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Greatest College Basketball Teams: Spotlight 1994 Arkansas
The 1994 Arkansas Razorbacks basketball team went 31-3 and won the NCAA Championship. Arkansas did it with a fast-paced three-point shooting offense and a relentless swarming, pressing defense, dubbed "40 minutes of hell." Immediately after the Championship game, Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson held up a T-shirt that said "Arkansas, National Champions." "You see this?" Richardson asked, "They didn't print it five seconds ago. I expected to win the national championship."
Duke star Grant Hill described the 1994 Razorbacks best. "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." "Our team is a team of runs," Nolan Richardson said. "We get a steal, or a dunk, or a great shot, and all of a sudden, we feel nobody can stop us." The Razorbacks outscored their opponents 93.4 to 75.6 points per game.
Reporters sometimes describe 1994 Arkansas' pressing defense and fast-break offense as "40 minutes of hell" for opponents. The "40 minutes of hell" nickname actually came years earlier, during Nolan Richardson's first year at Arkansas in 1985-86. At the beginning of every practice, Richardson would run his players up and down the court in relentless drills. Walk-on player Scott Rose asked coach Richardson if every practice would begin this way. "Yep, 40 minutes of it," Richardson said. Rose said, "Coach, that's 40 minutes of hell." "The first 40 minutes [of each practice] is actually hell because that's how many minutes we play," Richardson said. "I took over a team that walked the ball up the floor and did the things Eddie Sutton coached. It was a shock when I brought my system in." What started as a description of the first 40 minutes of Richardson's practices became a description of the way Arkansas played.
For the most part, the players on the 1994 Arkansas basketball team were not heavily recruited by other schools. "A lot of guys were overlooked by a lot of colleges," guard Scotty Thurman said. "Everybody came in with something to prove. They wanted to show a lot of the schools we played that they should have recruited them." "I was trying to pick out guys that would fit our system," said Richardson. We needed guys who were good in the open court, that could press and trap."
The exception was Corliss Williamson, the Razorbacks' 6' 7", 245 pound power forward. Williamson, an Arkansas native, was heavily recruited by all the top schools. Williamson was two-time Gatorade National High School Player of the Year and a McDonald's All American. "I first saw Corliss as an eighth-grader," Richardson said. "I never thought there was the slightest chance of him leaving. In the final analysis I knew he was coming to Arkansas."
Williamson averaged 20.4 points and 7.7 rebounds for the Razorbacks in 1994. He was a second team All American in 1994 and 1995. "Corliss Williamson is the best power forward in the country," Nolan Richardson said. "His work ethics are tremendous."
Nicknamed the "Big Nasty" for his aggressive inside play, Williamson was a force to be reckoned with inside the paint. "Pound for pound, he may be the strongest basketball player in the world," Richardson said. Mississippi's Ansu Sesay agreed. Sesay said guarding Williamson was "like having to go up against a big bull."
Williamson was the 13th overall pick in the 1995 NBA draft. During his 12-year NBA career, he has averaged 11.1 points and 3.9 rebounds per game.
The 1994 Razorbacks' second leading scorer, 6'6" swingman Scotty Thurman, was also an Arkansas native. Thurman averaged 15.9 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists. Thurman shot nearly 200 three-pointers in 1994 and made 42.9 percent of them. In 1995, Thurman set the Arkansas record for three-pointers in a season with 102. Thurman is second all-time in Arkansas career three-pointers with 267, even though he only played three years.
During games, Thurman rattled opponents by staring down the crowd or talking up a long shot. Coach Richardson described Thurman's talk during the game. "Scotty'll say, 'You can't stop me. I'm better than you. Come get this.' Stuff like that." Thurman left school after his junior year to go to the NBA, but he was not drafted.
The 1994 Razorbacks' third leading scorer came off the bench and only played 12 minutes per game. Reserve guard Alex Dillard dropped out of High School in 1988. He wasn't much of a basketball player then. Dillard was only 5'9" and "there wasn't no jump shot," Dillard said. "It just wasn't there." With nothing to do, Dillard lived at the gym and developed a deadly long-range jump shot. Dillard also grew to 6'1".
Dillard averaged 8.9 points per game for the Razorbacks in 1994. He took 240 shots, 183 of which were three pointers. During games, he would routinely shoot shots from 25 feet out and beyond. "His range is when he gets in the gym," coach Richardson said. "Alex Dillard was the best three-point shooter I've ever seen in my life," teammate Scotty Thurman said. "College three-pointers, those are like free throws to him."
