Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll.
Big-game feel tough to miss
Missouri's Phil Pressey (1) loses the ball as he is guarded by Arkansas captain Kikko Haydar, right, during the second half an NCAA college basketball game in Fayetteville, Ark., Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013. Arkansas defeated Missouri 73-71. (AP Photo/Gareth Patterson)
FAYETTEVILLE Welcome to Arkansas vs. Missouri basketball, where loose balls look like rugby scrums and the temperature is hot on the floor and off.
The Razorbacks and Tigers have been conference rivals for all of one game, but the animosity between the programs already seemed thick following Arkansas’ 73-71 victory Saturday at Walton Arena.
Missouri Coach Frank Haith appeared incensed during his post game appearance and gave clipped answers like “great environment” after the Hogs rallied from four points behind in the final 30 seconds to pull out a game that looked lost. An unidentified member of Missouri’s traveling party had his own choice blue words to express his unhappiness with the wild finish.
A sellout crowd of 19,004, dotted by a few thousand black-and-gold clad Missouri fans, was rocking from the outset, with the Tigers getting loud during their team’s 9-0 start and Arkansas fans thundering their approval during the Razorbacks’ rally.
Arkansas’ student section razzed Missouri players with chants of “Norfolk State!” during pregame warmups, a reference to the underdog team that upset the No. 2 seed Tigers in last year’s NCAA Tournament, and reprised the shout with Phil Pressey at the free-throw line during the game.
Coach Mike Anderson, who said his Razorbacks were “very, very fortunate” to win, downplayed the emotional victory over the team he coached for five seasons, but his players understood its impact.
“It was real big for us,” said Arkansas guard BJ Young, a St. Louis native. “I know Coach Anderson really wanted it a lot, too, but these other guys were just as amped up as we were to win.”
Said Haith: “It was a high-level game. I’m proud of our guys, how hard they fought under the circumstances.”
The intensity seeped into the action at several points. Arkansas’ Michael Qualls and Missouri’s Laurence Bowers, who had an off night with 1-of-10 shooting, got tangled underneath the Missouri basketand were called for double fouls with 9:44 remaining after Arkansas had built a 54-48 lead.
The Tigers committed four charging fouls - two taken by Mardracus Wade and one each absorbed by Ky Madden and Rickey Scott.
Arkansas’ Kikko Haydar turned in his usual pesky performance, taking a hard Bowers shoulder on a pick - after Haydar had been called for a foul against Pressey - and thumping hard onto the court.
Haydar, 5-10, 165 pounds, also reached in and got a tie ball against Missouri’s 6-9, 255-pound Alex Oriakhi, who lifted Haydar off his feet with both holding the ball.
“I thought he was about to shoot him in the basket,” Anderson said. “He’s so strong. [Haydar] just fights. I have always been a guy that is blue collar, and I love toughness. That is what he gives you.”
Anderson’s 111-57 record with the Tigers in 2006-2011 is the best winning percentage (66.1) of any Missouri coach with a tenure of at least two years. Saturday’s game marked the first time he had faced his old team, but he wouldn’t bite when asked whether the atmosphere made it seem like more than just a regular season game.
“It was a great, great game,” Anderson said. “It wasn’t anything else. They were trying to beat us, and we were trying to beat them. Obviously with the story lines that you guys are writing about and talking about, that builds it up.”
Dozens of fans wandered the grounds of Walton Arena prior to the game, fingers raised, their desire for hard-to-get tickets a clear indication of what it meant to the fan bases of both programs.
“I just feel as the years go on, with them being in our conference, it’s going to get interesting,” said Arkansas forward Marshawn Powell, who scored 24 points.
Arkansas is scheduled to visit Mizzou Arena on March 5.
Sports, Pages 34 on 02/17/2013