There is a generation of Arkansas basketball fans that hadn’t seen what transpired at Bud Walton Arena Wednesday night. The three-pointers, the fast breaking, the pressure defense and ultimately a decisive 110-80 blowout of Ole Miss. Arkansas coach Mike Anderson had his red-hot Hogs playing more like his mentor Nolan Richardson did during the peak of the program’s success in the 1990s.
It isn’t new to me. I saw Hawg Ball. It wasn’t at it’s best, but the brand was much better than the sub-par, drab years that included the Stan Heath and John Pelphrey coaching tenures.
Wednesday’s packed-house blowout took me back to Feb. 28 1999. Just like Wednesday, it was senior night. The Hogs faithful said goodbye to three stars — Pat Bradley, Kareem Reid and Derek Hood — along with walk-on Lance Keeling.
Arkansas had just beaten No. 5 Kentucky 74-70 in front of a national television audience. Auburn rolled into Fayetteville Ranked No. 2 and featured star forward Chris Porter. The Tigers ran into a firestorm that night. Arkansas knew it needed to beat Kentucky and Auburn solidify its NCAA Tournament hopes.
It was a combination of that sense of urgency, the dramatic UK win and a senior night celebration that about blew the roof off the arena. During a stretch midway through the second half, Arkansas went on a run that Brandon Dean capped off with a highlight dunk (there were several highlight reel dunks that night). Arkansas was completely in control and Auburn wanted a timeout. The crowd never quoted down during the break. In fact, I think it got louder. I couldn’t carry on a conversation with the guy next to me on press row because we couldn’t hear each other.
Arkansas rolled to a 104-88 win. It was the third time Arkansas scored more than 100 points that season. It was the first time in school history the Razorbacks had played two Top 10-ranked teams in the same week. That week showed while Arkansas was barely a Top-25 program, it still had some swagger left. Swagger that has all but disappeared other than a couple of flashes in the past 12 years.
After sweeping Kentucky and going over the century mark against Ole Miss, some think Anderson, in his third year, has brought Hawg Ball is back. If not, Wednesday was at least a good reminder of what the program and and atmosphere used to be and can be again.