FAYETTEVILLE — When Arkansas forward Jacorey Williams thought back to last season’s games against Missouri, one word came to mind.
He used it again and again in describing the budding rivalry.
“It was just physical,” Williams said. “From start to finish it was physical. There were people getting picked up off the floor. Thrown on the floor. Fouling. You’ve got (former Missouri center Alex) Oriakhi hitting everybody with elbows. So it was just like … I just remember it being physical and very competitive.”
Williams doesn’t see any reason the intensity will change when the two programs from bordering states meet once again in Bud Walton Arena at 6 p.m. Tuesday. Arkansas (13-6, 2-4 in Southeastern Conference) and Missouri (15-4, 3-3) are expecting another emotional night as they add another chapter to their history.
“It’s going to be very competitive,” Williams said. “Everybody is going to play with a chip on their shoulder and that’s how the game is going to be. Whoever brings the most energy (Tuesday), that’s who is going to come out with a W.”
The programs will meet as SEC foes for the third time after splitting the season series a year ago. It also signals the third time Arkansas coach Mike Anderson will face his former school after leading the program for five seasons.
Anderson said the emotions won’t be quite the same a year later because the Tigers don’t have any of his former players — who he referred to as “sons” last season — on their roster under coach Frank Haith. But Anderson acknowledged his Missouri ties, the history between the Razorbacks and Tigers dating back to Nolan Richardson’s time with the Razorbacks, and the fact both teams are now bordering states in the same conference should keep the intensity intact.
“I think as we continue to be in the same league, it will continue to build,” Anderson said. “Where it’s at right now, I think it’s trending that way. Especially, the split (last year). We had a game here we won, they won one last year. There’s the storyline I was there. Hopefully, that’s kind of faded and we can move on and play basketball.”
Neither side was ready to proclaim Arkansas-Missouri has blossomed into a full-fledged rivalry, but there’s no doubt last year’s games planted plenty of seeds.
It began with Arkansas’ 73-71 win in Fayetteville, which was Anderson’s first game against his former team. The border battle was physical throughout, producing a memorable moment when 5-foot-10 Arkansas guard Kikko Haydar latched onto a ball being held by the muscular 6-9 Oriakhi. Haydar went for a ride to the home crowd’s delight, tying up the big man while being lifted off the ground.
Missouri nearly won the game, though, holding a four-point lead with 34 seconds left. St. Louis native and former Arkansas guard B.J. Young rescued the Hogs with seven points — including back-to-back three-point plays — to help the Razorbacks complete a comeback and keep its perfect home record in SEC play intact.
Haith was upset after the loss, starting his postgame press conference by telling reporters not to ask him about the officiating. But he and the Tigers got their revenge, when Missouri rolled to a 30-point win on Senior Night in Anderson’s return to Columbia. The Tigers led by 26 at halftime and continued to cruise.
That game also will be remembered more for a moment between the two coaches.
An emotional Haith had to be restrained in the first half, stepping toward Anderson after a stop in play. Anderson returned Haith’s action by smiling at his replacement.
The two coaches spent more time than usual talking to each other after the game ended, then described it as a misunderstanding. That didn’t change this week. Both said they consider each other friends in the profession despite the kerfuffle.
“Mike and I, Marcheita (Anderson) and my wife, we’re really good friends,” Haith said. “We spend a lot of time with each other. So there’s no issue there.”
Said Anderson: “That’s water under the bridge. … We’ve moved on from that.”
Of course, each coach would love to one-up the other once again tonight.
Anderson called Tuesday’s game “big” for the Razorbacks, who are trying to battle out of their 1-4 hole. Arkansas took the first step in the right direction by beating Auburn, but the challenge will be much greater against Missouri.
The good news is that Arkansas is playing at home, where it is 12-1 this season.
“We’ve got to get wins,” Arkansas forward Coty Clarke said. “That’s the main thing on our minds. Not get caught up in them and coach Anderson and all that. We’re trying to win. … I’m sure he’s going to tell us the same thing. Just play. Don’t worry about what they have to say about last year. Me and Missouri. None of that.”
Missouri, meanwhile, will try to gain steam as well with its guard-oriented lineup. Jabari Brown (19.5 points a game) and Jordan Clarkson (18.8 points) rank first and third, respectively, in the SEC in scoring. Earnest Ross (14 points) is tied for 13th.
All three are transfers who are making an impact for Haith at Missouri.
“It’s definitely a luxury having three guys that can put the ball in the basket,” Haith said. “We’ve just got to get our post players to do a little bit more. Once that happens, and we get a little bit more out of bench, we can have a pretty good team. But there’s no question it’s a luxury having three guys that can have a big night.”
Arkansas is 6-0 against Missouri in Bud Walton Arena, dating back to its first season in the building in 1993-94. The Tigers haven’t won on the road against the Razorbacks since 1991-92, when they grabbed an 87-76 win in Barnhill Arena.
The Razorbacks believe they’ll have to battle to keep the streak intact tonight.
But Anderson believes his team is ready for another intense game.
“It’s Missouri vs. Arkansas,” Anderson said. “It’s an SEC game. We got off to a slow start, so we want to keep the momentum going the right direction. We feel like we are playing good basketball and want to continue that.”