FAYETTEVILLEÂ â€” Though Arkansas and the Texas A&M Aggies were pretty fierce football rivals in their Southwest Conference days, the Razorbacks never had an Aggies Week like their annual â€œTexas Weekâ€ gearing up to play the Longhorns.
However for this SEC opening basketball week, consider this Aggies Week twice over on the University of Arkansasâ€™ Fayetteville campus even with UA students on holiday break.
Thursday night at Walton Arena Coach Mike Neighborsâ€™ 12-1 nationally 20th ranked Razorbacks women open their SEC campaign against the 12-1 nationally No. 11 Aggies coached by former Lady Razorbacks coach Gary Blair.
Saturday night at Walton new coach Eric Musselmanâ€™s surprising Razorbacks men, 11-1 fresh off overcoming the Big Tenâ€™s 11-2 Indiana Hoosiers last Sunday in Bloomington, Ind., meet the 6-5 Aggies and their new coach Buzz Williams.
Thursdayâ€™s tip-off is late, 8 p.m. to accommodate the SEC Networkâ€™s whip-around TV coverage of all seven opening night SEC womenâ€™s games. Arkansas vs. A&M marks the grand finale tipping off 30 minutes later than the nightâ€™s preceding two SEC games and thus scheduled to finish the night with the entire SEC Network focus riveted on Fayetteville.
Itâ€™s always a big game in Fayetteville when Blair, 198-120 from 1993-2003 coaching the Ladyâ€™Backs including the only Final Four in the history of UA womenâ€™s basketball, returns with his Aggies.
Womenâ€™s Basketball Hall of Famer Blair two games achieved his 800th career victory two games when the Aggies defeated Houston.
â€œ Iâ€™m really glad that Coach Blair has number 800 out of the way so we donâ€™t have that going on here,â€ Neighbors said.
That would have been an uncomfortable denying history to his mentor.
Greenwood native and then recent UA grad Neighbors was a former Ladyâ€™Backs director of basketball operations under Blair.
Neighbors said his team confidence soars from its last four games routing Tulsa, Northwestern State, Arkansas-Little Rock and Tennessee-Martin 91-41, 99-39, 86-53 and 96-46 but it poses a double edged sword stepping up to A&M and the SEC.
â€œI do think weâ€™â€™re prepared although I donâ€™t know it 100 percent because we havenâ€™t had the end of the close game situations happening live,â€ Neighbors said. â€œI know our confidence is higher. Weâ€™ve done it for 13 games and it has not been a fluke. Our defense is way better.â€
Thursday nightâ€™s game features two of the SEC womenâ€™s superstars, A&M guard Chennedy Carter, averaging 22.8 points per game, and Arkansas guard Chelsea Dungee, averaging 19.8 points per game.
Both are not the only stars in their galaxy. Aggies Ciera Johnson, and Kayla Wells average 12.9 and 12.8 points while Nâ€™dea Jones averages 10.1 rebounds.
Razorbacks Amber Ramirez and Conwayâ€™s Alexis Tolefree average 13.8 and 13.5 with Tolefree sizzling recently including a game-leading 23 in Sundayâ€™s 96-46 rout of a Tennessee-Martin team that in its previous game extended nationally No. 3 Louisville to double overtime.
Neighborsâ€™ Razorbacks Sunday afternoon drew nearly 4,000 vocal supporters, â€œan awesome crowd,â€ he said, should well exceed that Thursday even with the late start.
No doubt what Musselmanâ€™s men will draw Saturday night with a 6 p.m. start. Itâ€™s already a sellout and was even before a throng of excited fans met the Hogs at the Drake Field airport Sunday night when they returned from rallying from down 11 with 16:04 left to beat the Hoosiers in Bloomington.
Fortunately the Hogs Monday started a full week to recover and refocus from their epic game that earned sophomore guard and Fort Smith Northside alum Isaiah Joe Co-SEC Player of the Week for his game-leading 24 points with 18 coming in Arkansasâ€™ second half comeback.
â€œThese are the games you live for,â€ Joe said on postgame radio Sunday night. â€œTo be able to come out to these big games and win them and be exhausted and know you laid it all out on the floor.â€
And to be ready, Musselman said on postgame radio, to start the SEC season like they finished nonconference.
â€œWe just talked to the team and said Bud Walton should be rocking on Saturday against A&M as we head into SEC play,â€ Musselman said minutes after Sundayâ€™s game. â€œThis was a great way to go into conference play without question.â€