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Arkansas Razorbacks Showing True Grit of Old

It's fun experiencing all of these "first time since the '90s" moments, isn't it?

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

About midway through the first half of Saturday's gritty win at Oxford, which ushered the Bad Pad out of Razorback consciousness with a satisfying boot to the curb, Jabril Durham emerged from a scrum in front of the Black Bear bench with the ball and immediately called time out.

Shockingly enough, it was granted.

That play alone displayed the grit the Hogs have adopted over the last month in which we've won 8 of 9, and indeed, that head-scratching, mid-January home loss to Ole Miss seems a lifetime ago.

The Hogs are rolling and while the wins haven't always been pretty, they've simply - and most importantly - been. We're 4-2 on the road this SEC go-round, and something like 7-4 in our last 11 league excursions. Looking ahead, we should be favored the rest of the way with the exception, of course, being Kentucky, and that includes trips to Starkville and Columbia east.

Grit has been a rare commodity for Razorback basketball these last 15 years. The 2000 squad that played .500 ball over the course of the regular season but put together an SEC-first 4-day run in Atlanta displayed some grit, but it faded fast in a first round loss to Miami.

Perhaps the NCAA teams of '06-'08 had some moxy -- our favorite Buckaroo J. Modica certainly displayed it. (Pel's '08 team that scored back-to-back big wins over UT and OU teased of a return to relevance.)

But the Hogs of here and now are harkening back to the glory days. Dropping 101 at Auburn in that UFC cage match of a game was impressive. No longer do we wilt under the pressure of home cooking on the road. No longer do we get outscrapped. We're playing smarter, and better, D. And, lo and behold, shots are falling.

Speaking of grit, that smothering of Mississippi State in a brilliant defensive performance inside a feisty-for-a-half Bud Walton Arena conjured memories of Eddie and Abe dueling under the old Southwest Conference sun.

Eddie, of course, is Eddie Sutton, the Razorback coach who laid the foundation upon which Nolan Richardson built and Mike Anderson is attempting a remodel. And then there's Abe Lemons, Oswald Cobblepot to Eddie's Bruce Wayne, and coach of the hated Texas Longhorns from 1976-82.

Indeed, before there was Nolan and Sweet Tom (Penders, UT coach from ‘88-98), there was Eddie and Abe. Like it was at Arkansas when Sutton took over in 1975, basketball was a secondary sport in Austin when Abe joined the show. And when perennial national power Houston (yep, UH used to be a national player in both football and hoops -- go figure) joined the league in '76, it was on for SWC basketball.

Sutton and Lemons, with help from Guy Lewis down in Houston, transformed SWC hoops from moribund afterthought to primary winter entertainment. Indeed, for those of us who had lived and breathed Razorback football as little Hog callers, the mid to late 70s was when basketball came to Arkansas.

In 1979, following the Final 4 year of the Triplets and before embarking on an Elite 8 run that culminated in a Riverfront Coliseum robbery, the Hogs had to get through Abe and UT to claim the SWC tourney crown at the old Summit in Houston.

That season, the Hogs and Horns shared the SWC regular season crown at 13-3, each winning on their rivals' home floor. In the much anticipated rubber match, with Abe employing the old pre-shot clock delay (anyone remember the 4 corners?), we outlasted the Horns, 39-38, in a game deserving of "instant classic" status and living proof that basketball can be exciting at any pace.

SWC champs, we headed to the dance with a head of steam and a 2 seed. The Dance invited just 48 back then, and after wins over Weber State and Louisville only undefeated Indiana State and Larry Bird stood in the way of a return trip to the Final 4. [Cough -- Reed was tripped -- cough] But...sigh...that's another story for another day. (A pox on you, Bob Heaton...)

That team, like virtually all Razorback teams through the 90s anyway, had grit. Which, really, is the first characteristic that comes to mind with Razorback basketball. Defense and grit. Whether it was Eddie's walk-it-up, classic defensive stoppers or Nolan's freewheelin' Hawgballers, the Hogs made you work for everything.

Anderson seems to have struck a vein under which the true Hog grit of old has been waiting to be rediscovered. It was buried, and it took him a bit to find it. But this team, this gloriously likable team embodied by the absolute mental and physical toughness of homegrown guys like Anton Beard and Ky Madden, appears ready to launch Razorback Basketball 3.0.

We're finding ways to win whether it takes 101 or 61, and that's what the best teams do. The Kentucky game, while we'll be deserved underdogs, is beginning to take on that feel of a big time matchup. You know, like the games with UK used to be. (Super Bowl Sunday, anyone?)

Can't wait. Put me in a dark alley and give me Manny Watkins, Beard, Ky, Harris, BP, any of 'em...and bring it.

A lot of ball remains to be played. We've got to TCB this week, and nothing is guaranteed. But it is starting to feel like old times again, isn't it?