KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Another night, another escape for the Arkansas Houdinis . . . er, Razorbacks.
The defending NCAA champions faced another inspired challenger in the semifinals of the Midwest Regional at Kemper Arena last night, but they forced an overtime against Memphis, then dominated that session for a 96-91 victory and a spot in tomorrow's regional title game against the Kansas-Virginia winner.
It was the 12th victory of the season by five points or fewer for Arkansas, which is attempting to become only the second team since the UCLA dynasty to win back-to-back titles. The second-seeded Razorbacks, who beat Texas Southern by one in their tournament opener and Syracuse in overtime in the second round, trailed by 12 with 7:34 to go.
Arkansas (30-6) held sixth-seeded Memphis (24-10) scoreless in the final four minutes of regulation and got a free throw from Corey Beck with 11.5 seconds to go that Memphis felt was undeserved. Justin Wimmer's three-poin try rimmed out with two seconds left.
In overtime, Arkansas went ahead for good on a three-pointer by Scotty Thurman with 3:00 to go. The Tigers' David Vaughn then threw a pass right to Razorbacks guard Clint McDaniel, and after his breakaway lay-in, all that was left was the shouting that had been going on all game long between two teams who are not afraid to talk trash.
"They called a touch foul on us with four seconds to go [11.5, actually], when we were mugged all night," Memphis coach Larry Finch said. "This is the national basketball tournament, and that doesn't make an once of sense. It's ultimately ridiculous."
The play that had the Tigers fuming began with Beck at the top of the key and sophomore Chris Garner defending. When Beck made a move to penetrate, he was hand-checked by Garner. Beck made only one of two free throws and the Tigers still had a chance to win, but they blamed their demise on that call.
"It was the same type of defense I had played all game," Garner said. "I felt it was a bad call."
Arkansas, which outscored Memphis 22-13 at the free-throw line, got 27 points and 13 rebounds from junior forward Corliss Williamson, 19 off the bench from guard Al Dillard and 17 from Thurman.
Junior guard Mingo Johnson had a game-high 32 points, but only one came in the last 18 minutes and he missed his last four shots.
Freshman center Lorenzen Wright finished with 12 points and a game-high 13 rebounds.
Johnson and Beck were involved in a skirmish near the end of the first half that cut into the playing time for both. Beck was called for a player-control foul with 54.7 seconds to go in the half, Johnson sounded his approval, the two bumped, and both were hit with technical fouls that also served as Beck's fourth personal and Johnson's third.
Johnson led a 9-0 run that put Memphis on top in the second half. Wilson fed Wright for a 57-57 tie with 14:53 to go, and Johnson gave Memphis its first lead 26 seconds later on a three-pointer from the right wing.
When Johnson drove for a 62-57 lead, he had 31 points, half of the Tigers' total.
The defending champions fell behind 79-67, but answered with a 9-0 run that included six straight points down low from Williamson. Two baskets by Wright kept the lead at five points heading into the last four minutes, but Clint McDaniel's three-pointer cut the difference to 83-82 with 3:31 to go.
Memphis was over the limit when Garner fouled Beck. He made the first, but missed the second.