For Texas basketball fans of a certain age, games against Arkansas perhaps still mean something. The Texas basketball program that we know and love today started to emerge at the end of the 1980s, when Tom Penders took over. In those days, Arkansas was the leader of the Southwest Conference.
Razorback basketball came to prominence in the late seventies under the leadership of Eddie Sutton, but without question the greatest period in program history was the period of time when Nolan Richardson led Arkansas to three Final Fours and a national title during the late eighties and early nineties.
This was the program that all other SWC teams were measured against. And at the point where Penders’ Runnin’ Horns started to pop onto the national hoops scene, Arkansas was the team that they couldn’t quite get past.
If we want to pinpoint the birth of the modern Texas basketball program to a single season, there is probably no better one to look at than the 1989-1990 campaign. During that year, Texas and Arkansas met three times. Two of these games came in the regular season, including the famous “Strolin’ Nolan“ game. Arkansas prevailed both times. And then the two rivals would meet a third time in the NCAA tournament with a trip to the Final Four on the line. Arkansas would win this game as well.
If there was a single word that could be used to describe Razorback basketball in its heyday, it was “aggressive.” The Forty Minutes of Hell — Richardson’s name for his basketball philosophy that involved full court pressure and general mayhem — the toughness of players like Lee Mayberry, Oliver Miller, Scotty Thurman, and Corliss Williamson; and the brilliance of their play made Arkansas basketball one of the most intimidating opponents of the era.
It was a golden age that eventually came to an end as the millennium rolled around. Richardson’s last few teams were not quite as successful, although still fairly good, and he clashed with university administration. Richardson felt he was unfairly treated, believed that racism was the cause, and never had any qualms about stating it publically. It was an ugly divorce between a program and its greatest coach, and Arkansas basketball has never been the same since.
Arkansas basketball has tried to recapture that past success. The current leader of Razorback hoops is Mike Anderson, a long-time assistant for Richardson who went on to become a successful head coach at UAB and Missouri before being hired to rebuild the program at Arkansas. It can be really hard to recapture lost magic, and Anderson has struggled, only getting the Razorbacks into the NCAA tournament in one of his first five seasons.
But this season Anderson has a pretty solid team. The Razorbacks are 8-1 on the season, and the word “aggressive” still applies. Anderson’s team plays fast on offense, shoots the ball well from the perimeter, and relentlessly attacks the offensive glass in a way that no Texas opponent up to this point as done. Dealing with Moses Kingsley, Dustin Thomas, and Arlando Cook on the boards and inside will be a difficult challenge for a Texas front-court that has struggled on the glass.
In the backcourt, the Razorbacks have multiple guys, so let’s start off with a familiar face. Dusty Hannahs, a senior who started his career at Texas Tech, is probably the most dangerous player on the floor. Hannahs started off the year in the starting lineup, but has come off the bench over the last three games. He is still playing starter’s minutes. He is an all around good offensive player who is a lethal shooter from deep.
Meanwhile Daryl Macon and Anton Beard split ball handling duties, while Jaylen Barford and Manuale Watkins both are strong slashing to the rim. All four will hound and harass Texas’ young guards, and Kerwin Roach and Andrew Jones will need to be steady with the ball to give the Longhorns much of a chance.
It won’t be easy, but it never was in the past either. Texas and Arkansas are playing again. The game is in Houston, tips off at 1:30 PM CST this Saturday, and airs on ESPNU.