Arkansas, Texas renew basketball rivalry Saturday in Houston

No matter what happens Saturday, the basketball game between Arkansas and Texas will be tame.

Not that both sides won’t be trying hard, but compared to the late 1970’s, this one won’t have much flair at all.

While some have put out stories and press releases about the history of the series, they’ve all missed the mark. And, pretty much, missed the mark by a mile or so.

Nothing will top Eddie Sutton vs. Abe Lemons.

Over a six-year period from 1976-82, the two teams played 15 times with Arkansas dominating, 10-5. Sutton waxed philosophical, which was his nature, providing the intensity. Lemons took care of the entertainment.

“He should have won,” Lemons said in an interview in Oklahoma City, Okla., back in 1998. “He had better players.”

That was true as Arkansas started it’s climb to the top of the basketball world.

With its four leading scorers returning, Texas entered the 1978–79 season with a No. 6 ranking in The Associated Press poll and as the near-unanimous favorite to win the SWC championship.

Coming off its first Final Four appearance, Sutton, the Hogs and the Arkansas fans felt slighted.

It was made worse when the Longhorns came into Barnhill Arena and came away with a 3-point win over the Hogs, ranked 10th at the time.

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But the intensity reached a red-hot intensity on Feb. 1 when the Razorbacks went to Austin and beat Texas by 10 points. At one point, Sutton reached out to Longhorns guard Johnny Moore and that infuriated Lemons.

“Eddie grabbed one of my players one time,” Lemons said. “I told him I was going to tear his Sunday clothes and liquidate his ass if he ever did it again. Eddie claims he never did it, but we’ve got it on film.”

From then, it was on.

In that postseason, it got worse. Arkansas won the conference tournament crown with a 39-38 win.

“Sutton said that was one of the greatest games ever played,” Lemons said. “I said, ‘That was the lowlight of my whole 50 years of coaching.’ Oh, it was awful. Absolutely awful.”

In those years, when Arkansas and Texas played you got to the arena early. In Fayetteville, Sutton would usually pop in near the end of the Longhorns’ shoot-around and chat with Lemons.

Before the 1981 game, when Texas again upset the Hogs in Barnhill, Lemons basically threatened his players in the shoot-around.

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“Here’s the deal,” he told his team gathered around after the shoot-around. “The guy who plays the worst has to stay in Fayetteville for a week. We’ll vote on it if it’s a close call. We’ll get you a hotel room, paid for in advance.”

Sutton heard this. He just put his head down, suddenly appearing to develop a keen interest in the floor at Barnhill.

Afterward, he went over to shake hands with Lemons.

“May the worst team win,” Lemons said.

Sutton told Lemons that Texas was the biggest game of the year for the Hogs. It wasn’t the same feeling for the Longhorns.

Lemons: “Look, if I had a choice of beating you or beating Rice, I’d rather beat Rice.”

Sutton: “What are you talking about?”

Lemons: “We’ve got to beat Rice. I’d get fired if I don’t beat Rice. Heck, you can beat us. We’re not good enough.”

Sutton: “You don’t really believe that.”

Lemons: “Yes, I do. Rice is a bigger game (to us) than Arkansas.”

“Eddie about lost his mind when I told him that,” Lemons said.

By that time Nike had done a special called “Abe and Eddie,” which highlighted the differences between the two coaches.

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The biggest difference may have been that Lemons was never shy about how to play Arkansas.

“He has some weaknesses,” Lemons said during those years. “One thing is you never reverse-pivot on them, or they’ll just fall over dead. They’ll be flopping all over the place. We reverse-pivoted one game, and three of his guys hit the deck.

“When it got close at the end of a game, they’d just fall down. (Sutton’s teams) were the masters at that. You just look at one of them (and) they’ll faint.”

Lemons passed away in 2002 while Sutton was still coaching, winding down his career at Oklahoma State.

The two had pretty much patched things up by then.

“Ahh, I’m about over it now,” the 75-year-old Lemons admitted in 1998. “I’m too old to do anything about it.”

Sutton always had a spot for Lemons, though. Until he passed away, there was always a spot at the Oklahoma State games on press row marked for Lemons.

It was their rivalry that made Arkansas-Texas special.

For the Razorback fans it helped they won most of the games.