Biletnikoff Award.
Meet the SEC's newest rivals
Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson is confident his team's nonconference schedule will be difficult enough, but hopes his team will have a few more wins this season than it did last. (AP Photo/Gareth Patterson)
FAYETTEVILLE What was billed as the battle of Mike Anderson served as a precursor to what should become one of the best rivalries in the SEC.
With pockets of black and gold splashed all across Bud Walton Arena, Mizzou fans made their presence felt on this side of the Ozarks. They were especially vocal early as the Tigers built a 9-0 lead. Chants of "M-I-Z-Z-O-U" were audible enough to make it feel, if only briefly, Fayetteville was a neutral meeting place.
Arkansas eventually gave its faithful plenty to cheer for to drown out the opposition. The Razorbacks used a 10-2 run just before halftime to make a game of it, led by as many as eight in the second half and provided one of the most exciting finishes in years.
It was close. It was chippy. It was fun.
The programs aren't exactly new to one another on the court. In fact, Saturday's game was the 38th meeting between the schools, with the Razorbacks holding a two-game advantage in the series.
It wasn't the first exciting meeting between them here either. Arkansas routed the ranked Tigers by 52 in its second game in the building, and beat Anderson - the longtime Razorbacks assistant - in his first game back six years ago.
But they hadn't met since then and never had one of their games carried conference implications.
Anderson aside, the atmosphere the 19,004 in attendance generated Saturday indicated Arkansas and Missouri need to be playing in every sport, every year. The Tigers present the regional rivals the Razorbacks have lacked their first two decades in the SEC.
Rivals care and there was a lot of want-to left on the floor Saturday. It's probably safe to assume the schools' other teams will quickly follow the hoops lead.
Pitting the teams against one another in football will be the true test. Arkansas and Missouri were supposed to become permanent cross-divisional rivals on the gridiron beginning later this year, but that series was tabled until at least 2014 as the league struggles to adjust scheduling for 14 teams.
Much like Arkansas in the '90s, Missouri alienated its longtime rivals for the greener pastures of the SEC. As LSU continues to push for an end-of-year matchup with Texas A&M and other conference schools have built-in rivals, an annual border finale between these teams will eventually evolve.
For now, we're at left with a revived, budding rivalry on the hardwood twice a year and the promise of many more memorable games like Saturday's to come.
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