On our way to visit my fiancée's family in west central Arkansas, we decided to make a pit stop in Fayetteville, Arkansas to take in a basketball game. The University of Arkansas is my fiancée's alma mater and also happens to have one of the most beautiful campuses in the United States as it sits in the hills of the Ozarks. During our time together, I've become a bit of an Arkansas fan and on this night I would be cheering for a team on the other side of the red line (see the Hog logo from my shirt below).
On this night, the Razorbacks were hosting the Bulldogs of Louisiana Tech. Due to some struggles getting packed and ready for our series of holiday trips, we arrived at Bud Walton Arena after tip off. The arena is an impressive building that holds almost 20,000 fans. Although it has a capacity on par with NBA arenas, the building is well suited for the college game and still offers a great college atmosphere. The building is named after Wal-Mart co-founder James "Bud" Walton; Wal-Mart has its corporate headquarters just 30 miles north in Bentonville. The building's opening in November of 1993 corresponded with Arkansas' greatest year in team history as legendary coach Nolan Richardson led the Razorbacks to the 1994 national championship.
We finally settled in to our seats at the under 16 timeout with Louisiana Tech leading 8-4. The Razorbacks are coached by Nolan Richardson disciple Mike Anderson who served as an assistant coach on the 1994 championship team. Just like his mentor, Mike Anderson and his Razorbacks were running the "40 minutes of hell" playing style that involved an up tempo offense and full court press defense after every made basket. This playing style didn't seem to bother Louisiana Tech as they embraced the pace of the game. Shortly after the timeout, Louisiana Tech freshman guard Raheem Appleby made a lay in inside and one possession later senior guard Trevor Gaskins made a #superhoop in transition, quickly sending the lead to nine and forcing Arkansas to call a timeout. This timeout seemed to calm Arkansas down as they were able to close the gap to 17-14 by the under 12 timeout.
The first half continued on as a quickly paced back and forth affair as both teams rarely saw single digits on the shot clock before putting up a shot or turning the ball over. Going in to the under four timeout, Arkansas sophomore guard Rickey Scott drove to the back strong in transition and attempted to throw down a powerful dunk over a Louisiana Tech player but missed. However, much to everybody's amusement and the excitement of the Arkansas fans, instead of the ball bouncing hard off the back of the rim and back out on the court like a typical missed dunk, this ball bounced straight up in the air, hit the front of the rim, and then went in. This stroke of luck seemed to build some momentum for Arkansas as they went on a 14-5 run to finish the half and lead 40-33.
The feature event of the half time entertainment was a very creative and Christmas themed dance routine by the Arkansas dance squad. Dressed up in outfits that gave them the appearance of wooden toy soldiers, they performed a dance routine to music fitting of toy soldiers at Christmas and choreography that imitated the movement of the small wooden soldiers that primarily involved the dancers keeping their arms and legs stiff. The dance routine was very creative and well executed and received a strong round of applause from the fans.
The second half started off slowly for both teams. Although the pace was still rather quick, neither team had much luck early on shooting the ball as the first points in the half came from a Raheem Appleby #superhoop for Louisiana Tech at the 18:13 mark. This triggered a small run by the Bulldogs who were able to trim the lead to three by the under 16 timeout. Arkansas quickly answered out of the timeout by switching to a zone defense on the inbounds play. The change in defense really threw Louisiana Tech out of their rhythm as they were forced to throw up an unsuccessful desperation three point attempt with the shot clock winding down. Arkansas then answered with a successful three point attempt (after three bounces on the rim) from freshman guard B.J. Young.
The half continued on with Louisiana Tech continuously mounting small runs to narrow the margin, but Arkansas always seemed to have the answer to prevent the Bulldogs from grabbing the lead. At the 9:38 mark, Louisiana Tech was able to mount a small 5-2 run and close the deficit to 56-55, forcing Mike Anderson to burn another timeout to slow the momentum. At this moment I caught myself quietly pulling for the Bulldogs despite my Razorback attire. Don't tell my fiancée! During this timeout, the Hog fans participated in the one Razorback cheer I refuse to be a part of, the Hog call. With their hands raised above their heads, the fans start out with a loud "Wooooo". After a few seconds of this they yell "Pig! Sooie!" accompanied by a fist pump in the air. After the third round of this cheer they add a loud yell of "Razorbacks!" I for some reason find this chant silly (again don't tell my fiancée) and will not participate, especially since I'm just an adopted Razorback fan.
Despite the timeout, Louisiana Tech was able to keep some of their momentum and keep the game close going in to the under 8 timeout at the 6:46 mark only trailing by two. However, after this timeout, the Bulldogs became ice cold and the Razorbacks red hot. After the media timeout, Louisiana Tech was only able to muster one field goal for the rest of the game. The Razorbacks quickly poured on the points and the game was in hand as it entered the last minute. Sensing the inevitable, Louisiana Tech coach Mike White ordered his players to not foul and the clock ticked to zero on a 77-63 victory for the Hogs.
I guess in the end I was somewhat happy that the Razorbacks won since I do cheer for them. But I was secretly disappointed as I always want to see members of the Other 24 grab red line upsets. It's hard cheering for the other side of the line, but even with the only above the line school that I will allow myself to cheer for playing, I still found myself pulling for the little guy. I guess it's just part of my Mid Majority blood.
at ARKANSAS 77, LOUISIANA TECH 63 12/22/2011
LOUISIANA TECH 7-6 (0-0) -- R. Appleby 10-22 1-2 23; K. Smith 2-8 0-0 4; T. Gaskins 3-4 4-4 12; K. McNeail 0-5 1-2 1; R. Souza 5-9 0-0 10; C. Johnson 4-11 0-0 9; B. Gibson 2-7 0-0 4; M. Kyser 0-1 0-0 0; J. Lewis 0-1 0-0 0; L. Smith 0-1 0-0 0; A. Carr 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-69 6-8 63. ARKANSAS 8-3 (0-0) -- R. Scott 8-16 2-2 18; M. Wade 3-5 0-1 8; J. Nobles 2-7 2-2 7; R. Madden 4-5 1-2 9; B. Young 7-11 0-0 16; A. Devonta 3-5 4-4 10; M. Waithe 3-5 0-0 7; H. Mickelson 1-6 0-0 2; M. Sanchez 0-4 0-0 0. Totals 31-64 9-11 77.
Three-point goals: LTU 5-23 (T. Gaskins 2-3; B. Gibson 0-3; C. Johnson 1-5; K. McNeaill 0-4; L. Smith 0-1; R. Appleby 2-6; K. Smith 0-1), ARK 6-17 (J. Nobles 1-4; R. Scott 0-1; M. Wade 2-4; M. Waithe 1-1; R. Madden 0-1; H. Mickelson 0-1; B. Young 2-5); Rebounds: LTU 29 (C. Johnson 5), ARK 30 (R. Madden 7); Assists: LTU 9 (K. Smith 3), ARK 13 (J. Nobles 3); Total Fouls -- LTU 17, ARK 10; Fouled Out: LTU-None; ARK-None.