I know I sound like an old curmudgeon when I say that the Kentucky versus Arkansas basketball series just isn’t what it used to be. Gone are those days when the Hogs boldly challenged the Cats for conference supremacy—when Nolan Richardson and his “forty minutes of hell” pumped unparalleled excitement into a rivalry that began when Arkansas first joined the league back in 1990. The newcomers from Fayetteville not only competed immediately for a conference crown, but they also won a national championship along the way, barely missing out on rare back to back titles. Plus, they did it all in a fashion that challenged Kentucky’s status as king of the SEC hill. They pushed the bully to the brink, taunting BBN with a fast paced, in-your-face brand of basketball that had Cat fans licking their wounds on a yearly basis.
Back in the day, Hog fans also unabashedly barged in on the Wildcat’s traditional SEC party. In the early to mid-nineties, the Razorbacks finished either first or tied for first in the conference an amazing 6 out of 7 years. Arkansas faithful repeatedly flooded into the tournament venues, bringing with them their fervent cheers as they enthusiastically “called the hogs.” “Woooooooooo, Pig ! Sooie!” easily drowned out chants of “Go Big Blue,” as Bud Walton Arena morphed into a crazed and spirited death trap every time UK visited. Ashley Judd in her prime was fantastic, but Walmart and Bill Clinton were iconic. You have to admit, it was fun competing with the Hogs.
Kentucky and Arkansas did indeed compete in some epic games over that time span. Who can ever forget the 1995 SEC Championship game where the Cats squeaked out a 95-93 OT thriller after rallying from deficits of 19 points in the first half, 12 points in the second, and 6 points with 38 seconds left in overtime. Remember, this was the game that Rodrick Rhodes melted down after he missed two free throws with two seconds left and the game tied. You just couldn’t have written a more dramatic script.
Let’s face it, Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson may be a Nolan Richardson disciple, but he’s no Nolan Richardson. Dusty Hannahs and Darryl Macon may be quality college players, but they couldn’t hold a candle to Todd Day or Scotty Thurman. Moses Kingsley may be a stud, but he’s not Corliss Williamson. Sorry Arkansas, but Oliver Miller and Lee Mayberry are not walking through that door!
So it was no surprise that on this snowy and chilly Saturday night in Rupp Arena, the Wildcats dispatched the Hogs in workmanlike fashion. After a first half foul fest, which gave new meaning to the phrase “twenty minutes of hell,” Kentucky came out in the second half and played well enough to secure a 97-71 victory. De ‘Aaron Fox led the Cats with 27 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists. Arkansas native Malik Monk, who was heavily recruited by the Razorbacks, was limited to 12 points, and held scoreless from the 3-point line for the first time this year.
When asked afterwards if he was satisfied with how his players contained Monk, Coach Anderson answered, “I’m not satisfied. We lost the game. This is Arkansas versus the University of Kentucky. This is not Arkansas versus Malik Monk. Monk is a hell of a player. We know that. I don’t think I would have recruited him since the ninth grade if I didn’t think he was a hell of a player, so let’s get past that. This is Arkansas versus Kentucky.”
Unfortunately, it’s just not the Arkansas versus Kentucky of the 1990’s. Order has been restored in the SEC. Kentucky once again rules as king of the hill, easily swatting away all pretenders rushing their well-occupied throne. It’s easy to forget that over two decades ago, the Arkansas Razorbacks mounted a legitimate challenge. However, in 2017, the Roman Empire still stands while “Woooooooooo, Pig ! Sooie!” has fallen back to the pack. A win against the Hogs is always nice, but somehow, it just wasn’t quite as much fun or satisfying as before. At least that’s how this old curmudgeon feels. I’m sure even President Clinton would agree.
This blog posting was originally submitted as a UK Basketball Column for Nolan Group Media publications.