Near The Goal Arkansas closed in on the title thanks to two key spurts against Arizona - Sports Illustrated Vault |
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Near The Goal Arkansas closed in on the title thanks to two key spurts against Arizona

AS the Razorbacks came hurtling into Charlotte from Dallas with
their Midwest Regional title in tow, they found themselves on course
to meet a team they might have recognized by simply looking in the
mirror. Arizona, which had appeared fearsome in winning the West
Regional, also played with furious confidence. With their backcourt
of Damon Stoudamire and Khalid Reeves, the Wildcats, like the Hogs,
boasted one of the finest sets of guards in the country. They had a
defensive keynoter, Reggie Geary, who could go word-to- word with
Scotty Thurman, the mouthiest Razorback. Finally, Arizona also had a
coach who believed his team had not been given the respect it
In Los Angeles the week before, Wildcat coach Lute Olson had
ripped the press for criticizing Arizona after first-round losses in
each of the last two NCAA tournaments. But whereas Nolan Richardson
never let the Razorbacks lose their sense of indignation over
slights, both real and imagined, Olson seemed to have come to
Charlotte to make nice. ''I just got some things off my chest,''
Olson said of his earlier remarks. ''That's all I have to say about
Whether the sudden change in Olson's attitude had anything to do
with what would happen in his team's meeting with Arkansas is
impossible to say. Still, their national semifinal was a game rich
with omens. As the First Family looked on from their skyboxes, a guy
named Ted Hillary refereed the game, and % Wilbur the Wildcat tore up
his knee in a pregame collision with the Razorback mascot. ''En
garde!'' was Arizona's publicity slogan this season, a reference to
its backcourt. But the Wildcats got only a half out of each of their
ballyhooed guards: Stoudamire missed 16 of 18 field goal attempts
before intermission, and Reeves bricked 13 of 14 in the second half.

In the meantime Arizona fell victim to two characteristic
stretches of Hog wildness. One was an 11-point Arkansas run in 1:16
of the first half that lifted the Razorbacks to a six-point lead.
However, the Hogs, as is their youthful wont, turned briefly to slop
and found themselves tied 41-41 at the break.
Arkansas needed a second run to put the game away. With eight
minutes remaining, Arizona ahead 67-65 and Reeves having just taken a
seat with his fourth foul, Dwight Stewart tossed in a three-pointer.
The shot touched off an 11-1 stretch over the next two minutes. ''All
it takes is one steal, one dunk, one great shot to get us started,''
said Richardson, who pointed to the Big Dog's trey as the play of the
The game was a medley of everything this Arkansas team could do.
The Razorbacks scored inside and they scored outside, on standard
dial-1 three- pointers and on Alex Dillard's ridiculous dial-011
treys. They scored on sublime high-low passes from Corliss Williamson
to cutting teammates as they went in for layups; they scored on long
inbounds passes that must have warmed the heart of former Razorback
football coach Frank Broyles. On defense they pressed full-court,
trapped half-court and fell back into a thick zone. The traps proved
irresistible to the Arizona guards, who funneled merrily through
them, only to wind up taking hurried shots from unfamiliar places on
the floor.
In the end the Wildcats succumbed to a pace that was too fast to
endure. ''The breaking point, that's what we call it,'' said
Richardson. ''If you've got a team on the ropes, you can see the
fatigue set in. I saw it. They were bending down, grabbing their
shorts. That's when you stick 'em.''
To finish the job, Richardson relied on the soul of his team,
point guard Corey Beck. He had started the game sluggishly,
committing four turnovers in the first six minutes. Then, early in
the second half, Beck picked up his third and fourth fouls within six
seconds. Richardson had to take him out. But he took a chance,
sending Beck back in with 12:10 to play. ''I bit the bullet,''
Richardson would say. Soon enough, Beck was bounding from end line
to end line, firing the decisive run and making life miserable for
the feckless fencers from Tucson. En garde? Touche. Arkansas was
safely through to the final by a score of 91-82.
For fans around the country who had never seen Williamson play, he
was the evening's revelation. He scored 29 points and pulled down 13
rebounds. Equally impressive, though, were his five assists.
Frequently they came after Williamson had recognized an impending
double team and then whipped the ball out to a teammate for an open
jump shot. ''When you double them, most players lose their poise,''
said Olson after the game. ''He doesn't.''
As he grabbed seven offensive boards and spun into soft
turnarounds and short banks from the lane, Williamson never appeared
to be bothered by Arizona center Joseph Blair, who didn't try
fronting him all night. ''Don't call me Joe,'' Blair likes to tell
people. ''That sounds like a car mechanic.'' But the Wildcats could
have used a little more elbow grease inside to deal with Williamson.

So much for the Wildcats. A few hours later Duke dispatched
Florida by a score of 70-65. The Final Four left Arizona behind, and
it left Florida behind. Spring training was over.