Guards Corey Beck (8.8 pts., 3.9 reb., 5.0 ast.) and Glen McDaniel (8.1 pts., 2.8 reb.) were quick and played tremendous defense. "I don't think there was a better pair of defensive guards in the nation," Richardson said.
"Corey is the heart and soul of the team," teammate Scotty Thurman said of Corey Beck. Duke's Hall of Fame Mike Krzyzewski agreed. "I thought Beck was outstanding," Krzyzewski said after Duke played Arkansas in the Championship game. Nolan Richardson said Beck was "one of the best shooters on the team. In high school, he took shots, but when he got here he decided he would have a different role and be more of a distributor."
Dwight Stewart (8.0 pts., 5.0 reb.) was the starting center for the Razorbacks. Although he stood 6'9", Stewart could handle the ball and shoot the three-pointer. Stewart took nearly 100 three-pointers and shot 38.9 percent beyond the arc.
Arkansas started the 1993-94 season ranked No. 2 in the nation. In their first game, Arkansas beat Murray State 93-67.
Three days later, the Razorbacks faced a very good Missouri team and blew them out 120-68. Arkansas was 16 of 25 from three-point range. "If we could bottle what we did, it would be amazing," Nolan Richardson said. Missouri won 25 of their next 26 games, ended the season ranked No. 5 in the nation and came within one shot of making it to the final four. "I didn't expect to beat Missouri this bad," guard Scotty Thurman said. "If we're beating one of the best teams in the country like this, nobody else should be able to play with us."
In the next game, Arkansas struggled early against Northwestern (La.). Arkansas was leading 35-34 with 3:37 left in the first half when Alex Dillard entered the game. He scored sixteen points in two minutes, and Arkansas exploded to a 52-34 lead. Arkansas won 111-76 and moved up to No. 1 in the nation.
After beating Memphis 96-78, Arkansas crushed Delaware State 123-66. Dillard poured in 39 points in 25 minutes, including an Arkansas record 12 three-pointers. For the game, Arkansas shot 18 of 45 from three-point range.
Two games later, Arkansas nearly lost at Tulsa. The game went into overtime, but the Razorbacks squeaked out a 93-91 victory. Texas Southern had the misfortune of being the next Arkansas opponent. The Razorbacks romped 129-63, hitting 20 of 36 three-pointers.
Arkansas entered the SEC season with a 9-0 record and ranked No. 1 in the nation. Against SEC opponents, Arkansas had a little bit tougher time. The Razorbacks lost to Alabama 66-64 and Mississippi State 72-71 on the road. The Razorbacks won close games against LSU (84-83 and 108-105 in overtime) and Tennessee (65-64).
Despite the close calls, the Razorbacks entered the SEC tournament with a 24-2 record and ranked No. 1 in the nation. Corliss Williamson scored 30 points in a first round win over Georgia, 95-83. In the second round, Arkansas was upset by No. 10 Kentucky, 90-78.
After the loss to Kentucky, Arkansas entered the NCAA Tournament ranked No. 2 in the nation. The Razorbacks first opponent was North Carolina A&T. In the first half, North Carolina A&T drew lots of fouls and stayed close. Arkansas led only 43-39 at halftime. In the second half, however, Arkansas' pressure defense took its toll and Arkansas cruised to a 94-79 victory. For the game, Arkansas out shot North Carolina A&T 54.5% to 34.3%. Corliss Williamson scored 24 and had 7 rebounds. Scotty Thurman scored 19 and had 9 assists. Corey Beck had 9 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, and 5 steals.
In the second round, Arkansas took on Georgetown. The Hoyas attempted to slow down the pace of the game and take the ball inside. At the end of the first half, Arkansas led only 43-39. Arkansas shifted into a half-court zone defense and beat Georgetown at their own game. The Razorbacks pounded the ball inside to Corliss Williamson (21 pts., 6 reb.) and 6'11" freshman Darnell Robinson (13 pts., 4 reb.). Center Dwight Stewart (16 pts., 7 reb.) was 4 for 4 from three-point range. Corey Beck added 10 points and 8 rebounds and Clint McDaniel had 5 steals before fouling out. Arkansas out shot Georgetown 61.4% to 40.7% and won 85-73.
In the third round, Arkansas had a rematch against Tulsa, who the Razorbacks had barely beaten in overtime at the beginning of the season. Arkansas again played a half-court zone defense and took the ball inside. The Razorbacks won easily, 103-84. They out shot Tulsa 66.1% to 35.1%. Williamson scored 21 points, and had 9 rebounds and 5 blocks. Thurman added 21 points and had 5 assists. McDaniel scored 19 and had 6 rebounds. Corey Beck had 13 points, 4 rebounds and 7 assists. "Our team played an exceptional game tonight," Richardson said. "Everybody's waiting for our 40 minutes of pressure-pressure-pressure, but our matchup zone is pretty good," Richardson said. "We can go to a half-court game and play. We can do a lot of things people don't expect us to do." Tulsa's coach, Tubby Smith, said simply "We couldn't keep up with the torrid pace.
