Basketball is a funny game. No other sport is influenced by the atmosphere in the building and the emotion that builds on the court like basketball is. The game moves quickly up and down the court and a team needs to possess the ball for only a few seconds before a shot is made or missed and play moves in the opposite direction.
Frustration with anything, from a bad call by a referee to excessive gloating from the other team, can lead to an overflow of emotion, which sometimes leads to negative situations, as was the case a couple of weekends ago when two Southeastern Conference players were ejected for throwing punches.
As bad as a slow start can be for a team, a fast start by the opponent can be even worse. I’ve obviously never been inside the head of a college basketball player, but seeing your opponent hit almost everything they throw up, including seven 3-pointers, in the first half of a game has to be pretty disheartening.
That’s what happened to the Florida Gators when they made a visit to Bud Walton Arena. At halftime, they were only down by 11, which isn’t an insurmountable number for a team as good as Florida, especially considering the Hogs’ shooting cooled a considerable amount at the end of the first and through the second half.
The Gators could have come out of the locker room after the half and gone on a run and taken the game over, but they didn’t. It was never even that close. I might be completely off base, but I have to imagine the dismal start by Florida compared with the fantastic start by Arkansas had something to do with that. Of course, the fanatics that filled the Bud probably didn’t make life any easier for the Gators.
Rowdy student sections are one of the things that makes college basketball great. It helps create an environment that can’t be replicated, and, as Hog fans know all too well, can make getting away with a victory more difficult for the visiting team.
However, it’s never a good idea to provide a member of the opposing team with anything they can pull motivation from. For example, the Auburn student section spent a good portion of the game against Arkansas chanting “BJ sucks” whenever BJ Young touched the ball. Young finished the game with 25 points.
One aspect of the game that always seems to be overtalked is the first meeting of a player and a former teammate or coach. It seems a little like something that people just talk about, but when you really think about it, it does make a bit of sense. Just think about that friend or coworker that never ceases to tell you how good their team is. It just makes you want to see your team beat them even more.
Again, I’m just speculating, but I think that is something that may have had an effect on the Arkansas-Missouri game Saturday. Don’t get me wrong, Missouri is a good team, but they have endured some road struggles of their own. Like the Razorbacks, the Tigers have only won one road game in conference play and Arkansas has proved they are tough to beat at home, but the game went right down to the wire.
This range of emotions that a team, or even an individual player, can go through in the course of a game that, compared to the other major sports, is relatively short, and the fact that the emotion can help a team to play above their potential or, on the negative side, can break them down if they handle it wrong, is something that makes college basketball truly amazing.
Haley Markle is the assistant sports editor for the Arkansas Traveler. Her column appears every Monday. Follow the sports section on Twitter @UATravSports.