Tubby rouses dormant Arkansas-Memphis rivalry

By: Bob Holt
Published: Tuesday, May 23, 2017
Arkansas men's basketball coach Mike Anderson speaks with members of the media during his celebrity golf tournament Monday, May 22, 2017, at Shadow Valley Country Club in Rogers.
Photo by Jason Ivester
Arkansas men's basketball coach Mike Anderson speaks with members of the media during his celebrity golf tournament Monday, May 22, 2017, at Shadow Valley Country Club in Rogers.

ROGERS -- It's been 14 years since the Arkansas Razorbacks played the Memphis Tigers in basketball, but that drought in what once was a heated rivalry figures to come to an end soon.

Razorbacks Coach Mike Anderson and Tigers Coach Tubby Smith have discussed renewing the series, hopefully for the 2018-2019 season.

Smith said he's in favor of a home-and-home series.

"I'm sure we can work out dates," Smith said Monday when he played at Anderson's charity golf tournament at Shadow Valley Country Club. "We'll get there. I'm looking forward to it."

Kentucky Coach John Calipari was the Memphis coach when he ended the Tigers' series against the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville after Memphis won 72-67 at Walton Arena on Jan. 2, 2003.

"We have to play national games," Calipari said at the time, enraging Arkansas fans. "You can't play all regional games if you're being a national program. We don't need Arkansas to sell out our building."

Josh Pastner, who succeeded Calipari as the Memphis coach before heading to Georgia Tech last season, also refused to schedule the Razorbacks.

Anderson said he's not surprised Smith is willing to renew the series, which Arkansas leads 11-10.

"Tubby gets it," Anderson said. "Tubby's been around a long time, and we're good friends. I just think it's a great, great game for this part of the country and for TV purposes.

"I'm looking forward to getting those dates and getting it set in stone, and hopefully it can be a series that continues for a long time."

Arkansas and Memphis played 14 times in a 12-year span between the 1991-1992 and 2002-2003 seasons, including twice in the NCAA Tournament.

The Tigers beat the Razorbacks 82-80 in a second-round NCAA Tournament game in Milwaukee in 1992, and Arkansas won a Sweet 16 matchup 96-91 in overtime in Kansas City, Mo., in 1995.

"Every year I was here, we felt like we were good enough to win it all," said Lee Mayberry, a senior for the Razorbacks in 1992 and now a special assistant to Anderson. "Being knocked out by Memphis in a second-round game, that was tough. They sent us home.

"Whenever we played them, the games were good. They had some great players, and we did, too."

Anderson was an assistant to coach Nolan Richardson for 11 Arkansas-Memphis games. Razorbacks assistant coaches T.J. Cleveland and Scotty Thurman played against the Tigers.

"It makes a lot of sense, given the history of Arkansas and Memphis, for the teams to play," Cleveland said. "I think it'll be a great thing to bring it back, and it'll be good for both schools."

Mayberry praised Smith -- who has led Tulsa, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota and Texas Tech to a combined 18 NCAA Tournament appearances before taking the Memphis job last season -- for having no hesitation in scheduling Arkansas.

"Coach Smith, with everywhere he's been and everything he's done, I don't think he's going to run away from playing a good game," Mayberry said. "He's always ready for a challenge. I think he sees this will be a great game."

Smith said he's not worried that playing Arkansas would adversely affect the Tigers' recruiting in Memphis.

"Recruiting has changed so much over the last 10 years, five years," Smith said. "Kids are going to be going where they want to go anyways. It's a pretty mobile society now."

Anderson said playing Memphis should be a boost for Arkansas' recruiting.

"Memphis is a hotbed for talent, and of course, I think our state now is producing players as well," Anderson said. "So I think when you've got states that border each other, it's kind of a natural. Especially with what has taken place in the past."

Hazen transferring

Forward Brachen Hazen is transferring from Arkansas after his freshman season, Anderson said, and he has received his scholarship release.

Hazen, 6-8, played just 42 minutes in 14 games this season and averaged 0.2 points and 0.9 rebounds, but Anderson said his departure is disappointing.

"I think his upside, his potential is big," Anderson said. "With a guy who's a skilled forward like Brachen, it was just a matter of him maturing.

"But you notice around the country, man, everybody's in a hurry to do something."

Hazen's transfer leaves Arkansas with a scholarship available for next season. Anderson said he's not sure whether the Razorbacks will add a player.

"You know me, I never stop recruiting," Anderson said. "So as we move forward, my staff and I are daily seeking and trying to find some guys that can have an impact."

Anderson said if the Razorbacks sign another player, it will be someone he's confident will stick with the program.

"So if it's going to be someone, it's going to be the right person," he said.

Sports on 05/23/2017

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