Arkansas Hits Hog Heaven With NCAA Title
By Steve Berkowitz
Sophomore guard Scotty Thurman delivered a tie-breaking three-point goal with 50 seconds to play and the shot clock about to expire, and Arkansas won its first national men's basketball championship by defeating Duke, 76-72, tonight in the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament final before a sellout crowd at Charlotte Coliseum that included President Clinton.
Clinton, the former Arkansas governor, saw the Razorbacks win a regular season home game in Fayetteville, Ark. He also saw them win their past three NCAA tournament games, traveling once to Dallas and twice to Charlotte for the privilege.
After tonight's game, Clinton visited Arkansas' dressing room.
"He was so proud," said Williamson, who scored a game-best 23 points, pulled down eight rebounds and was named the Final Four's most outstanding player. "It seemed like his eyes were watering. He hugged me and gave me a high-five. It seemed like he had been there playing with us."
Asked by a pool reporter whether his heart had been jumping during the game, Clinton replied,"The whole time."
Tonight's result, in Arkansas' first national final appearance, will indisputably place the respect-hungry Razorbacks (31-3) and Coach Nolan Richardson among the nation's college basketball elite.
By the time he appeared for his postgame news conference, Richardson had traded his coat and tie for a national championship T-shirt. He proceded to deliver an emotional monologue in which he said that, as he left the court, he thought of virtually every person who had given him a chance to coach.
He then added: "This is one of the greatest feelings I've ever had from a standpoint of athletics."
The Blue Devils (28-6) came away disappointed with the result -- particularly seniors Grant Hill, Antonio Lang and Marty Clark, who had been hoping to become the first players in more than 20 years to play on three national championship teams. But they were satisfied that they had done virtually all that they could.
"It was a game where somebody won and nobody lost," Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "It's hard for me to be disappointed."
For Duke, Hill had 12 points, 14 rebounds and 6 assists despite falling heavily on his tailbone after grabbing a rebound in the game's opening minute. But he did have nine of Duke's 23 turnovers, as four Razorbacks players took turns guarding him. Junior center Cherokee Parks had 14 points in 30 minutes, even though he couldn't practice Sunday because of a knee injury he suffered in Saturday night's national semifinal victory over Florida.
On the Arkansas side, junior point guard Corey Beck, who had problems Sunday with a combination of allergies, a slight cold and mild asthma, came up with 15 points and a career-best 10 rebounds in 35 minutes. Thurman also scored 15 points.
Duke kept the game at a measured pace during the first half, which ended with Arkansas leading, 34-33. There had been none of the game-changing runs that were the Razorbacks' trademark this season.
There was one early in the second half, only it belonged to the Blue Devils. With Arkansas leading, 38-35, they struck for 13 consecutive points in less than two minutes. Facing a 48-38 deficit, Arkansas called a timeout with 17 minutes to play.
But when play resumed, the Razorbacks limited Duke to just nine points during the game's next 11 1/2 minutes. However, they didn't break open the game in the manner to which they had become accustomed. They wiped out Duke's lead reasonably quickly, but they could not get ahead by more than five points.
"With an ordinary team, we would have gotten up by 10 or 15," Williamson said. "But we knew Duke wasn't going to let us get away from them."
With a little more than 5 1/2 minutes to play and Arkansas leading 62-57, Duke made the Razorbacks pay for their wastefulness. Sophomore guard Chris Collins connected on consecutive three-point goals, and just like that, the Blue Devils led, 63-62, with five minutes remaining.
Arkansas quickly regained the lead as Beck made two free throws. But after Williamson made only one of two, Duke guard Jeff Capel tied the score at 65 with a jumper.
But the Razorbacks made it 67-65 on a layup by Williamson with four minutes to play and then 70-65 moments later when Williamson turned an air ball into a three-point play.
Hill tipped a three-point try by forward Dwight Stewart, but Williamson grabbed the ball and put it in while being fouled by Capel.
The Blue Devils came back, though. Lang converted a one-and-one with 3:13 left, and they dug in defensively. They held Arkansas scoreless for nearly two minutes. And with 1:25 to play, Hill tied the game at 70 with a three-point shot.
Following an Arkansas timeout, the game-deciding sequence unfolded. The Razorbacks inbounded the ball, but started having trouble finding a shot. With the shot clock winding down, Beck passed the ball to Stewart, who bobbled, then shoveled it to Thurman.
With Lang flying at him, Thurman tossed up a three-pointer just before the shot clock expired. The shot clock buzzer sounded while Thurman's attempt floated through the air. The ball settled into the net, and Arkansas had a 73-70 lead with 50 seconds to play.
"I saw the shot clock was ticking down to about three when Corey Beck passed the ball to Dwight Stewart," Thurman said, "and then Dwight couldn't handle it, so he gave it to me. ... When the ball came to me, I felt like the :shot: clock was going to run out. I had no choice but to put the shot up."
Said Lang: "It still don't know how it went in. I was right there and I thought I could tip it. Obviously, I didn't get a hand on it."
Collins then missed a long and hurried three-point try with plenty of time left on the shot clock.
"It was a tough shot, but Chris has made shots like that," Krzyzewski said.
"It's as good a shot as you can get down three" points, Collins said. "I thought it was the best-felt shot I had all night. I knew it was down."
But it wasn't down, and Arkansas guard Clint McDaniel was fouled wih 28.4 seconds left. He made only 1-of-2 free throws, though.
However, Collins missed a driving shot from the lane, Beck grabbed the rebound and was fouled with 17.2 seconds left. He missed the first free throw, then left the game because of a cut on his hand. Alex Dillard replaced him and swished the second foul shot for a 75-70 score.
Duke made it 75-72 on a follow-up basket by Parks with 10.2 seconds to play. After a Duke timeout, though, Arkansas inbounded the ball to McDaniel, who was fouled and made the second of two free throws for 76-72.
It was enough, as the Razorbacks stripped the ball from Hill as he made one final dash down the court.
© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company