FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Passion runs red here at this little city hidden in the hills.
The color sprinkles the tops of winter beanies and splashes the bow ties of school staff. It dots the roofs of downtown Dickson Street, stains dead leaves not brown but burgundy.
Red hugs the inflatable hog looming above a lawn on Razorback Road, the brick fortifying Bud Walton Arena and illuminates the tomato-topped crowd of thousands that packs inside.
Arkansas red is the blood rushing through your veins on a walk across the campus, which crawls up and around the area’s many steep slopes. But when on flat ground, the hardwood, it’s the Razorbacks that usually run.
The Arkansas media guide advertises Mike Anderson’s offense as the fastest 40 minutes in college basketball, but it was Anderson’s former team that left the Razorbacks winded Tuesday.
Backed by 24 points each from Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross — including a Ross 3-pointer with 59 seconds left that put Missouri up for good — these Tigers, the ones that have prompted head scratching this season, became the first Missouri team in school history to win at Bud Walton with a 75-71 victory.
The loss was just the sixth in this building in Anderson’s three years at Arkansas, but the Razorbacks now find themselves at 2-5 in the SEC and free-falling out of NCAA Tournament contention.
“This place has been magical for them,” said Missouri coach Frank Haith, whose team now sports a 4-3 conference record, two semi-signature wins and will host Kentucky on Saturday for the second leg of what looks like a make-or-break stretch of conference play. “This is a tough place to get a win. They win a lot of games here.”
It’s not difficult to see why.
The 360-degree seating of Bud Walton surrounds opponents in a sea of chanting, hooting and whistling red and a whirl of quirks. Missouri had to deal with two separate student sections, an illusionist performance at halftime and the eerie ascension of Arkansas’ heralded “woo-pig-sooie” chant, which fills the arena with an intoxicating desire not to intimidate or insult, but scare.
“It’s kind of spooky,” said point guard Jordan Clarkson, who scored 11 points and handled Arkansas’ relentless press with poise, committing just two turnovers. “These are some of the best fans in the country. They fill the arena at all times."
They were especially loud when Michael Qualls slammed a Coty Clarke alley-oop to give Arkansas a 43-41 lead with 15 minutes, 37 seconds to play. Bud Walton Arena was louder still after a timeout set up a Missouri possession with 1:16 left and the game tied at 64.
Clarkson drove right and took the baseline. He leaped into the 6-foot-10 frame of Bobby Portis before redirecting at the last minute and firing a pass across the lane for Ross. His 3-pointer with 59 seconds remaining gave Missouri a lead it never gave back.
“Not letting the crowd speed us up or get us out of character,” explained Brown, who scored 19 points after halftime on another efficient night (4-for 5 from 3-point range, 8-for-8 free throws). “Staying focused.”
Haith now focuses on Kentucky with assurance that his team can take out an opponent in a hostile environment.
“I don’t know if we’d call it a rivalry, but its definitely a heated matchup and I enjoy playing in it,” said Brown, who cited proximity and Anderson’s history at Missouri. “All those things work together.”
Brown's brilliant second half silenced doubts about a rough first 20 minutes, during which Brown could claim only five points, two fouls and his first air ball of the year.
Brown has now scored at least 22 points in his last five games.
Fittingly, he leaves Arkansas still still red hot.
Supervising editor is Erik Hall.