Nate Allen is a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, Allen is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has authored three books about the Razorbacks.
Razorbacks must provide own excitement
Arkansas guard Kikko Haydar (20) drives as Kentucky guard Jarrod Polson defends during the first half of play Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - Apathy can prove more devastating than hostility, some psychologists and marriage counselors might tell you.
Perhaps that’s the problem afflicting Arkansas on the SEC road.
Make that one of a plurality of problems, considering that going back to John Pelphrey’s final season as Arkansas’ coach (2010-2011) the Razorbacks are just 3-23 in SEC road games, with all three of their victories coming at Auburn.
Apathy could well be among those problems, but that may stem more from the surroundings they visit than from the Razorbacks themselves.
Other than Kentucky, Florida, Missouri and often Vanderbilt, the kind of basketball energy found at Walton Arena seldom exists throughout the rest of the SEC unless a particular team is really ona roll.
Arkansas takes on Georgia today at Stegeman Coliseum, which typifies the general basketball atmosphere you often find in a football conference.
Georgia basketball certainly has generated some excitement in the past - NBA Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins is a Georgia alum - but for the most part Stegeman Coliseum is a docile place compared to Walton Arena in Fayetteville or Rupp Arena in Kentucky.
The electricity from the 18,000-plus crowds that inspired Arkansas as well as Florida and Kentucky in last week’s overtime classics won’t be found today in Athens even though Stegeman requires just 10,000 instead of more than 18,000 to pack the place.
“Not many places are going to rival what takes place here,” Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said Thursday.
The Razorbacks opened SEC play each of the past two seasons at Texas A&M’s 13,000-seat Reed Arena, which was less than half-filled for both games. The Razorbacks played down to the crowd level and were listless, losing both games to Aggie teams that were coming off embarrassing nonconference losses at home.
Anderson, a player for Nolan Richardson at Tulsa and a 17-year assistant to Richardson at Arkansas before embarking on his head coaching career, acknowledges that it’s only human for players to get an adrenaline rush where there is pregame electricity and that players must inspire their own adrenaline rush if the surroundings don’t boost it.
“I know when I played, I loved playing in front of people,” Anderson said. “Even as a coach, you want it to be that way. That’s what the games are for. But if the fans aren’t there, you just go play. You’re playing with the baskets and you’ve got the court. The fans, they don’t play the game.”
So among other things required to win on the road, it seems the Razorbacks also have to make sure that the fans don’t affect their game, whether it’s being booed by a full house or being lulled to sleep among empty seats.
Sports, Pages 26 on 01/18/2014