August 3, 2007

'40 minutes of Hell' legend well earned

Top 10 Profile
1994 ARKANSAS
Final record: 31-3
Non-conference record: 17-1
Double-digit victories: 20
Average victory margin: 19.6
NBA first-round picks: One (Corliss Williamson)

Forget about the 1994 national title. Skip past the return to the title game the following season.

The best evidence that Arkansas belongs on the list of Rivals.com's Top 10 Teams of the 64 Era — the Razorbacks were voted No. 8 by our panel — might have come in just its second game of the 1993-94 season.

Arkansas and its famed "40 minutes of hell" embarrassed Missouri on Dec. 2, 1993, rolling to a 120-68 win. It was the second game played in Bud Walton Arena.

That same Missouri team won 25 of its next 26 games. The Tigers reached the Elite Eight and were ranked No. 5 at the end of the season.

Arkansas topped the 100-point mark eight more times and put together a 19-point average margin of victory on its way to a 31-3 record, which culminated in the school's first national championship.

The Hogs got back to the 1995 title game, but lost to a 32-1 UCLA squad which is also on our list.

"I remember watching the film of Arkansas as we prepared to play them and seeing all the weapons they had," said former Duke star Grant Hill, whose Blue Devils lost to Arkansas 76-72 in the 1994 title game. "You realized they could embarrass you. They were the kind of team that could blow you out.

"They just constantly threw bodies at you, and in some cases their second unit was just as good as the first."

Hill isn't exaggerating. Backup guard Al Dillard played just 12 minutes a game in 1993-94 but was the team's third-leading scorer at 8.9 points a contest.

Forwards Corliss Williamson (20.4 ppg) and Scotty Thurman (15.9 ppg) were each capable of taking over games offensively. Center Dwight Stewart (6 feet 9) had shooting range well beyond the 3-point line, creating matchup problems for nearly every opponent.

Starting guards Corey Beck and Clint McDaniel wreaked havoc on the defensive end. Blessed with quick hands and feet, each was an ideal fit for the Hogs' famous full-court pressure.

"Nobody was going to turn the corner on those guys," said Nolan Richardson, who coached at Arkansas from 1985-2002. "I don't think there was a better pair of defensive guards in the nation."

The addition of a pair of 6-11 freshman centers proved to be particularly valuable. Darnell Robinson and Lee Wilson gave the Hogs the size and interior presence they lacked during the previous season, when they fell to eventual champion North Carolina in the Sweet 16.

1993-1994 Arkansas roster
14 Corey Beck (G, 6-2, 190, Jr., Memphis, Tenn.)
24 Ray Biggers (F, 6-8, 200, Jr., Houston)
23 Ken Biley (F, 6-6, 207, Sr., Pine Bluff, Ark.)
31 Roger Crawford (G, 6-4, 175, Sr., Birmingham, Ala.)
3 Alex Dillard (G, 6-1, 170, Jr., Bessemer, Ala.)
13 John Engskov (G, 6-3, 195, Fr., Berryville, Ark.)
5 Reggie Garrett (G, 6-5, 205, Jr., Brandon, Miss.)
40 Elmer Martin (F, 6-8, 220, Jr., Memphis, Tenn.)
55 Reggie Merritt (G, 6-1, 165, So., Little Rock, Ark.)
12 Clint McDaniel (G, 6-4, 180, Jr., Tulsa, Okla.)
22 Davor Rimac (F, 6-7, 210, Jr., Aagreb, Croatia)
44 Darnell Robinson (C, 6-11, 260, Fr., Oakland, Calif.)
15 Dwight Stewart (C, 6-9, 260, Jr., Memphis, Tenn.)
30 Scotty Thurman (F, 6-6, 205, So., Ruston, La.)
4 Craig Tyson (G, 6-4, 210, Sr., Baltimore)
34 Corliss Williamson (F, 6-7, 245, So., Russellville, Ark.)
33 Lee Wilson (C, 6-11, 250, Fr., Waco, Texas)
Head coach: Nolan Richardson
Assistants:
Mike Anderson, Brad Dunn, Nolan Richardson III
Amazingly, Richardson says he didn't have to win any tough recruiting battles to put together that ultra-deep group.

Williamson, the team's only first-round draft pick, received plenty of recruiting attention. However, the Arkansas native who was nicknamed "Big Nasty," never seriously considered leaving his home state.

"I first saw Corliss as an eighth-grader," Richardson said. "A local television station was showing this kid dunking the ball. I met him soon after at a grocery store and signed an autograph for him. He was an Arkansas kid. His grandmother grew up here. There was some people talking, but I never thought there was the slightest chance of him leaving. In the final analysis I knew he was coming to Arkansas."

