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:
It’s time for Hogs to have Anderson’s back
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson speaks to his team during overtime Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Last Saturday the Arkansas Razorbacks picked up a road victory at Vanderbilt for a two-game winning streak, and the hopes seem to be that the Hogs have turned some type of corner and could be about to charge into the NCAA Tournament field.
Consider that the victory over Alabama, at home, was uglier than mop water and that the road victory came against Vanderbilt, which has only seven scholarship players. Some skepticism remains after the Hogs went up by nine midway through the second half and couldn’t put them away.
The Razorbacks could convince some doubters that they are about to peak with a victory tonight at Missouri.Arkansas is tied with Missouri and Texas A&M for eighth place in the SEC with a 4-6 record.
The Tigers are riding a three-game losing streak and are looking to stop the bleeding, but the losses were to No. 11 Kentucky, at No. 3 Florida and at Ole Miss, which is third in the SEC with a 7-4 record.
Missouri beat Arkansas 75-71 on Jan. 28 at Walton Arena, and with a roster full of players it is going to be more capable of handling the Razorbacks’ pressure defense, which controlled Vandy for the first 30 minutes but hit a wall.
It was almost as if slowing down on offense took the steam out of the defense.
Besides playing hard for 40 minutes, what the Razorbacks need to do tonight is have their coach’s back.
Mike Anderson left Missouri and a bright future to take over the Hogs and to try to return them to the national level they enjoyed in the 1990s. That decision made Hogs fans glad and Tigers fans sad or angry.
Tonight will not be a welcome home party for Anderson, no prodigal son saga.
From the moment he stepson the court, 95 percent of the people in the stands will wish they had never heard of him. They might wish he had slipped and fell when he got off the bus.
There will be boos and taunts. There will be barbs much stronger than what some blowhard Texas Tech fan said to Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart, who retaliated with a hard shove and is now sitting out a three-game suspension.
The Tigers Nation will want Anderson to lose more than it wants the Tigers to win.
They are glad their coach, Frank Haith, doesn’t like Anderson, although their dislike is widely denied but easily visible.
It is time for the Razorbacks to stand up and say we are going to fight for our coach. A hostile arena? Don’t care. He’s our coach and he fights for us every day, 365 days a year.
If Anderson isn’t comfortable asking his players to give Missouri 40 minutes of hell, then maybe it is time associate head coach Melvin Watkins - the entire Missouri staff left the Tigers for the Hogs - tells the players they need to show Missouri what Hawgball is about and that they are playing it for their head coach.
If this isn’t do-or-die time, it’s close enough. The Razorbacks have eight games left, and all but the Kentucky game is winnable. Even that one could be if they play hard from start to finish.
The NCAA selection committee looks at how a team plays its final 10 games, and for that stretch the Hogs are 2-0 and staring at March Madness.
It begins tonight against a formidable opponent in a hostile arena.
It begins tonight for a bunch of kids who need another road victory to boost their confidence.
It begins tonight for a team that needs to step up and never let up and prove to their head coach that they have his back when he needs it the most.
Sports, Pages 17 on 02/13/2014