The Arkansas Razorbacks face the No. 18 Ole Miss Rebels at noon Saturday in a game the Hogs desperately need to win.
Arkansas showed gumption last Tuesday by playing No. 4 Kentucky off their feet in the first half and staying within striking distance before falling 70-66 at Rupp Arena, but the loss extended the Hogs’ losing streaks to six games in a row.
Just for their own sanity and that of the fans, the Hogs need a win against the Rebels, who thumped Arkansas 84-67 at Oxford and who suffered a controversial 73-71 loss to No. 7 Tennessee on Wednesday.
Next up for the Razorbacks
Who: vs Ole Miss
When: 12 p.m. Saturday, March 2
Where: Bud Walton Arena
Watch: SEC Network
March 6 – at Vanderbilt
March 9 – Alabama
March 13-17 – SEC Tournament
The Rebels are 19-9 overall but 9-6 in SEC play, tied with Mississippi State, Florida and South Carolina for fourth or seventh in the league, depending on how you want to look at it. The Rebels are playing for seeding in the SEC Tournament. They still have a shot at finishing fourth in the league, which would give them a buy into March 15’s SEC tourney quarterfinals.
The Razorbacks are 14-14 overall and 5-10 in SEC play. Postseason play beyond the SEC Tournament is out of question at this point. The Razorbacks are playing strictly for pride with three regular-season games to play. A good short-term goal for the Razorbacks would be to go into the SEC Tournament with a winning record.
Walton Arena should be packed Saturday if not for the game then for the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Arkansas’ 1994 NCAA basketball championship.
Many of the players and coaches from that team will be on hand, but unfortunately Corliss “Big Nasty” Williamson won’t be able to attend because of his duties as an assistant coach with the Phoenix Suns.
For those who were around for the 1994 squad’s 76-72 triumph over Duke in Charlotte, N.C. the members of that team will be etched in their memory forever — Williamson, Scotty Thurman, Corey Beck, Clint McDaniel, Big Dog Dwight Stewart, Roger Crawford, Darnell Robinson, Al Dillard, Ken Biley, Lee Wilson, Elmer Martin, Davor Rimac, John Engskov, Ray Biggers, and Reggie Merritt.
That squad went 31-3.
The games I remember most other the championship win over Duke were December games at Memphis and Tulsa, and the trip to Rupp Arena on Feb. to face the Wildcats.
The 96-78 victory over a solid Memphis squad at the Pyramid on Dec. 8 confirmed that the Razorbacks were a team to be reckoned with and that their 120-68 punching of Missouri wasn’t a fluke.
The Tulsa victory was a 93-91 gritty overtime win two days before Christmas. It was a trap game for sure, against a very determined and at the time underrated Tulsa squad. However the Hogs gutted it out despite foul trouble by key performers in what likely was an emotional game for Coach Nolan Richardson, who first found Division I success and acceptance as the Golden Hurricane head coach.
The 90-82 victory over Kentucky at Rupp Arena wasn’t as close as that final score. After falling behind by 15 to the Wildcats in the first half, the Razorbacks ripped Big Blue a new one. Kentucky Coach Rick Pitino was so hot after the game, he made one statement before swiftly exiting the interview room. His mood and silence said everything about how tough the Hogs were.
It was then that I finally got it through my thick head that the Hogs had a very real shot of going all the way.
I would argue that Richardson had a more talented team with the squad that featured Todd Day, Lee Mayberry, and Oliver Miller among others, but that 1993-94 team was so balanced, so selfless, so tough, and so relentless in their desire to be great that they didn’t let anything stand in their way.
It doesn’t seem like 25 years have passed since that night that Corliss, Scotty, Beck, and all took Hog fans to the promised land for that “One Shining Moment” as CBS has dubbed it. It really feels like only year or so ago.
Because of the celebration, Saturday will be a great day at Walton Arena, but it would be so much sweeter for tall Razorback fans if the Hogs could snap their losing streak and send the Rebels back across the Mississippi River with their tail between their legs.
Maybe Daniel Gafford and the rest of the Hogs can pull it off?
