Arkansas 77, Duke 72
By Dennis Georgatos
Tuesday, March 24, 1998; 2:41 a.m. EST
OAKLAND, Calif. Anyone looking for a longshot at the Final Four need not search beyond Arkansas.
Christy Smith made four free throws in the final 31 seconds after Tennille Adams scored the go-ahead basket on a putback, sending underdog Arkansas to its first Final Four with a 77-72 victory over Duke on Monday night.
Sytia Messer's 20 points led the ninth-seeded Lady Razorbacks (22-10), who became the lowest seeded team to advance to the women's championship round.
Treva Christensen and Adams added 14 points apiece and Smith finished with 13 for Arkansas, which plays unbeaten Tennessee on Friday in the semifinal in Kansas City, Mo. Tennessee, the two-time defending champion, beat North Carolina, 76-70, earlier Monday.
No. 2 seed Duke, denied its first trip to the Final Four, was led by Peppi Browne's 20 points. Michele VanGorp added 14 points and Nicole Erickson had 12.
With the teams trading baskets and the lead down the stretch, Browne made a layup off a feed from Rochelle Parent to put Duke up 72-71 with two minutes remaining.
Arkansas regained command on a putback by Adams with 1:39 left. Duke weathered a turnover when Messer's driving layup rolled off the rim, but couldn't take advantage.
Erickson missed a long jumper for Duke, and Lauren Rice was called for a push on Smith while the two battled for the rebound.
Smith made both free throws with 31 seconds remaining to give Arkansas a three-point advantage and added two more with 16 seconds left when she was fouled rebounding a missed shot by Rice.
Duke's last two shots in the final seconds were airballs, and the celebration was on for the Lady'Backs, who flooded the court and fell on each other in joy. Arkansas had reached the round of eight once previously, but had lost to Stanford in the West Regional championship in 1990.
Duke (24-8) was in the midst of its best season, but after leading the ACC in 3-point shooting made just one of 11 against the Lady'Backs.
Trailing by one at the break and 41-34 early in the second half, Duke scored 12 unanswered points, triggered by a driving layup by Browne and VanGorp's leaning 6-foot jumper. Arkansas managed to break the momentum with a layup by Celia Anderson and keep it close.
Arkansas led 32-31 at halftime when Adams pulled up for an 18-foot jumper just before the buzzer.
The Lady'Backs had led by eight, but Duke scored 15 of the next 21 points to take its first lead of the game 31-30 on a putback by Hilary Howard.
Both teams had accuracy problems early, with Duke missing its first seven shots and Arkansas missing six of its first seven.
Arkansas got on track with a 14-6 burst, moving in front 24-16 on a three-pointer by Christensen, who scored nine of her 12 first-half points during the spurt.
© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press