Matt Jones is the online sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Northwest Arkansas Newspapers. He and his wife live in Fayetteville.
Kentucky series entertaining again
Kentucky coach John Calipari, left, and Arkansas coach Mike Anderson shake hands prior to a March 2, 2013 game at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE Growing up in Arkansas, the game of the year was Kentucky.
The Southeastern Conference hasn't had another series as entertaining as the one Big Red and Big Blue provided in the mid 1990s. The teams combined to play in five consecutive national championship games during the decade, winning three times.
It was a series so relevant to the national conversation that CBS scheduled the game for Super Bowl Sunday in 1995. Scotty Thurman hit a last-second shot that day for one of the biggest wins at Bud Walton Arena.
Kentucky rallied from a 22-point deficit to win in overtime when the teams met later that season in the SEC Tournament final. More than 30,000 people were on-hand for that game at the Georgia Dome, which is still considered the best in league history.
- Yes 63% 634 votes
- No 36% 371 votes
1005 total votes.
Though it has a long way to go to reach those championship year standards, Arkansas and Kentucky have once again formed an entertaining series. Arkansas has won three of the last four meetings, including two in overtime, and has Big Blue Nation talking about a visit from the Hogs for the first time in a while.
Not since John Pelphrey's return to Rupp Arena in 2008 has there been this much buzz from both sides. That game was close, but most trips to Lexington haven't been. Arkansas has lost nine straight at Kentucky, including by 31 and 25 points in the most recent games there.
For older fans, Arkansas visiting Rupp Arena elicits memories of the Razorbacks snapping Kentucky home win streaks of 33 and 31 games in the first two meetings there. Those games forged a mutual appreciation between two basketball crazed programs - a feeling somewhat lost on a younger generation of fans because of Arkansas' decline in the years following Nolan Richardson's firing.
The Razorbacks haven't won at Rupp Arena since their national championship season 20 years ago and are the clear underdog tonight. Kentucky is an impressive 82-3 at home under John Calipari. The Wildcats have also had this game circled since Michael Qualls circled the UK defense for that game-winning dunk last month.
Arkansas' road woes have been well-documented, but the Razorbacks have to overcome them tonight to supplant themselves back in the NCAA Tournament conversation. Winning five of the last six games has helped, but the team still has no quality wins away from home.
Mike Anderson's team has played better in recent road games. If not for a last-minute collapse at Missouri two weeks ago Arkansas would be on a three-game road win streak.
The Razorbacks are clearly a better team than when they beat Kentucky, making buildup to tonight's matchup somewhat reminiscent of when this series was one of the best in college basketball. Fans of the sport can only hope it will return for good.