Rivalry Born Sooner, Played Later
With the recent announcement of the upcoming men’s basketball series between the University of Arkansas and the University of Oklahoma, it provided an opportunity to reflect back on some of the athletics history between the two schools. When the two schools get together for the first game of a multi-year series at the BOK Center in Tulsa in December 2020, it will fan a regional rivalry that has maintained itself through the years as more of a flicker than a full-fledged blaze.
While interstate competition between the two schools started more than two centuries ago, with an 1899 matchup in football, the two programs have met only somewhat periodically in team sports. Arkansas and Oklahoma have met 28 times in men’s basketball, 26 in baseball and only 14 times on the football field. The Razorbacks hold the series advantage in men’s basketball and baseball, while the Sooners have the edge on the gridiron. The Hogs and Sooners have met more regularly in softball and gymnastics and occasionally in women’s basketball.
On the surface, the two programs seem to share quite a bit in common. After all, Arkansas and Oklahoma share a border, a shade of red and a general disdain for the Longhorns that reside to the south. Although neighbors on a map, Oklahoma and Arkansas have traveled different paths to their current locales in the college athletics landscape. Oklahoma forged its way from the Big 8 to an expanded Big 12. While Arkansas helped topple the conference realignment dominoes when it moved from the fledgling Southwest Conference to the Southeastern Conference.
While somewhat lacking in regularity, the regional series between Arkansas and Oklahoma has produced some significant games and some unforgettable moments. Here are just a few: (listed in chronological order).
1978 Orange Bowl
No. 6 Arkansas 31, No. 2 Oklahoma 6
January 2, 1978
In arguably the biggest UA upset of all-time, reserve tailback Roland Sales rushed for an Orange Bowl record 205 yards on the way to Arkansas’ 31-6 victory over the No. 2 and Big Eight champion Oklahoma Sooners. During the 1977 season the Hogs were led by UA all-time career leading rusher Ben Cowins. However, before the underdog Razorbacks could even take the field against the Sooners, Holtz suspended Cowins, a second-team tailback and the squad’s leading receiver. Arkansas turned a couple of first quarter turnovers into rushing touchdowns with Sales scoring the first and quarterback Ron Calcagni the second to make it 14-0. After a Steve Little field goal made it 17-0, the Razorbacks went 82 yards for a touchdown with 4:40 to play in the third quarter with Sales scoring on a four-yard run. Each team scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Sales earned outstanding back honors, while nose guard Reggie Freeman picked up the outstanding lineman award.
1987 Orange Bowl
Oklahoma 42, Arkansas 8
January 1, 1987
This may seem like an odd entry to include, at least from the Arkansas side. After all, on this night in Miami, Oklahoma, coached by former Razorback Barry Switzer, dominated Arkansas from start to finish in the first rematch since the 1978 Orange Bowl. For me it was the backdrop to a memorable personal story. As my family and I walked to the stadium prior to the game, we were suddenly halted by an Orange Bowl car speeding up the driveway. It stopped just in front of me. Lo and behold, as I looked in the back seat of the car, there was the flamboyant Oklahoma linebacker Brian Bosworth who had been suspended from the game for steroid use. I looked at him. He looked at me. I pointed at the Hog Hat on my head. The Boz lowered his sunglasses and saluted my fandom with a single finger. Neither of us played that day, but I think it can be said we both stayed true to form. I considered it a fan victory.
Pre-Season NIT Game
No. 2 Arkansas 110, No. 15 Oklahoma 88
November 16, 1990
In what was still the dawning of a magical era of Razorback Basketball, Coach Nolan Richardson and the Hogs hosted Coach Billy Tubbs and the Oklahoma Sooners in a second-round pre-season NIT game at Barnhill Arena. The Razorbacks were coming off a 1990 NCAA Final Four appearance and the Sooners were looking to outrun the Hogs early in the new season. It was a fast paced game as one might expect. It was back and forth and intense. At one point, Tubbs vehemently argued the shot clock should have been reset on a Sooners’ possession. Tubbs sprinted down the scorer’s table to midcourt and slammed his first on the table just in front of longtime Razorback official scorer Tommy Smith. Smith, a mountain of a man, whose patience, like the shot clock, had almost expired, stood up to aggressively point Tubbs back to his bench. Tubbs’ quickly realized he was outsized and scurried back to his bench. It was from there he watched the remainder of Arkansas’ 110-88 decisive victory.
Rainbow Classic Quarterfinal
No. 3 Arkansas 86, Oklahoma 84
December 28, 1994
The defending national champion Arkansas Razorbacks brought a No. 3 ranking into a quarterfinal matchup with the Oklahoma Sooners at the Rainbow Classic in Honolulu, Hawaii. Oklahoma “way lei’ d” the Hogs in the first half taking a 46-32 lead into halftime. But in a pattern that would emerge throughout the 1994-95 season, the experienced Razorback team kept its composure and stormed back. The victory was the ninth straight for the Hogs after losing the season opener against Massachusetts. The Razorbacks went on to win the Rainbow Classic with wins over Cincinnati and Iowa. Eventually, Arkansas advanced to the NCAA Final Four and NCAA Tournament Championship Game for the second straight year, finishing as the national runner-up.
