Razorbacks Sidestep Arizona, 91-82
By Steve Berkowitz
They defeated Arizona today, 91-82, in a National Collegiate Athletic Association men's basketball tournament national semifinal before a sellout crowd at Charlotte Coliseum that included Arkansas's First Fan, President Clinton.
The Razorbacks (30-3), who were the nation's No. 1-ranked team for a total of nine weeks during the season, will meet Duke Monday night in their first national championship game after four previous trips to the Final Four. The Blue Devils defeated Florida, 70-65, in tonight's other national semifinal.
"We've fulfilled a goal we had at the beginning of the season, which was to get to the championship game," said Arkansas sophomore forward Corliss Williamson, who led his team with 29 points, 13 rebounds and 5 assists. "Now, hopefully, we can finish up. We haven't fulfilled our dream yet."
Arizona (29-6) ends the season with the satisfaction of making the Final Four this year after upset losses in the first rounds of the previous two NCAA tournaments.
But the Wildcats will want to forget how this game unfolded. Senior Khalid Reeves and junior Damon Stoudamire, their top two scorers and the consensus choice as the nation's top backcourt this season, had miserable shooting games. Reeves scored 20 points on 6-for-19 shooting and turned over the ball six times. Stoudamire scored 16 points on 5-of-24 shooting.
Yet Arizona overcame a 12-point deficit to tie the score at halftime, then built a 67-62 lead with a little less than 8 1/2 minutes remaining.
But Reeves had committed his fourth foul moments earlier and was replaced. While he sat on the bench for two minutes, the Razorbacks scored eight consecutive points. And shortly after he returned, they added four more in a row. With a little less than six minutes to play, Arkansas led 74-67.
The Razorbacks scored on their next six possessions and cruised from there.
Reeves and Stoudamire "carried us all year long," Arizona Coach Lute Olson said. "When they were both on, we were unbelievably good. When one was on and one was off, we were still good. But when they haven't shot well as a pair, we've had problems."
Such problems didn't happen often, but Stoudamire drew no solace from that.
"We get to this point and then I turn around and shoot this badly," he said. "There are so many things going through my head right now, I just can't pick them apart."
Stoudamire had the final word of a thrilling first half that ended 41-41.
In the middle of the half, the Razorbacks scored 11 consecutive points and went on to a 26-9 run that gave them a 36-24 lead with six minutes left in the half. Williamson showed the way with 14 points after several teammates had told him before the game he would have to raise his level of play tonight. "I love it when someone presents a challenge to me," he said.
But Arizona countered by dominating the half's final 4 1/2 minutes to the tune of 13-2. Its final three points came on a long shot at the buzzer by Stoudamire, his first basket in 11 shots.
The Wildcats, whose Reggie Geary held Arkansas star guard Scotty Thurman to two points on just three shots during the first half, built on that momentum at the start of the second half.
Arkansas starting point guard Corey Beck -- often called the soul of the Razorbacks team by Coach Nolan Richardson -- helped them by committing his third and fourth fouls in a span of seven seconds and having to be replaced with more than 17 1/2 minutes to play.
While Beck sat, the Wildcats moved out to a 57-52 lead. Although Reeves committed his third foul during that stretch, Arizona's surge was too much for Richardson. With a little more than 12 minutes to play, he called a timeout and returned Beck to the game.
Beck said he knew what was at stake. "The guys would have killed me if I fouled out," he said.
He didn't. Instead, he led Arkansas on a 9-4 spurt that tied the score at 61 with 9 1/2 minutes remaining.
Arizona quickly regained a 65-61 lead, though, and Geary said, "I could taste Monday night."
The taste began to fade, however, when Reeves committed his fourth foul on a shot by Beck with 8:42 to play. After Beck made 1-of-2 free throws and Stoudamire made a pair of free throws, leaving the score 67-62, the taste left completely -- and with stunning speed.
Arkansas forward Dwight Stewart made 1-of-2 free throws, and Arizona center Joseph Blair stepped out of bounds after grabbing the rebound. Thurman made a layup off a pass from Williamson. It was 67-65.
After Arizona missed four shots on one possession, the 6-foot-9, 260-pound Stewart made a three-pointer to put the Razorbacks in front.
With Reeves out of the game, Arkansas decided to press for one of the few times all night. Williamson stole a pass by Stoudamire and went in for a breakaway dunk that gave the Razorbacks a 70-67 lead.
Arkansas pressed again and forced another turnover -- this time on a charging foul against Geary with 6 1/2 minutes to play. After a television timeout, Reeves was back on the floor.
But Williamson passed to Clint McDaniel for a layup, Geary lost the ball while trying to drive to the goal and Arkansas turned that mistake into a fast-break layup by McDaniel. Suddenly, the Razorbacks led 74-67, a little less than six minutes remained and Arizona seemed to be tiring.
Even the seemingly irrepressible Geary, who had been yapping at Thurman throughout game, began to fall silent as Thurman -- who scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half -- made a pair of jumpers down the stretch and Arkansas tightened its grip.
"It was a different ballgame during the last eight minutes," Richardson said. "People talk about our 40 minutes of hell. That was eight minutes of torture."
© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company