Can the Arkansas Razorbacks repeat history as they lead the way to the national championship?
On paper, there are a lot of similarities between Arkansas and Duke this season.
Duke beat Kentucky and Gonzaga early in the season. Arkansas beat Kentucky and Gonzaga last month.
Duke lost a key conference game to powerful conference rival North Carolina, resulting in a split while being bounced from the conference tournament by an upstart from Virginia Tech.
Duke lost a key conference game to powerful conference rival Tennessee, resulting in a split while being bounced from the conference tournament by an upstart Texas A&M.
And while people are busy comparing Arkansas to Duke, there’s also a natural tendency to compare Arkansas teams to those of the past.
The standard default is to always go back to those 1994 and 1995 teams. It’s hard not to want to think back to 1994 with former Duke guard Grant Hill calling games from the sideline and Mike Krzyzewski pacing the line sidelines with a boatload of super stars running around in Blue Devils uniforms.
In 1994, Arkansas needed 31 wins to win the national title, a number that stuck with me as a kid because it was the number of Roger Crawford, one of only two seniors and the leader team member who got injured before the final. That’s the same number the Razorbacks would need to win a national title this year.
But while Duke isn’t quite as far off the talent level of this team, Arkansas isn’t comparable to the 1994 or 1995 version of the Arkansas Razorbacks. Sure, all the fighting and heart is there, but it wasn’t those national championship teams that established that fundamental essence that lasted throughout the 1990s.
This was established by the Hogs’ 1990 NCAA Tournament team. The Hogs had earned a level of national interest thanks to their 120-101 shootout with the famed Loyola-Marymount team that used to knock teams out of the building, but interest was all there was. ‘era. The respect wasn’t there yet, including from much of Arkansas’ fan base.
That 1990 team was a young, scrappy team that bounced between the Top 15 and the bottom end of the Top 10 on the back of a young core highlighted by sophomores Todd Day, Lee Mayberry and Oliver Miller with a list of actors and leaders. around them who could probably make a run at a national championship on their own in the current climate.
Guys like Lenzie Howell, Arlyn Bowers, Mario Credit, Ernie Murry, Ron Huery, Clyde Fletcher, Isaiah “Butch” Morris, Cannon Whitby and Warren Linn provided the wall and the incubator for the other three to grow.
This is the team that basically got into a street fight with UNLV, possibly the baddest team to ever hit NCAA soil. Yeah, it was that game, the one everyone quotes Larry Johnson as saying “You better go get yourself some men” to Nolan Richardson while running down the field.
It was a skinny Todd Day there doing real swings at Johnson, who was twice his size. There was a hard fight and don’t back down mentality that was etched into Razorback’s DNA that year.
Make no mistake about it. It’s really a comparison between what was inside those players and what it meant for the program to come.
This iteration of the Razorbacks not only showed future Razorbacks the value of heart and defense, but what Nolan Richardson was trying to teach his team could make believe. What they did on the court was so strong that it turned a part of the fan base that wanted to hate Nolan Richardson so badly for reasons that had nothing to do with basketball into loyal supporters and some of his staunchest supporters.
This team turned the tide on the perception of Arkansas basketball. All of these things are happening now.
This Razorback team embraced Musselman’s philosophy and presented physical proof of what can happen if players relax and embrace the teachings he provides. Much like that team of the 90s, this group of Hogs helped restore confidence in the Arkansas coaching staff to the level it was after that 1990 season, and it was mostly done through mental toughness. and defense.
And while Arkansas fails to go past the 100-point mark 13 times, including a night the Hogs went for 166, it allows specific DNA to flood the Razorback identity that lays the groundwork for all that go follow.
He must also defeat Duke in the NCAA Tournament to achieve the unthinkable, just like in 1990.
Duke and Arkansas met earlier in 1990 during the NIT preseason.
The Razorbacks took on one of the most complete teams Duke has ever put on the floor and chased the National Championship contenders out of the gym. Krzyzewski had Bobby Hurley, Christian Laetner and a young Grant Hill leading his team, but early in the second half the Hogs made one of their patent runs as they tried to wear down the Blues Devils.
Duke was so pissed off that Krzyzewski, known for always being calm and collected, was given a technical foul.
As Arkansas pushed the lead to nearly 10 thanks to a surprising career day from Morris with about three minutes left, the possibility of a loss became unimaginable.
A vicious spinning move by Todd Day with 2:45 left made it 90-79. A minute later, Huery made a 12-point game at 93-81.
All that was left was the patience to run through time and move forward. But Arkansas kept playing a risky game because that was just who they were and Richardson wasn’t changing just because of the sidelined coach.
A dangerous full-length pass on Day’s out of bounds bounced back, but he recovered it to make it a 10-point lead at 95-85 with just over a minute to play and Arkansas stole the pass inbound on Duke’s next possession.
The Hogs would add three more points to close the game 98-88, giving them similar attention to when this year’s Razorback team beat No. 1 Auburn.
When the two teams met in the Final Four, kids across Arkansas collected the Final Four basketballs from their local Pizza Huts. Perhaps the most telling aspect of the whole game was featured on these commemorative balls.
Painted on the front was a series of mountains. The last four were in Denver, where the altitude wasn’t ideal for the non-stop running and shooting style the Razorbacks were so known for.
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The game started like the first as Arkansas trailed 6-7 points for much of the first half. The Razorbacks were noticeably slower throughout the game, and oxygen tanks were required, as reported by the announcement team.
Arkansas had a chance to take the lead at halftime, but Mayberry missed a three. However, it was Hawkins’ foul on Laettner on the rebound with seconds remaining in halftime that sent the future Olympian to the free-throw line, killing the momentum of what had been a promising Hogs run for get back into the game.
Arkansas went 25-8 after falling behind by 11 in the second half and the Razorbacks defense rallied as the Hogs took the lead midway through the second half. It looked like the preseason NIT again, but that extra explosion that sank the Blue Devils in November wasn’t there in the Rockies.
Duke got back into the game thanks to tough play from Laettner, who struggled with fouls throughout the game, and the two raced back and forth down the stretch. The Hogs were out of breath for the first time all season as they battled against the thin mountain air, and the run that always came to keep teams away never happened.
Credit, Arkansas’ starting center, fouled six minutes from time, hampering Richardson’s ability to substitute freely and often.
As the final four minutes ticked away, tired legs and lack of oxygen caught up with the Hogs. At a time when defensive pressure typically increased and nonstop running play on offense forced teams to give up, Krzyzewski’s patience in letting hometown typography do the work for his team finally paid off.
A 1-point lead became a 97-83 loss at Arkansas.
And while this team lost, the program didn’t. At home, there was an all-star team that saw this team play all season.
At home, a team was buying a coach and a culture from their couches. And on the field that day was a base of players who would pass that culture directly to Scotty Thurman, Corey Beck, Corliss Williamson, Dwight Stewart and the rest of that future National Championship team over the next two years.
The 1990 team could have done it. He could have won and had proven it on the floor.
And this team is a big reason why it was done a few years later.
The same goes for this team. These Razorbacks can beat Duke and potentially play for a national championship.
But if somehow Krzyzewski finds a way to reach .500 against the Razorbacks and fulfill his final swan song, his end will potentially be seen as the start of another Arkansas dynasty. .
And it starts with a team that’s brave, full of heart, built on defense and a reluctance to stop trying to fully restore respect for Arkansas’ program while convincing the country that its coach is one of the best in the game. Game.
At home, a line-up of stars is watching.
This group just doesn’t want to wait to show up to win the next national title.
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