NEW YORK, NOV. 23 -- As was the case in its 1989-90 run to the Final Four, Arkansas defensive pressure is still capable of numbing opponents' minds as well as bodies. However, tonight in the final of the preseason NIT, the Razorbacks may have carried the verbal portion of their attack a bit too far.
At one time on the verge of collapse, No. 3 Arizona took umbrage at Arkansas' gamesmanship and came up with a decidedly more eloquent statement -- a 40-20 run in the final 12 minutes that defeated the second-ranked Razorbacks, 89-77, at Madison Square Garden.
The biggest noise came from Arizona center Sean Rooks and guard-forward Chris Mills. Rooks scored a career-high 31 points; Mills, who almost single-handedly kept the Wildcats (4-0) in the contest in the early going, finished with 29. The transfer from Kentucky was named the tournament's most valuable player, scoring 54 points with 18 rebounds in the two games played here.
"They were talking a lot of stuff," said Mills. "It was the intimidation factor -- they were trying to intimidate us. In the first half it worked but we talked in the locker room at halftime and decided that the more they said the more we were going to try and put it in the hole."
Arkansas (3-1) was paced by Todd Day with 19 points. However, the all-American candidate scored only one point in the second half.
That was in part because, midway through the second half, he and his teammates lost their cool.
With 12:28 to play Arkansas took a 57-49 lead when Oliver Miller was given credit for a basket after former Maryland star Brian Williams was called for goaltending. Less than a minute later Miller, a 6-foot-9, 265-pound center, was whistled for his fourth personal foul on a Rooks shot.
Miller compounded the problem by picking up a technical foul. Although Rooks missed the two free throws for the technical (after making both foul shots), Arizona retained possession and scored again on Rooks's three-point play.
The Wildcats still trailed, 57-56, but Rooks scored on a dunk following a Day turnover. Arkansas turned the ball over on four of its next five possessions, taking nearly five minutes to score again after Miller's basket.
That basket, a short jumper by Arlyn Bowers, brought the Razorbacks to 62-59, but Arizona would get 13 of the next 15 points -- with all but two of the points scored by the 6-11 Rooks, Mills (6-8) and Williams (6-11).
"Arkansas is extremely quick and they do a lot of things well," said Arizona Coach Lute Olson. "But when you have to keep banging those 240-pounders it eventually takes its toll. I felt that down the stretch our strength gave us an advantage."
Olson's silver hair is in midseason form and, just as when we last saw him at the Final Four in Denver, Arkansas Coach Nolan Richardson is still wearing his fire-engine red cowboy boots.
The reference to the finale of the 1989-90 season was somehow appropriate, because the teams did not look anything like squads that had only been practicing for a little more than a month. Each team had averaged more than 100 points in its first three games of the season, Arizona dominating play with its vaunted "Tucson Skyline" -- the Wildcats featuring six players standing 6-8 or better.
But if the Razorbacks were supposed to be cowed, the fear wasn't evident by a long shot. Gathered in a hallway outside the court before the contest, the players began clapping rhythmically, interspersing chants of "Showtime, Showtime." At the buzzer preceding the start of the game, the Hogs met at the free throw line and told each other confidently that it was "butt-kicking time."