New Era, Same Spirit: The Legacy of Arkansas Basketball’s Latest Breakthrough

Eric Musselman

One of these days, a wild-eyed scientist is going to ask us how the hell an unranked college basketball team takes down No. 1 the way Arkansas dethroned Auburn on Tuesday night.

And I frankly have no idea how to answer it.

That was the inherent beauty of this slugfest of a game. Arkansas shot poorly (34 percent) and rebounded worse (55-41, though Auburn at one point had a +23 in this category). The Hogs’ bellcow, J.D. Notae, had a brilliant all-around game but struggled with his shot again, too, hitting only seven of his 20 tries.

The Tigers’ brass shined, too. Prohibitive No. 1 pick Jabari Smith calmly drained long threes and skied for rebounds en route to a 20-and-9 showing. Walker Kessler punished the Hogs to the tune of 16 points and 19 rebounds, and he blocked seven shots for amusement. That’s a line of destruction not waged against the Razorbacks since Centenary’s Robert Parish put up 33 points, 21 rebounds and 11 blocks in a win over Arkansas.

And none of it meant a damn.

Whether the better team won on February 8, 2022 at Bud Walton Arena may remain subject to speculation. There’s no question the hardest working one did.

Arkansas Basketball AtmosFear

Auburn tromped on the logo in pregame, which has to be the most ignorant act a visiting team can employ. And incidentally, the No. 1 team should never pull that stunt.

Predictably, all it did was make the Hogs feverish in the first half. Stanley Umude and Au’Diese Toney made some early contributions, Jaylin Williams lit the place afire with a four-point play, and J.D. Notae’s all-out hustle paid dividends.

Arkansas led 27-15, and Auburn had been utterly flat, and more than a little rattled by the din. Akin to the Texas A&M game, though, the Hogs couldn’t sustain the initial surge, went cold, and scooted to halftime ahead only 28-25.Both offenses awakened in the second half, and it became a trading of blows from there. There were 12 ties and 18 lead changes in the frenzied final 20 minutes.

Accordingly, this game didn’t recall the 1999 matchup when the Hogs memorably pasted then No. 2 Auburn, 104-88. Those Hogs blistered a Chris Porter-led Tiger team from start to finish with a masterful offensive performance.

But Bud Walton had the same, persistent, nervous energy bubbling in it the way it did that night 23 years ago. Auburn’s pregame antics ensured those throaty fans wouldn’t be wanting for a target Tuesday.

And that’s why it wasn’t shocking–or, to take issue with ex-Hog John Engskov’s view, remotely inappropriate–that the 20,000-plus never sat down for three hours and then flooded the court when Devo Davis put away the Loudest Unofficial Dunk in program history.

Historic Wins Merit Pandemonium

I get the concerns about safety when it comes to these moments of jubilation. And the fiscal effect of Tuesday night’s mass of people was, predictably, quite severe.

It’s been up for debate for a while whether it’s practical to enforce outright court rushing bans. All viewpoints are understandable, and there’s no doubt participant safety is of paramount concern.

That Davis dunk may not have counted on the score book, but it mattered big to separate generations of Razorback zealots. For those of us that saw the Hogs win a title, it was sweet validation that Bud Walton Arena can be the palace of college basketball. Even Kyle Tucker, the longtime Kentucky basketball writer, considers the Bud to be the most fearsome place to play in the SEC (including Rupp Arena. He Tweeted: “Arkansas’ Bud Walton Arena is the toughest place to play in the SEC when the Hogs are good and fans are fired up.

Nobody sat, and nobody stopped full-throated cheering, or booing referee Teddy Valentine when he oft earned it. Nobody seemed to do anything stupid out there, either, and if these kids are finally getting their chance to understand what Hog ball means, I’m okay with the storming.

And it was very much a throwback game. The Tigers flexed their interior muscle, but the Hogs hustled for loose balls with abandon and calmly swished clutch free throws even if the perimeter game again escaped them.

Over the decades, the Hogs made history in a number of ways as a result of that scrappy, unrelenting style. Now they’ve done it in a new era, one that is signaled by an enthusiastic, hell-raiser of a coach, and a fan base he’s energized exactly in the way Hunter Yurachek must have imagined in his best-case scenarios.

Woo Damn Pig, indeed.


The author at the pump on Wednesday.


Arkansas football player Trey Knox makes a random appearance at :36 mark here:

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