Diamond Hogs play 2 Friday, 1 Saturday
The expectation of cold, wet weather late Saturday and Sunday will have the No. 17 Arkansas Razorbacks (4-1) on the diamond today for a double header with the Stony Brook Seawolves (3-3), starting a 1 p.m. at Baum-Walker Stadium. Saturday’s game is scheduled for 3 p.m.
All three games can be streamed through the ESPN app or on the link provided on www.ArkansasRazorbacks.com.
Razorbacks coach Dave Van Horn said he expected righties Isaiah Campbell (2-0, 5.23 ERA), Cody Scroggins (0-0, 7.72), and Connor Noland (0-0, 2.08) are scheduled to start respectively for the Hogs.
The Seawolves counter with a pari of right-handers on Friday in Greg Marino (1-1, 6.1) and Brian Herrmann (1-0, 7.45). Saturday’s pitcher is to be decided.
The Seawolves may not be a traditional baseball powerhouse, but they have been to a trio of NCAA Tournaments in recents years, and made a surprise appearance at the College World Series in 2012 by upending LSU on their home dirt in super regional play.
The Seawolves have a standout at shortstop in Nick Grande, who was a Collegiate Baseball All-American pick last year
The Razorbacks struggled at the plate early Wednesday against Memphis left-hander Danny Denz and trailed the Tigers, 2-1, before rattling the Tigers’ cage in the mid to late innings for a 10-3 victory.
Van Horn said Razorback fans should exercise patience early in the season as this Arkansas squad works out its identity on the season. The Razorback do have pop in their lineup with shortstop Casey Martin, Heston Kjerstad, Dominic Fletcher, and graduate transfer Trevor Ezell, but the Razorbacks look like they will be more dangerous on the base paths this year.
The Hogs rank 10th in the nation in stolen bases thus far with 2.9 per game, and have successfully stolen 20 out of 22 opportunities so far. If the Razorbacks had an offensive weakness last season, it was manufacturing runs. Though it’s early, that could be a strength of the Hogs this season.
Freshmen starters Christian Franklin in left field and Jacob Nesbit at third base have proven early that they not only man their positions well, but also have a knack for getting on base.
Getting these three games in this weekend is important for the Hogs as Van Horn continues to test and prep his pitching staff for SEC play, which is inching ever closer. The Razorbacks host Missouri (5-4) for a three-game series March 15-17 to open their SEC slate.
Morris’ 2nd Season Opens with Spring Drills
The clock starts ticking on the second season of the Chad Morris era of Razorback football with the first of 15 spring practices today.
Anticipation for Razorback football always runs high, even after a dreadful 2-10 season that was unacceptable to all involved, particularly Morris.
Morris’ Hogs have been working toward wiping away those memories all winter with offseason drills. The work the Razorbacks have put in since January will fuel their accomplishments over the rest of the year, but these spring practices are the football foundation for what Morris and his staff are attempting to construct with a rebuilt roster that has experienced plenty of churn since last fall.
Coming off such a difficult season, the Razorbacks’ roster still isn’t exactly what Morris would want, but with the additions and subtractions made, the squad is moving in that direction.
Much has been said and written about graduate transfer quarterback Ben Hicks, who started for Morris in 2016 and 2017 at SMU and rewrote many of the Mustangs’ passing records. No doubt, there is a significant difference in the level of play in the American Athletic Conference and the SEC, but the experience and know-how Hicks brings to spring drills places the Razorbacks miles ahead of where they were this time last year.
Confidence breeds confidence, and having a quarterback who isn’t second-guessing himself will be valuable in practice with so many new players vying for playing time.
Morris made it clear Monday that fundamentals and technique are at the forefront of everything the Razorbacks will do on the football field this spring. Offensive coordinator Joe Craddock said last week that the Hogs’ goal is to be good at what they do not so much how much what they do.
So much of excelling in any sport is having confidence, and before an athlete can have confidence, he has to feel comfortable and sure of the actions he’s performing. That seems so simple, fundamental really, and fundamentals and technique are the buzz words for the Razorbacks as they enter spring practice.