Nate Allen is a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, Allen is a voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has authored three books about the Razorbacks.
Arkansas’ mission didn’t end at Kentucky
Kentucky's Julius Randle (30) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Arkansas, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014, in Lexington, Ky. Arkansas won 71-67. (AP Photo/James Crisp)
FAYETTEVILLE - It has been said in SEC basketball circles that the Kentucky Wildcats can beat you twice even if you just play them once. And they still can beat you even if you beat them and don’t play them again.
The adrenaline spent just playing the SEC’s most storied basketball program, especially coming down off the high of actually defeating Kentucky, often seemed to leave the other team flat against whoever it played next.
SEC teams playing Kentucky have lost their next game nine out of 14 times this season.
Arkansas is among those nine, losing 66-61 in overtime to the Georgia Bulldogs on Jan. 18 in Athens, Ga., after upsetting Kentucky 87-85 in overtime Jan. 14 at Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Georgia looms again this weekend, this time at Walton Arena on an extremely short turnaround. Today’s 3 p.m. tips off less than 48 hours after Arkansas defeated Kentucky 71-67 in overtime Thursday night in Lexington, Ky.
The SEC always plays basketball games Saturday, but because of TV it juggles midweek games Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights.
Somebody inevitably gets the short end when it comes to getting rest and preparation time. It’s Arkansas’ turn today.
Georgia routed Missouri 71-56 on Tuesday night at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga., then had three full days of preparation for today’s game.
Coach Mike Anderson likely will try to induce his Razorbacks to rationalize the short turnaround into a long suit.
Maybe they can’t dwell on the Kentucky game if there is no time to dwell upon it. Maybe giddy Arkansas fans will pack Walton Arena - first-level tickets for today’s game were long gone even before the Hogs beat Kentucky on Thursday - and have it rocking coming off the Kentucky sweep.
They likely will need to have it rocking for Arkansas’ sake.
Georgia (16-11) is third in the SEC at 10-5 and has beaten Arkansas (19-9) , but the Razorbacks - who are fourth in the SEC at 8-7 - are getting all the love from the national media after their upset at Kentucky and appear to be more apt to penetrate the NCAA Tournament bubble.
Whatever Georgia’s inspiration, Arkansas senior co-captain Kikko Haydar seems to be on a mission after his two free throws with 17 seconds left put Thursday’s game four points beyond Kentucky’s reach.
“We are excited,” Haydar said Thursday night on the post game radio from Lexington. “We have another very good team coming into our place, and they are third in the league right now. They are ahead of us in the race, so we have got to beat the team ahead of us.”
Regardless what transpires today, Haydar knows his final free throws against Kentucky are etched in Arkansas folklore. He credited assistant coach Matt Zimmerman’s reminders for helping him meet the moment.
“I shoot a lot of free throws every day, every day, every day,” Haydar said. “Coach Zimmerman always tells me, ‘You make 999 out of 1,000. How many can you make out of two?’
“Luckily I was able to make both of them.”
Sports, Pages 22 on 03/01/2014