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Know when and how to apply moral victories

FAYETTEVILLE — At the risk of appearing sexist, it seems a coach of women’s basketball can express a truth that a football coach or men’s basketball coach cannot.

The truth concerns moral victories. A truth that a football coach or men’s basketball coach rarely can express without appearing less than macho.

Mike Neighbors, the Greenwood native whose success coaching women’s basketball took the Washington Huskies to the Final Four, gladly accepted the moral victory mantle.

A former UA assistant and former Arkansas high school coach, Neighbors finally was presented his dream job with the Razorbacks. He accepted, leaving a 29-6 Washington team in the Sweet Sixteen for an Arkansas program losing under former Coach Jimmy Dykes, much like the losing Razorbacks football program that Coach Chad Morris inherited this season from former Coach Bret Bielema.

During Neighbors’ Arkansas debut season last season, struggling 13-18 overall and 3-13 in the SEC, Arkansas was demolished 89-43 at Arizona State.

On Nov. 18 this season at Walton Arena, Neighbors’ Razorbacks took then-No. 22 Arizona State to the wire losing, 88-85.

“Anybody that doesn’t believe in moral victories has never been part of a team in a rebuilding situation,” Neighbors said that Nov. 18 postgame. “They do exist and tonight that was one of them. They are a great team and for us to battle them that close, that’s a good measuring stick for us.”

Coming off 26-10 and 23-12 seasons with a 27-9 four seasons ago, Mike Anderson stands on too high ground publicly to accept anything as a moral victory for his Arkansas basketball men.

But that 73-71 season-opening overtime loss to Texas was one, even with Arkansas frustration not winning the game, it led by three with one second left in regulation.

An Arkansas team debuting and returning only Daniel Gafford and two role players with an otherwise all new cast was not expected to take an experienced Texas team to overtime at the not-so-neutral site of El Paso, Texas.

Considering Arkansas won its next four, including one over big-name Indiana, that close loss to Texas proved “a good measuring stick” for Anderson’s Razorbacks like the Arizona State game for Neighbors’ team.

As for Morris, following the football coaching code of accepting no moral victories, moral victories may be about the only victories he gets for a while. Morris rebuilds now not only from Bielema’s final 4-8 overall/ 1-7 SEC season of 2017. He rebuilds from his own 2-10 — most Arkansas losses ever in a season — while duplicating Bielema’s 2013 0-8 SEC debut.

Looking back, following the nonconference debacle, losing 44-10 in Fayetteville to North Texas, those 24-17 SEC losses both to Texas A&M and LSU and 37-33 to Ole Miss and scoring 31 even while losing by 34 to Alabama were moral victories.

At least then they showed fight that they didn’t finish closing, routed 52-6 and 38-0 at Mississippi State and at Missouri respectively.

Sports on 11/26/2018

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