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The 1994 Razorbacks: National champions

The evening of Monday, April 4, 1994, remains seared into the memories of University of Arkansas Razorback fans.

The national championship in basketball was on the line.

With less than a minute remaining in the game, 6-6 Scotty Thurman hit the most famous shot in Razorback basketball history. His three-point basket snapped a 70-70 tie against Duke. Arkansas went on to win the national championship that night, 76-72, against a Blue Devil team that was playing in its sixth Final Four in seven years and its fourth championship game.

Corliss Williamson, a Russellville native, was named the tournament’s most valuable player.

Williamson, Thurman, their teammates and their coaches will be honored Friday night when the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame inducts its Class of 2012. This is only the second time in its history that the Hall of Fame has inducted an entire team. The 1964 national championship Razorback football team was inducted in 2010.

The man who coached Arkansas to the national championship in basketball, Nolan Richardson, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998. Thurman was inducted in 2010, and Williamson was inducted in 2009.

Tickets for Friday’s banquet, which will be held at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock, are $100 each and may be obtained by calling Jennifer Smith at (501) 663-4328 or Catherine Johnson at (501) 821-1021.

There also are 11 individual inductees — six from the regular category, three from the senior category and two from the posthumous category — in the Class of 2012.

The 1993-94 Razorback basketball team had the pressure of being ranked No. 1 in the country for 10 weeks during the regular season. Williamson was the team leader from start to finish in that campaign, averaging 20.4 points per game, shooting .626 from the field and making 70 percent of his free throws.

Thurman, meanwhile, didn’t save all of his last-minute heroics for the national championship game. He made a three-point shot with seven seconds left to give Arkansas a one-point victory at Tennessee and hit another three-point shot in the final 30 seconds to help the Hogs beat LSU in overtime in Baton Rouge. Thurman averaged 15.9 points per game that season.

Williamson and Thurman received plenty of help from Corey Beck, who led the team in assists. Beck and Clint McDaniel were regarded as the best defensive guards in the country as they took Richardson’s “40 minutes of hell” approach to heart. McDaniel could score from the perimeter. The fifth starter on the team, Dwight Stewart, also was a perimeter scoring threat.

Richardson took advantage of a deep bench. Al Dillard was a three-point shooting threat. He was the team’s third-leading scorer with an 8.9-point-per-game average even though he averaged playing just 12 minutes per game.

Roger Crawford, one of only two seniors on the team, also was a scoring threat. Crawford was injured early in the NCAA Tournament and didn’t play in the Final Four.

Coming off the bench on a regular basis were Darnell Robinson and Lee Wilson, both 6-11 centers. Others who saw significant playing time were Ken Biley and Elmer Martin.

Other members of the national championship team were forward Craig Tyson, guard Davor Rimac, guard Reggie Merritt, forward Reggie Garrett, guard John Engskov and forward Ray Biggers.

Richardson had gotten Arkansas close before. The Razorbacks reached the Final Four in 1990 and lost in the semifinal game to Duke. Kansas defeated Arkansas the next year in the Elite Eight.

In 1992, the Hogs fell to Memphis in the second round of the tournament. Arkansas made it to the Sweet 16 in 1993 before losing to eventual national champion North Carolina.

Duke, Kansas, Memphis, North Carolina — all members of college basketball’s elite.

Now, it was the Razorbacks’ turn.

The Hogs finished the regular season with a 24-2 record. A 13-game winning streak was ended by Kentucky in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, but Arkansas still found itself seeded first in the Midwest Regional at Oklahoma City.

Williamson scored 24 points and had seven rebounds as the Razorbacks defeated North Carolina A&T, 94-79, in the first round.

Two days later in the second round, Williamson had 21 points and Robinson, as a surprise starter, added 13 points as the Razorbacks beat Georgetown, 85-73.

It was on to Dallas and the Sweet 16. The opponent was Tulsa.

Earlier in the season at Tulsa, the Golden Hurricane had taken the Razorbacks to overtime before falling, 93-91. Most people were expecting another close game in the Sweet 16 after Tulsa had posted victories over UCLA and Oklahoma State in the tournament’s first two rounds. It was, however, a blowout in favor of the Razorbacks. The Hogs won by 19 points, 103-84, as Williamson and Thurman scored 21 points each. McDaniel added 19 points.

The Elite Eight foe was Michigan. Its star player was Juwan Howard. Williamson was held to just 12 points, but Thurman answered with 20 points and the Razorbacks won by eight, 76-68. President Clinton was among those in attendance in Dallas.

The next stop: The Final Four in Charlotte, N.C.

The semifinal opponent was an Arizona team led by guards Damon Stoudamire and Khalid Reeves. With Beck and McDaniel playing their best defensive games of the season, Stoudamire and Reeves hit just 11 of 43 shots. They were two of 22 on three-point attempts. Williamson scored 29 points and had 13 rebounds for the Razorbacks as they posted a solid 91-82 victory.

President Clinton was back in attendance for the national championship game, joining 3,000 of his fellow Arkansans who had made the trip to Charlotte.

Back home, hundreds of thousands of Arkansans were glued to their television sets.

Arkansas led 34-33 at the half, but Duke jumped to a 10-point lead in the first three minutes of the second half. Next, it was Arkansas’ turn to go on a run as the Hogs built a 70-65 lead.

Grant Hill hit a three-point shot for Duke to tie the game with 1:29 remaining. As the shot clock was running down, Thurman’s three-point shot was true with 51 seconds left in the game. Arkansas led by three, 73-70.

Two free throws by McDaniel and another free throw from Dillard sealed a 76-72 Arkansas victory and the national championship.

The president headed down to the court to embrace Richardson.

At 31-3, Arkansas had won its first national championship in basketball.

This Friday night, we get to salute that team again as it’s inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.

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