Nolan Richardson’s Razorbacks were a dominant force of nature in the mid-90s
By Scott Turken, Pure Hoops Media Staff
In the 90s, Arkansas reached a zenith in American culture.
The state’s Governor, Bill Clinton, became the 41st president of the United States. The state’s biggest company, Wal Mart, created the country’s wealthiest family and over 600,000 jobs. And the University of Arkansas’ basketball team could be described in 4 words: Forty Minutes of Hell.
40 minutes of hell link:
Nolan Richardson’s Razorbacks played a demanding full-court-press style and had even more demanding practices, where the moniker originated. Arkansas was led by a 6’7” undersized power forward with one of the all-time great nicknames in basketball: The Big Nasty.
Corliss Williamson was rugged, skilled, could run the floor and had a deft touch.
But the Hogs were loaded with talent and had guys with swag. Scotty Thurman was the team’s number 2. He burst onto the scene as a freshman, averaging 17.4 PPG as a freshman in 1992-93. The roster was loaded with quality role players in guards Corey Beck and Clint McDaniel, who both went on to play in the NBA. Dwight Stewart was a 6’9” big man who liked to shoot it from deep. And they had a 3-point specialist named Al Dillard.
Dillard was a gym rat who went to college late and was in his mid 20s during his playing days in Fayetville. He had step-in-the-gym range and would often come off the bench and fire a deep 3. Dillard embraced his role, wearing a number 3 jersey and was nicknamed “3-D.” Twitter would have loved this guy.
Dillard 12 threes:
Arkansas breezed through the regular season to win the SEC and garner a 1-seed in the Midwest region. The Hogs breezed through their 1st three games and faced Michigan in the Elite Eight. The Wolverines still had four members of their ballyhooed Fab Five and were a 4-seed.
Williamson struggled in the game, scoring just 12 points. But Scotty Thurman and little-used Darnell Robinson powered Arkansas to its 5th Final Four appearance in school history.
The Elite 8 that year also featured an epic matchup of Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson and Grant Hill. Hill, who Jay Bilas recently called the best Duke player of all time, led the Blue Devils to a win. Almighty Duke was in the Hogs’ sites.
Big Nasty played to his nickname in the Final Four, leading the Hogs with 29 points in a win over Arizona.
Back to the power of Arkansas in the 90s: President Clinton attended the championship game against Duke. The Blue Devils, led by Grant Hill, were seeking their 3rd title in 4 years.
In a great final, the game was tied at 70 with under a minute left. In stepped the fearless Scotty Thurman:
Arkansas call of Thurman:
Thurman’s 3 is affectionately known by Arkansas fans as “The Shot” and is fabled in that region. Arkansas held on for its first national championship in school history. Even 25 years later, hoops fans remember that team fondly.
Richardson and Williamson again led Arkansas to the NCAA final the following season, but lost to UCLA.
Williamson went on to play 12 years in the NBA. Richardson’s career became increasingly complicated and he was eventually fired in 2002 after 17 years. The larger-than-life coach later sued the university for racial discrimination and the case was dismissed.
For years, Richardson seemed to be known more for his rocky exit than his terrific tenure in Fayetteville. Richardson reflected in a 2015 ESPN story that “I was pissed…most of the time.”
But it seems time has healed most of those wounds. Richardson was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2014. Starting in 2019, the school will play its games on “Nolan Richardson court” in Bud Walton Arena.
In the end, the indefatigable leader of the Hogs can celebrate the halcyon days of Arkansas hoops.
Hey, give ‘em hell, Coach…40 minutes of it.