Women’s NIT Tournament Second Round
Arkansas 97, Oklahoma 93 (OT)
March 14, 1999
Fort Cobb, Oklahoma, product Wendi Willits made the most of the matchup with a team from her home state, taking over in the Border War between the Hogs and the Sooners. The second round Women’s NIT match-up was a toe-to-toe physical battle. In the midst of a record-setting season of three-point shooting, Willits scored a career-high 35 points to lead Arkansas into the NIT quarterfinals. The Razorbacks would go on to defeat Rice, Drake and ultimately Wisconsin to clinch the 1999 WNIT Championship in front of its home fans at Bud Walton Arena.
NCAA Baseball Regional
Arkansas 8, Oklahoma 5
May 31, 2002
Arkansas opened the 2002 NCAA Baseball Tournament facing Oklahoma in an NCAA Regional first round matchup in Wichita, Kansas. The Razorbacks, under Coach Norm DeBriyn, secured an 8-5 win over the Sooners in the first game of the old six-game NCAA regional format. That victory coupled with a pair of wins over Oral Roberts later that weekend vaulted the Razorbacks into its first NCAA Super Regional against Clemson. Arkansas won the first game against the Tigers, but then dropped the final two games in what turned out to be the final games in a storied career for Arkansas’ legendary coach. Following the 2002 season, DeBriyn announced his retirement and Frank Broyles moved quickly to lure back home a rising college baseball coach from the University of Nebraska, Dave Van Horn.
Arkansas 96, No. 4 Oklahoma 88
December 30, 2008
In one of the most compelling weeks of non-conference basketball at Bud Walton Arena in Razorback history, Arkansas recorded top 10 wins over two regional rivals. It all began with a high-flying 96-88 win over Blake Griffin and the No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners. Arkansas staked itself to a 25-point lead in the second half, but OU did not go away quietly closing it to five points late. But Michael Washington, Courtney Fortson and crew responded sealing the victory before going on later in the week to take down No. 7 Texas in front of the Hog faithful.
No. 8 Arkansas 196.600, No. 7 Oklahoma 195.625
January 26, 2009
In what marked a historic victory in Razorback Gymnastics history, Arkansas traveled to Norman and earned a 196.600 – 195.625 victory of the No. 7 Oklahoma Sooners. Led by all-around champion Casey Jo Magee, the Razorbacks outdistanced the Sooners for the first time in program history. Magee also won the bars and tied for individual honors on the balance beam with teammate Amy DeFilippo. Michelle Stout and Jaime Pisani tied for individual titles on the vault. Stout also tied for the top individual score on the floor exercise. Later that year, Arkansas won its NCAA Regional hosted in Fayetteville and advanced to the NCAA Gymnastics Championship in Lincoln, Nebraska where they recorded a school-record fifth-place finish.
Arkansas 3, No. 11 Oklahoma 2
April 7, 2008
The Razorbacks jumped out to a 3-0 lead and held off the hard-charging Sooners to record a 3-2 win at Bogle Park. It was the first win over Oklahoma in program history. Razorback Sandra Smith gave Arkansas the early lead with an RBI-single in the bottom of the first inning, scoring Kayla Johnson. Arkansas added two more runs to its lead in the fourth inning. Miranda Dixon was hit by a pitch to open the frame before Dayna Huckabee tripled down the right field line to make it 2-0. After another hit by pitch, Britany Robison hit into a fielder’s choice that scored another run to make it 3-0 Razorbacks. Oklahoma made it a tight one late, scoring two runs in the top of the sixth inning off Arkansas starting pitcher Katy Henry. However, it was Henry who came up big in closing out the Sooners to secure a complete game win and give Arkansas the historic victory.
NCAA Baseball Regional
Arkansas 17, Oklahoma 6
Arkansas 11, Oklahoma 0
May 30-31, 2009
For Arkansas in the 2009 season, the Road to Omaha began in Norman, Oklahoma. Arkansas opened the NCAA Regional with a 10-3 win over Washington State. The Hogs and Sooners met for the first time in a second round winner’s bracket game. Arkansas rocked Oklahoma starting pitcher Michael Rocha for four runs in the first inning and then punished the Sooners’ bullpen on the way to a 17-6 win. The Hogs racked up 20 hits, including eight of the extra-base variety. By the time the Sooners made their way back to the Hogs’ bracket in the regional final, Arkansas sent the home crowd home early in an 11-0 shutout. Arkansas went on to sweep Florida State in Tallahassee in a NCAA Super Regional to advance to the College World Series. The Hogs finished third in the nation in their final appearance at Rosenblatt Stadium.
Arkansas 92, Oklahoma 83
November 23, 2017
Arkansas used a season-high 27 points from Daryl Macon as the Razorbacks pulled away late to knock off Oklahoma 92-83 in the opening round of the Phil Knight Invitational. The match up featured two of the highest scoring teams in the country. The Razorbacks shot 47.5 percent from the field in the first half, posting its second 50-point period of the season. The senior guard trio of Daryl Macon, Jaylen Barford and Anton Beard led the Razorbacks in the first half, as Arkansas was able to build as large as a 10-point advantage. Oklahoma, led by Trae Young, led less than a minute in the game and never led in the second half as Arkansas posted the first round win. In addition to Macon’s 27, Jaylen Barford (19), Anton Beard (14) and Daniel Gafford (13) all scored in double figures in the victory.
Razorback Road is a column written by Senior Associate Athletic Director for Public Relations and Former Student-Athlete Engagement Kevin Trainor (@KTHogs). Trainor is a graduate of the University of Arkansas and has worked for Razorback Athletics for more than 25 years.