The Razorbacks realized this was common perception. They embraced their underdog status Tuesday night. And as junior guard Stefan Welsh kissed the giant, mid-court Razorback in Bud Walton Arena after an upset victory, he felt giddy that Arkansas proved its doubters wrong.
With a 96-88 drubbing of No. 4 Oklahoma, these inexperienced Razorbacks beat their highest-ranked opponent in Fayetteville since downing No. 2 Auburn — 10 seasons ago.
"This feels really good because we knew coming into the game that the only people who felt like we had a chance were the people inside this locker room and inside the athletic department," Welsh said. "Nobody was giving us a chance."
The Razorbacks (10-1) surprised the masses, though, building a lead as wide as 25 points before a raucous sellout crowd of 19,064. Their reaction to OU's 16-0 second-half spurt may have been even more shocking.
Oklahoma (12-1) drew to within four points with five minutes left. But the Razorbacks stayed composed, calmly milked the shot clock and eventually sealed the victory in fitting fashion: on freshman point guard Courtney Fortson's strip of OU power forward Blake Griffin with 57 seconds left.
Two subsequent free throws by Fortson put Arkansas up 91-81.
"Courtney Fortson was magnificent," Sooners coach Jeff Capel said. "I told our guys in the scouting report the past few days that there's no question watching on tape who the leader of their team is. It speaks volumes for a freshman."
In claiming their eighth straight victory, the Hogs received plenty of other standout performances. Junior Michael Washington posted team-highs of 24 points and 11 rebounds, and senior Marcus Monk supplied an unexpected 12 points and six boards.
But the tone-setter of Arkansas' 42nd consecutive home nonconference win was Fortson. The scrappy, 5-foot-11 lefty finished with 12 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds and treated Oklahoma's guards just like Austin Peay's or South Alabama's.
Fortson assisted on four straight baskets during a 12-0 run that boosted Arkansas to an early 25-8 lead.
"We couldn't defend Courtney Fortson on the ball screens at all," OU freshman guard Willie Warren said. "He was getting in the paint whenever he wanted and making plays for his teammates like a point guard should."
Meanwhile, Griffin couldn't get anything going as the Razorbacks rotated Monk, Washington, along with freshmen Michael Sanchez and Brandon Moore on him. Capel said he thought Griffin looked passive early on, "anticipating the double team" too often.
Griffin didn't score until the 8:54 mark of the first half. He didn't record his first field goal until his layup with 5:47 left before halftime.
"We didn't do anything tonight he hasn't seen 100 times," Arkansas coach John Pelphrey said.
Warren tried to keep the Sooners in the game by tallying 20 of his career-high 35 points in the first half. Tony Crocker, Warren and Griffin — who finished with a quiet-seeming 21 points and 13 boards — helped rally the Sooners late. Warren's left-corner 3 made it 81-77 with 5:01 left.
But Arkansas' unrelenting intensity was too overwhelming, even for an OU team seen as a legitimate Big 12 title contender.
The Razorbacks shot only 39.3 percent from the field in the second half after making 63.3 percent in the first. They persevered, however, with grit and with togetherness. Even with a small bench, the Razorbacks refused to take a possession off, exhibiting the characteristics Pelphrey demands.
"This team is built off of heart, toughness and intensity," Welsh said.
Pelphrey said he hoped his team enjoyed this monumental victory, and more importantly comprehended how and why it occurred.
"For the last month, our attitude is what's allowed us to have a chance," Pelphrey said. "Maybe we have a little bit of chemistry right now. ... This is only one game and it goes away at midnight, but we are very happy."
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