The rest of the Hogs were never pursued by any other elite schools.

Arkansas' chief competition with McDaniel was Tulsa, where Richardson coached for four years before coming to Fayetteville.

Beck was a junior college transfer whom many other programs passed on at that time.

"I was trying to pick out guys that would fit our system," said Richardson, who believes his 1991-92 team — which featured guards Todd Day and Lee Mayberry and center Oliver Miller — was more gifted. "They might not be great in another system. We needed guys who were good in the open court, that could press and trap. That was important."

Season Results
Overall: 31-3; SEC: 14-2
N29Murray St. W93-67
D2MissouriW120-68
D4Northwestern St.W111-76
D8at MemphisW96-78
D11Delaware St.W123-66
D18Jackson St.W96-80
D23at TulsaW93-91 (OT)
D28Texas SouthernW129-63
J3SMUW96-70
J5Ole MissW87-61
J8at AlabamaL66-64
J11LSU W84-83
J15at AuburnW117-105
J19at Mississippi St.L72-71
J22South CarolinaW79-53
J29at TennesseeW65-64
F1Vanderbilt W89-76
F5MontevalloW131-63
F9at KentuckyW90-82
F12FloridaW99-87
F16AlabamaW102-81
F19at Ole MissW90-73
F22at GeorgiaW74-65
F26AuburnW91-81
M2at LSUW108-105 (OT)
M5Mississippi St.W80-62
M11Georgia#W95-83
M12Kentucky#L90-78
M18N.C. A&T$W94-79
M20Georgetown$W85-73
M25Tulsa%W103-84
M27Michigan^W76-68
A2Arizona&W91-82
A4Duke*W76-72
#—SEC Tournament, Memphis, Tenn.
$—NCAA Midwest Regional, Oklahoma City
%—NCAA Midwest Regional Semifinal, Dallas
^—NCAA Midwest Regional Final, Dallas
&—NCAA Final Four, Charlotte N.C.
*—NCAA Championship Game, Charlotte, N.C.
Thurman says the lack of attention helped to create a common bond among his teammates.

"We weren't a team full of lottery picks," said Thurman, who lives and works in Little Rock. "A lot of guys were overlooked by a lot of colleges. Everybody came in with something to prove. They wanted to show a lot of the schools we played that they should have recruited them."

Many would have to show some patience first. Richardson chose to redshirt Beck, McDaniel and Stewart when they got to Fayetteville. Each was allowed to practice, but couldn't play in any games for a full season.

"That was a huge benefit," Thurman said. "When it came their turn to play it was like we were adding guys who already had a lot of maturity and experience."

That extra experience played a big role in lifting Arkansas past Duke in the '94 title game. With the score tied in the final minute and the shot clock winding down, Beck fired a pass to a wide-open Stewart at the top of the key. But Stewart bobbled the ball, allowing enough time for a defender to get close. Instead of panicking, he calmly fired the ball to Thurman on the right wing.

Thurman fired up a lofty 3-pointer that sailed through the hoop as the shot-clock buzzer sounded, giving Arkansas a 73-70 lead it would not relinquish. The shot ranked No. 2 on the Rivals.com list of the 10 Greatest 3-pointers in NCAA Tournament history.

"You have to give Dwight credit for having the right presence of mind," Richardson said. "Most guys would still have tried to shoot the ball, but he got it straight to Scotty."

Thurman, who hit a number of clutch shots in his career, also feels indebted to Stewart.

"I really didn't have much time to think," Thurman said. "I had no other option but to shoot it. It felt like it was going in. Had Stewart not fumbled the ball, I probably never would have got to shoot. But he gathered himself and made an unselfish play."

Despite bringing back all of their key players, Arkansas wasn't the same dominant force in 1994-95. The Hogs lost four SEC games and had to survive three overtime games to reach the NCAA final again.

"There's no question it was much more difficult the second time around," Thurman said. "There were a lot more distractions on and off the court. There was a 'Scotty Thurman Day' back in my hometown and a 'Corliss Williamson Day' in his hometown. It makes it a lot harder to keep that hunger going."

Still, Arkansas feels it should have won back-to-back titles, a feat only Duke (1991 and '92) and Florida (2006 and '07) have matched since 1973.

Thurman and Williamson endured terrible shooting nights in Arkansas' 89-78 loss to UCLA in the '95 title game. The duo combined to go 5-for-25 (20 percent). Williamson, a career 58 percent shooter in college, was a very uncharacteristic 3-for-16 (18 percent).

"If we had played our best ball we would have won easy," Thurman said.

Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.




 

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