In the fourth round, Arkansas faced No. 11 Michigan. With four of the fab five still playing, Michigan had a formidable team. Arkansas led 40-31 at halftime, but Michigan stayed close, thanks to Juawan Howard, who scored 30 points and had 13 rebounds. Arkansas held on to win 76-68. Scotty Thurman scored 20 and Darnell Robinson 14. Corliss Williamson was held to just 12 points and 6 rebounds. "Arkansas is a good team - a really, really good team," Michigan coach Steve Fisher said. "They're a team that has proven they can play half court, full court, whatever it takes to win."
In the Final Four, Arkansas faced No. 9 Arizona. At halftime, Arizona and Arkansas were tied at 41-41. Arizona took a 67-62 lead with eight minutes left. Then Arkansas turned up the pressure defense and pounded the ball inside to Corliss Williamson. In 2:30, Arkansas scored 12 unanswered points. The Razorbacks never looked back, winning 91-82. "In the second half, a couple of my teammates told me I needed to step it up,"
Williamson said. "I love that kind of challenge. I love to show them I can step it up." Williamson scored 29 points and had 13 rebounds. Thurman scored 14 with 8 rebounds. "That was 40 minutes of hell with eight minutes of sheer torture," Williamson said after the game.
After the Arizona game, announcer Billy Packer interviewed coach Nolan Richardson and Corliss Williamson. "You made sure this man touched the ball every time down," Packer said, nodding at Williamson. "A blind man could see that," Richardson said.
In the NCAA Championship, Arkansas faced No. 6 Duke. In a fantastic game, Arkansas and Duke traded leads throughout. At halftime, Arkansas led 34-33.
Early in the second half, Duke jumped out to a 48-38 lead. Arkansas came back and took a 70-67 lead. Then, with 1:30 remaining, Duke's Grant Hill nails a three-pointer to tie the game 70-70. With less than a minute to go, Corey Beck passed to Dwight Stewart at the top of the key and Stewart swung the ball around to Scotty Thurman on the right wing. Thurman fired a three-pointer from 22 feet. "I was running at him," Duke's Lang said. "I still don't know how it went in. He made a big-time shot." "I really didn't have much time to think," Thurman said about the shot. "I had no other option but to shoot it." Nolan Richardson complimented Stewart on making the extra pass. "Most guys would have tried to shoot the ball, but he got it straight to Scotty.
Arkansas wound up winning 76-72. Williamson had 23 points and 8 rebounds. Thurman and Beck each had 15 points. "What a game!" Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. After the game, Duke star Grant Hill said "They played so well. It was Clint McDaniel, it was Corey Beck, it was Scotty Thurman, it was everybody. And they all did a great job."
Beck, Thurman and Williamson all made the All-NCAA Tournament Team. Williamson was named Most Outstanding Player.
In 1995, Arkansas went to the NCAA Championship again, but lost to UCLA, 89-78. Thurman and Williamson shot a dismal 5 for 25 from the field. "If we had played our best ball, we would have won easy, Thurman said.
Name Pos Class Pts Reb Ast
Corliss Williamson F JR 20.4 7.7 2.2
Scotty Thurman G/F JR 15.9 4.5 3.0
Alex Dillard G JR 8.9 1.1 1.4
Corey Beck G JR 8.8 3.9 5.0
Clint McDaniel G JR 8.1 2.8 1.9
Dwight Stewart C JR 8.0 5.0 1.4
Darnell Robinson F/C FR 7.6 4.7 1.9
Roger Crawford G SR 7.4 1.9 2.0
Davor Rimac G JR 4.8 1.9 0.9
Lee Wilson C FR 3.4 3.1 0.4
How would the 1994 Arkansas Razorbacks do against the greatest teams of all time?
The 1994 Arkansas Razorbacks did not have as much talent as many of the top teams of all time. Corliss Williamson was the Razorbacks' sole first round NBA draft pick. What Arkansas lacked in big time pro talent, however, they compensated for by having lots of good college role players. The Razorbacks' had lighting quick guards and a deep bench that enabled them to press and fast-break for 40 minutes. Offensively, the Williamson's inside game was supported by numerous players who could shoot the three, including center Dwight Stewart, who was a match up nightmare. All things considered, Arkansas would perform solidly against the greatest teams of all time.
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