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story.lead_photo.caption Barnhill Arena is shown during a volleyball practice on Monday, Aug. 24, 2015, in Fayetteville. The arena was once home to the Razorbacks' basketball programs but has since been repurposed into an 8,500-seat venue for volleyball and gymnastics. - Photo by Jason Ivester

FAYETTEVILLE -- Had John Sutherland remained the then Arkansas Lady Razorbacks coach, the UA's women's basketball team might still play where Coach Eric Musselman's Razorbacks men play Saturday afternoon.

Musselman's men play their 3 p.m. Saturday Red-White game at Barnhill Arena while Walton Arena's floor continues transforming into Nolan Richardson Court.

Arkansas' women's coach from 1984-1993, Sutherland coached at Barnhill, its 9,500 capacity fiercely packed close to the floor creating a nationally renowned home court advantage for the Razorbacks men of Hall of Famers Eddie Sutton and Richardson.

Sutherland also enjoyed Southwest Conference Barnhill success. As Walton was planned, Sutherland seemed leaning toward keeping the Lady'Backs at Barnhill.

Gary Blair, replacing Sutherland as Arkansas' women's coach from 1993-94 through 2002-03, opted for Walton.

Third-year Arkansas Women's Coach Mike Neighbors, a Greenwood native and UA 1993 graduate attending innumerable men's and women's games at Barnhill, was asked if he pondered what if the women stayed at Barnhill where their crowds wouldn't be dwarfed by Walton's 20,000 capacity?

Might he consider a future Barnhill game?

"I did always wonder if it would be one of those venues where women play in a separate place that's all their own," Neighbors said. "And I do think in 2019 smaller is better. It would be something in the future if it was doable. It's a volleyball place now, so I'm anxious to see how they get it done. I can assure you I'll be there watching."

Eventually serving as Blair's director of operations, Neighbors was asked if Blair, arguably the UA's best of any coach at promoting their sport, made a rare marketing mistake forsaking Barnhill for Walton.

"I think it would have been hard not to play in Walton as soon as it was opened because there was nothing like it in the country," Neighbors said. "You'd have trouble explaining to a recruit why you didn't play in that thing when it was the crown jewel of basketball at the time. I think it was one of those things that now you might second guess it, but then it was probably a good thing."

Neighbors passed on his team playing an early October Red-White game at Barnhill not because of Barnhill but "because for some reason we don't perform well at Red-White games."

They especially aren't Red-White ready, Neighbors said, for just starting practice Monday, a full week after the NCAA allowed preseason start.

Neighbors explained his team came off an extended 2018-19 starting with a summer exhibition tour of Italy through a 22-15 season ending March 28 three games deep into the WNIT.

"The rules allow you to start earlier and earlier, but just because it's a rule doesn't mean you have to do it," Neighbors said.

He wants them fueled not exhausted from last season's success.

For off the buzz from that WNIT momentum and returning superstar Chelsea Dungee, 20.5 scoring average, Neighbors' Razorbacks might draw crowds that are crowds even in Walton.

NW News on 10/03/2019

Print Headline: What if women had kept playing in Barnhill Arena?

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