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:
In case you’d forgotten, that was Hawgball
Arkansas forward Alandise Harris, left, celebrates with forward Bobby Portis (10) after Harris scored a basket in the closing moments of the second half of play Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
That was Hawgball.
Tuesday night, in front of a crowd of 18,886 and millions of television viewers, the Arkansas Razorbacks got it right.
They gave No. 13 Kentucky 40 minutes of hell and an extra five minutes of in-your face, breath-stealing defense.
Michael Qualls’ put back slam dunk with 0.2 on the clock gave the Razorbacks an 87-85 victory over the most talented, but young, team in the SEC.
Kentucky Coach John Calipari managed to get the 0.2 put back on the clock after Qualls’ dunk and carefully diagrammed a play that, according to the rules, had to be a 90-plus-foot pass and a tip-in by a Wildcat.
Apparently, he forgot to mention that the Arkansas scoreboard hangs low over the court. That, or the Kentucky player inbounding the ball saw the scoreboard, which is in the shape of a basket, and went for the victory.
Either way, it was a whale of game that endured some whistle-happy officials who called 29 fouls on the Razorbacks and 31 on the Wildcats, which led to a total of 81 free throws being shot in a game that lasted almost three hours.
Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson had seen a glimpse of the Hogs’ toughness at home against Florida on Saturday in a heart-breaking overtime loss to the Gators. He just didn’t see enough of it.
So he called in one of the toughest players in the history of the program to speak to the Razorbacks before the Kentucky game, and Corey Beck passionately explained what Hawgball is about.
Mental and physical toughness. Never showing weakness. Diving for every loose ball. Never giving up.
Beck was Arkansas’ starting point guard for three years, which included the 1994 national championship and 1995 runner-up teams.
Against a team with more than its share of McDonald’s All-Americans, the Hogs scrapped and clawed. They jumped harder, ran faster and turned a near loss into a victory.
Six different Razorbacks had at least one steal as the Wildcats suffered 17 turnovers that the Hogs turned into 21 points.
In a game that had 18 ties and 10 lead changes, the Wildcats’ biggest lead was three and Arkansas’ was by nine.
It certainly wasn’t the ultimate or most-perfect version of Hawgball ever played, but it was vastly improved over the season-opening loss to Texas A&M and had a much better end result than the overtime with Florida.
The question on most people’s minds is how do Anderson and the Razorbacks keep this momentum when they travel to Georgia on Saturday.
Road victories for Arkansas have been about as frequent over the past decade as NCAA Tournament appearances. But in the past two games, against ranked teams, the Hogs have seemed more unified and at least one player, Rashad Madden, appears to be coming into his own.
In the past two games, Madden has had a combined 41 points, and he had 12 in the loss to A&M. In three SEC games, he has made 10 of 20 three-pointers. Granted, his last attempt against Kentucky was ill-advised, but Qualls was there to bail him out.
The Hogs need a zone buster. Madden is a junior, he’s no longer saddled with the selfish play of others, and it is time for him to shine.
Tuesday night, though, was not won by just him or Qualls. It was a team effort on both ends of the court, but especially on defense when they simply disrupted Kentucky even when the Wildcats didn’t turn it over.
That’s Hawgball, just as it is to get more shots than your opponent. It doesn’t matter who shoots the best percentage from the field as much as it does who scores the most.
This isn’t to say that Arkansas has turned the corner, but it is at a place where it can make a statement, and the way the Razorbacks do that is by playing real Hawgball.
Sports, Pages 19 on 01/16/2014