Prior to the 1994 Final Four, there was only one other occasion when a sitting president had been on hand to watch his home state team play for a championship. That was in 1980, when Jimmy Carter watched Georgia football beat Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl. Bill Clinton duplicated the “feat” in 1994 when he showed up in Charlotte to watch his alma mater, Arkansas, cut down the nets. Here’s a look back at how the Razorbacks, along with Duke, Arizona and Florida, made it to the 1994 Final Four.
Head coach Nolan Richardson called it “40 Minutes of Hell”, a style of play that attacked on both ends of the floor. On a deep Arkansas team no one played more than 30 minutes per game. First among equals were Corliss Williams (20 points/7 rebounds per game) and Scotty Thurman (16/5), as the Hogs got the #1 seed in the Midwest.
Williamson dropped 20-plus in Arkansas’ first three NCAA wins, setting up a marquee showdown with Michigan. The Wolverines had four of the original “Fab Five” still remaining and led by future NBA player and ESPN analyst Jalen Rose. The Razorbacks forced Rose into a 5-for-19 shooting performance and overcame a heroic 30/13 performance from Juwan Howard, thanks to Thurman’s 20 points. Arkansas won 76-68 and reached its second Final Four in five years.
After a one-year hiatus from the Final Four, Mike Krzyzewski had Duke back on this stage for the seventh time in nine years and looking for their third national championship in the last four. This year’s team belonged to Grant Hill, who was an All-American averaging 17 points/7 rebounds/5 assists and they won the ACC regular season title. A loss in the conference tournament relegated them to the 2-seed in the Southeast.
Duke used tough defense to smother its opponents at the regionals in Knoxville. After beating Marquette 59-49 in the Sweet 16, the Blue Devils faced off with 1-seed Purdue and National Player of the Year Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson. Like Arkansas, Duke punched its ticket by forcing a Big Ten star into a bad shooting night. Robinson went 6-for-22, and the Blue Devils won 69-60.
Arizona had something to prove. Since their 1988 run to the Final Four with Steve Kerr and Sean Elliot, the Wildcats had become notorious underperformers in March. This edition of Lute Olson’s team, the 2-seed in the West, was led by a dynamic backcourt in Khalid Reeves and Damon Stoudamire, who combined to average 42ppg.
The run through the West Regional was the most impressive of any of the Final Four teams. Arizona drew 3-seed Louisville and 1-seed Missouri in Los Angeles. The Wildcats held both opponents to sub-40 percent shooting. Reeves scored a combined 55 points in the two games. Arizona beat Louisville 82-70 and their 92-72 win over Mizzou was a blowout from the start.
The Florida Gators have come an NCAA Tournament regular and won a couple national titles. Lon Kruger has also become a March staple, coaching a number of teams to the Dance. Kruger was here for the first time in 1994 with a Florida program that was making just its fourth all-time appearance.
An unheralded lineup was led by guards Dan Cross and Craig Brown and as the 3-seed in the East, the Gators did not play well early. They barely survived James Madison and after a bracket break set them up with 11-seed Penn, had to rally in the second half just to make the Sweet 16. An overtime win over 2-seed UConn was impressive and exciting, although both teams were sloppy.
But the bracket on the other side was broken open. Boston College had upset 1-seed North Carolina and Bob Knight’s Indiana team to reach the regional final. Florida played its best game of the tournament in a 74-66 win that sent them to a Final Four.
CHARLOTTE: THE 1994 FINAL FOUR
Arkansas-Arizona was the early game and the Razorbacks forced Reeves into 6-for-19 shooting . The defensive effort helped negate a rebounding edge for the Wildcats. So did a brilliant 29/13 game from Williamson who led a 91-82 win.
For one half of Florida-Duke, it looked like an All-SEC final might be in the offing, as the Gators led 39-32 at intermission. The second half belonged to Hill. He finished with a 25/6/6 line, the Blue Devil defense forced Brown and Cross into a combined 6-for-23 shooting and Duke pulled out a 70-65 win.
A very well-played NCAA final was tied at 70-70 late in the game. Thurman launched a three-point shot that arced so high it seemed ready to kiss the rafters. It went down and was effectively the decisive shot in Arkansas’ 76-72 win. Thurman’s shot is the enduring memory of this game, but the biggest difference was Hill only shooting 4-for-11, while Williamson posted a 23/8. It got Corliss Williamson the Most Outstanding Player award of the 1994 Final Four and had the Commander-in-Chief smiling up in his box.