3-19-08 -- Listen up, Arkansas: Texas coach Rick Barnes says you’d better be nice to his Longhorns or he won’t bring his team back to play the Razorbacks next season.
Texas (28-6), the No. 2 seed in the South Region, plays No. 15 Austin Peay (24-10) on Friday in North Little Rock, Ark., in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
And while the game is close enough for Texas fans to travel, the Longhorns should expect to be greeted by a hostile crowd fueled by the old Southwest Conference Arkansas-Texas border rivalry that burns generations deep.
Barnes suggested on a Monday conference call that if his team gets the same rowdy treatment Arkansas received in Austin in tournaments past, he won’t come back to play anytime soon. Texas is supposed to travel to Arkansas for a game in Fayetteville next season.
“If the fans don’t treat us well, we’re not going to come. You can put that out there,” Barnes said. “I’m serious. We’ve got enough money here, we can buy our way out of it. They’d better be good to us.”
A funny line, but Arkansas-Texas is serious business to fans in those two states.
Just ask former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson what it can be like to play on a supposedly neutral floor. His teams barely survived games in Austin in 1990 and 1995 in front of crowds that lustily booed the Razorbacks.
“Everybody was against us,” Richardson said. “It was fun for me.”
In 1990, Arkansas beat Princeton 68-64 and Dayton 86-84, then got its payback by beating Texas in Dallas to get to the Final Four. In 1995, the defending national champion Razorbacks were back and barely survived close wins over Texas Southern (79-78) and Syracuse (96-94).
“They booed us, they did everything,” Richardson said. “When things start rocking and momentum changes, you’d better make a shot. That’s the only way to keep the fans out of the game.”
The 1990 crowds had been whipped up by a game just a few weeks earlier that earned Richardson his “Strollin’ Nolan” nickname.
In a wild Arkansas win over Texas in overtime, Richardson was so upset by the officiating that he left the Razorbacks’ bench for the locker room with 14 seconds left in regulation, then returned for the overtime. Incensed fans in Austin let his team have it when they came back to town for the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament.
One thing that could help Texas is that Arkansas plays Friday night in the East Region. Razorbacks fans may be paying too much attention to their team to care much about Texas.
But Richardson said the Longhorns should expect an “anybody but Texas” treatment in North Little Rock. If Texas wins Friday, it plays Sunday against the winner of Friday’s Miami-St. Mary’s matchup.
“They’re going to hear it” from Arkansas fans, Richardson said. “Go ahead and buckle your seat belt.”
The Texas-Arkansas rivalry goes back to 1894 when the schools first met on the football field, and the bitter feelings across the border fueled a hoops rivalry with colorful coaches and wild games. A riot nearly erupted after a physical game at Arkansas in 1982, when Razorbacks fans blocked the ramp to the Texas locker room and players and fans started shoving and punches were thrown.
Barnes said all that history will be lost on his current team. The rivalry pretty much fizzled after Arkansas left the Southwest Conference after the 1990-91 season.
“Our guys don’t know the rivalry that existed between Texas and Arkansas,” Barnes said.
Chances are they’ll learn real fast. If the Longhorns can win two games in Arkansas, they’ll get to play in Houston, where huge pro-Texas crowds could make it a home away from home, much like San Antonio was in 2003, the last time Texas made the Final Four.
“Coaches have already told us that we’re going for the big picture now,” Texas guard A.J. Abrams said. “We can’t think that far in advance. We have to just worry about this game coming up.”