Right opponents bring out crowds

By: Nate Allen
Published: Monday, January 27, 2014
Fans call the Hogs during the first half of play Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Fans call the Hogs during the first half of play Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE - As surely as Lucy yanking the ball away from a sprawling Charlie Brown kicks off football in September, the December dither and November nattering accompanies Arkansas Razorbacks basketball tipping off late autumn and early winter.

Much media hand-wringing comparing now vs. the Nolan Richardson and Eddie Sutton eras of packing Barnhill Arena, and Richardson’s glory days feeding the Walton Arena monster, inevitably occur during the often sparsely attended beginning of college basketball’s long season.

Well according to Arkansas’ three SEC home outings, build in games worth attending and Razorbacks fans will come.

Announced crowds of 18,040, 18,886 and 16,762 at Walton Arena attended this season’s Arkansas SEC games against Florida on Jan. 11, Kentucky on Jan. 14 and even SEC winless Auburn last Saturday, respectively.

It just goes to show that real games during the real season can still bring throngs of real basketball fans to Walton.

It also proves too many Savannah State and High Point in December dates bring too few to Walton and foments grumbling among season-ticket holders naturally presuming they deserve better given the ransom paid just to qualify to purchase tickets.

To be fair, Arkansas’ nonconference attendance was dealt a major blow beyond its control. Hazardous road conditions from snow and ice coincided with the Razorbacks’ most attractive December game at Walton, a 74-68 Dec. 7 victory over Clemson, a contest attracting double the ticket purchases over the 7,432 that the UA estimated actually attended.

Incidentally, that 7,432 would have been just 2,000 shy of filling Barnhill that Sutton and Richardson packed routinely when the Hogs’ success and exclusivity of limited seating practically made attendance a must regardless of opponent.

Richardson’s Razorbacks did a remarkable job consistently nearly filling 19,000-plus Walton most every game during their salad days.

We all know the salad’s dressing has soured since, now three coaches later and without a NCAA Tournament or even NIT appearance since John Pelphrey inherited Stan Heath’s players in 2007-2008.

Nationally, college basketball has taken some major hits whether from the one-and-done players turning pro after their freshman years reducing the stars that fans learn to identify to the football greed that crumbled the Big East, a conference built on basketball.

But basketball is still a great game, and one that Arkansas fans still yearn passionately for their Razorbacks to succeed.

Amid the bashers calling talk radio and on Twitter, maybe it takes these SEC crowds at Walton to realize that most of the ticket buying public still believes that Coach Mike Anderson, an assistant for Richardson for 17 years, and successful head coach at Alabama-Birmingham and Missouri, eventually will get it done. It seems they do appreciate the strides made in a program that was not representing the UA particularly well in any facet immediately preceding him.

Much remains to be done, especially correcting Arkansas’ unacceptably abysmal road record since the century’s turn. But judging by the Walton SEC turnouts, the Razorbacks fans’ will for Arkansas to achieve January through March remains strong regardless the perceptions of December doldrums.

Sports, Pages 16 on 01/27/2014