Just five minutes of misery was enough.
The fourth-seeded Razorbacks trailed virtually the entire game, but East Regional
eventually they wore out point guard David Cain and the Redmen for an 80-74 victory that earned them a shot at North Carolina, the region's top seed.
And Nolan Richardson, Arkansas' ebullient coach, already has thrown down the gauntlet: "I would hate to play Arkansas if I was a team that had a chance to win the national championship," he said.
For the longest time, it appeared St. John's (19-11) would be playing North Carolina.
With 6:33 left in the game, the Redmen had a 69-64 edge after forcing the Razorbacks to back off from their frenetic full-court defense and almost stopping cold their whirlwind transition offense that results.
"St. John's played one of the toughest games for what we're trying to do," said Richardson. "Cain is a very clever point guard, and for 34 or 35 minutes, they controlled the tempo and did the things you have to do to beat a team that plays like us. Their game plan was excellent."
Then the complexion changed. Arkansas sophomore Clint McDaniel began to harass a tiring Cain into mistakes and stuck a three-pointer that tied the game at 69.
At the 2:52 mark, Arkansas (22-8) seized the lead on a jumper by freshman Scotty Thurman, and senior Darrell Hawkins followed with a dunk on the break.
Richardson summoned the spread formation, McDaniel got a layup and that was the end for fifth-seeded St. John's.
The Redmen went down the stretch with their shooting eyes gone, making only one field goal in the final 11 1/2 minutes. They were victimized by a 24-5 run before Derek Brown hit the final three points of the game from the foul line.
"Everything they did, we expected," said Cain. "We just didn't handle it well in the last four minutes. I started to wear down a little bit, and that probably contributed to a few turnovers and a couple bad decisions."
Said Richardson: "You cut the head off the body and the body doesn't function well. Cain is the head."
Arkansas made 18 of 32 second-half shots and overcame its rebounding problems (40-30 deficit) by forcing the Redmen into 19 turnovers and attempting 18 more shots.
The Razorbacks, now 10-3 against teams in the NCAA field, are 2-2 lifetime against North Carolina and Richardson is 2-1 against coach Dean Smith.
Richardson was watching the Tar Heels dismantle Rhode Island from press row and said, "I was wondering if we should win this one [against St. John's].
"I look at it as David vs. Goliath. [Eric] Montross is the biggest man in the United States and not only is he big, he's good."
But Richardson will figure out something to make it interesting. When crunch time arrived yesterday, he had the right answer.