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Glory days of 'Cats vs. Hogs in distant past

By: Wally Hall
Published: Tuesday, February 26, 2019
Anthony Epps (25) of Kentucky, left, battles Corey Beck (14) of Arkansas in the first half of the SEC Tournament championship game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, March 12, 1995. (AP Photo/Andrew Innerarity)
Anthony Epps (25) of Kentucky, left, battles Corey Beck (14) of Arkansas in the first half of the SEC Tournament championship game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, March 12, 1995. (AP Photo/Andrew Innerarity)

As the University of Arkansas entered BJCC Coliseum, a slow rumble became a roar. "Wooo! Pig! Sooey" reverberated off the rafters, and a crowd of mostly blue looked absolutely stunned.

It was the Razorbacks first SEC Basketball Tournament, commonly known as the Wildcat Invitational because Kentucky fans -- like their team -- dominate.

In their first regular-season game as SEC brothers, the Razorbacks dispatched the Wildcats in Lexington, Ky., 105-88 on Jan. 25, 1992. The message was sent that there was another sheriff in town.

The Razorbacks went 13-3 and won the SEC West Division while the Wildcats were 12-4 and East champs. Saying people were anticipating a showdown in the SEC Tournament would be a huge understatement.

The Hogs lost their second game of the tournament 90-89 to Alabama, but the die was cast for four glorious seasons in which the SEC belonged to Arkansas and Kentucky. The series became so big it was once played on Super Bowl Sunday.

Over the years, things have returned to the old ways of Kentucky winning more times than not, but the game always seemed important to Hogs fans -- probably much more so than to Big Blue Nation.

There have been upsets and games that went down to the final buzzer.

And then there's tonight, when there is almost no buzz about a game between Kentucky and Arkansas in Lexington. The programs no longer mirror each other in success.

Kentucky is 23-4 overall and the No. 5 ranked team in the NCAA's NET rankings. The Wildcats are 15-1 at home, but fans are grumbling they may not be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Arkansas is 14-13, has lost six times at home, and is riding a five-game losing streak. The Razorbacks are ranked No. 77 in the NET rankings.

In those crazy days of the 90's, a ticket to a Hogs game in Rupp Arena might cost as much as a mink coat. Today, tickets in the upper deck are available for less than $40.

Of course, Arkansas is coming off a disappointing home loss, 87-80, to Texas A&M, a team the Hogs beat 73-71 seven weeks earlier in the SEC opener in College Station.

The way the Hogs lost was just another chapter in a long book.

Daniel Gafford pulled the Razorbacks to within 64-62 on a layup with 7:15 to play. The next time he got the ball he scored on a dunk, but unfortunately there was 1:25 to play and the Hogs were down 79-70.

Gafford finished with 23 points, but Arkansas cannot go almost six minutes without getting the ball to its best player, but that's been an issue all season.

The other Achilles' heels Saturday night were rebounding and defense. Mike Anderson played nine guys, and four of them had zero rebounds. The Razorbacks also didn't get back on defense.

It has to be pointed out that the Aggies did make 25 of 34 free throws while Arkansas was just 15 of 21, but the Razorbacks were called for just four more fouls.

The loss dropped the Hogs to 5-9 in SEC play, tied with the Aggies for 10th place.

A win tonight would be nice, but it won't stop the bleeding. This current losing streak started one week after the Razorbacks went to Baton Rouge and beat LSU, which is ranked No. 14 by the NET rankings.

Kentucky is great at home, but the Wildcats are young and might be looking ahead to Saturday's game with Tennessee, which they beat 86-69 earlier in the month. That is a big game for both teams.

Whatever happens tonight, the Hogs will be home Saturday for the 25-year celebration of the national championship, and it should be the largest crowd Bud Walton has seen this season.

Sports on 02/26/2019

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