PROVIDENCE, R.I. - It's always so heartwarming when one of the low seeds scraps its way into the Sweet 16.
Cleveland State, Wyoming, Richmond and George Washington are among the teams that have overcome steep odds to break through to the third round of the NCAA tournament in the past decade, and now, to add to those tales of inspiration, we offer . . . Arkansas?
Two days ago, Marquette coach Mike Deane said that the Razorbacks were not a typical No. 12 seed, and that was evident yesterday, when Arkansas pressed and pushed its way into the Sweet 16 for the fourth straight year with a 65-56 victory over the Golden Eagles.
This game was ugly to everyone except the Razorbacks, who, with an NCAA title and a runner-up finish in the last two tournaments, are more Godzilla than Cinderella.
NTC Coach Nolan Richardson returned only two players who had seen serious playing time the past two seasons. He lost two starters in February to eligibility hassles and starts four freshmen, but young talent is better than no talent at all.
One of the last at-large selections to the 64-team field, Arkansas (20-12) will face Massachusetts, No. 1 in the East and the entire nation, in Atlanta Thursday.
"I'm looking forward to playing UMass," Richardson said. "A few weeks ago we played Kentucky and they spanked us like little kids, but they should be playing the Chicago Bulls anyway. I wish we could play UMass tonight. I love the opportunity to play the best team in the land."
Overcoming their worst shooting performance of the season was the challenge for the Razorbacks yesterday against a low-profile Marquette team that had finished strong in Conference USA to grab the last No. 4 seed.
Arkansas made only 31.2 percent of its shots, but it was actually the hot-shooting team, because Marquette also made a season low, 26.8 percent. Zack McCall's three-pointer put the Golden Eagles ahead 48-47 with 8: 58 left, but they didn't get another basket until one second remained.
Marquette (23-8) was still within 53-52 after McCall's free throw with 6: 12 left, but it went without a point over the next six minutes. The Golden Eagles had handled Cincinnati's ruggedness and Memphis' athleticism at the end of the regular season, but they weren't able to deal with the Razorbacks' ferocious combination of the two.
"It takes such an effort to beat the [Arkansas] press that it has an effect on the other end," Deane said. "As the game wore on, we were shooting less effectively with wide-open, good looks. They make you look tired."
Arkansas trailed by 11 in the first half and its main offensive talents, center Darnell Robinson and point guard Kareem Reid, were a combined 6-for-29 from the field, but freshman Pat Bradley had a team-high 12 points on four three-pointers. Bradley is from that old Razorbacks' recruiting hotbed of Everett, Mass.
"Pat's an amazing young man," Richardson said. "I yell at all the guys, but he never listens. He's got the green light anyway. I'm just glad Boston [College] and the other schools looked the other way on him."
Pub Date: 3/17/96