But despite some 5,000 empty seats in the 18,000 capacity facility, Arkansas fans here gave the Hogs a big boost during Saturday's 72-60 loss against No. 5 Illinois.
Second-year Illinois coach Bruce Weber said last week he'd heard the Alltel Arena crowd was nothing to write home about. There were plenty of extra seats for the last Hogs-Fighting Illini matchup here, a 62-58 Illinois win in 2002.
After seeing – and hearing – for himself on Saturday, Weber's impression changed.
He called it a "hostile environment" and said it hardly was a neutral site (as Chicago's United Center and Alltel Arena were dubbed for this series).
"I mean, obviously, it wasn't neutral," Weber said. "They had a nice crowd and it was really loud. That low roof kept the noise in there."
Especially early and at interesting junctures, the fans in Alltel Arena made it almost deafening.
"I thought they were really loud, very vocal," said third-year Arkansas coach Stan Heath. "They really got into it at key times. And we were real excited that we had a chance to play in front of Central Arkansas and a lot of fans that don't get a chance to see us in Fayetteville.
"Thought we had a good turnout – a very good turnout – and, obviously, wish it could've sold out. Didn't happen, but I thought it was a very good turnout."
Some speculated that if this game wasn't a sellout – we mean, c'mon, the Hogs were 5-0 for the first time since 1997 and were playing a fifth-ranked dynamite team – Arkansas might not return.
"Yeah, we'll be back," Heath said. "We'll come back. And, hopefully, we'll be at the point where we're so highly-regarded they'll be some people from across not only our state but across the border that will want to come see us play."
The last time before Saturday that Arkansas played in Alltel Arena (an 85-65 win against Jacksonville University last season), just 6,165 showed.
Arkansas is 79-20 in Little Rock/North Little Rock, but the Hogs have played just six games since Fayetteville's Bud Walton Arena opened in 1994. Arkansas is 3-3in those matchups.
Arkansas senior forward Mike Jones was right at home on Saturday, having graduated from Little Rock's Parkview High.
It wasn't the greatest of homecomings, though.
Jones played just 20 first-half seconds, and he picked up two fouls. With 17 seconds left in the game, he got another shot. Jones got an offensive rebound and a putback before picking up another foul.
Arkansas sophomore forward/center Vincent Hunter, a Little Rock J.A. Fair product who is out the rest of this season with a shoulder injury, also was on the Hogs' bench as was freshman walk-on guard Sammy Munsey, a graduate of Little Rock's Pulaski Academy.
Arkansas and Illinois didn't exactly put on a free-throw clinic.
The Fighting Illini managed to make just 21 of 35 (60 percent), and Arkansas struggled even more, hitting only 17 of 32 attempts (53.1 percent).
"I kept saying, ‘You're a better team. Win the game. Act like you've been there,'" Weber said.
The Fighting Illini finally did that, netting 13 of 17 in the last 7:26.
Illinois center James Augustine made just 3 of 8 and missed four straight in the second half.
Arkansas' Ronnie Brewer was 9 of 14 from the field, but made just 1 of 7 free-throw attempts.
"I know he's going to go back – probably tonight – and shoot a lot more free throws," Heath said.
Monk Sports Uniform
Arkansas' Marcus Monk, who set a school record for freshman receivers this football season with 37 catches, dressed out for his first basketball game Saturday.
He did not play.
A 6-foot-6 forward, Monk averaged 20.8 points and 15.7 rebounds as a high school senior, when he led Poinsett County to the Class AAA title game.
Not So Sharp
Illinois' sharpshooters were averaging over 54 percent from the floor in their first five wins, including victories against Gonzaga and top-ranked Wake Forest.
On Saturday, the Fighting Illini made just 42.3 percent (22 of 52) from the floor.
Saturday's was the last Arkansas-Illinois matchup under the four-game contract. With the 72-60 win, the Fighting Illini swept the series which started with No. 1 Illinois winning 94-91 in Chicago in 2001. That was a memorable one as Nolan Richardson's team pressed throughout and Brandon Dean's acrobatic go-ahead lay-in was disallowed in the last few seconds.
Big Ten Illinois also beat Arkansas, of the Southeastern Conference, 62-58 here in 2002, and last season the No. 11 Fighting Illini rolled over Arkansas 84-61 in Chicago.
Illinois actually leads the series 5-0 as the Illini won the first-ever meeting, 65-53, in Champaign in 1949.
AllTel Crowd Was Loud
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