The 1995 Final Four in Seattle was highlighted by a long-awaited UCLA revival and Arkansas’ bid for a dynasty. Here’s a look at the paths the Bruins & Razorbacks, along with North Carolina and Oklahoma State, took to reach college basketball’s biggest stage at the Kingdome.
The proud program had been in a dry spell. The Bruins had not won the NCAA championship since the end of the Wooden Dynasty in 1975. They hadn’t even reached a Final Four since 1980. Head coach Jim Harrick was in his seventh year. The pressure was on and there was a veteran group led by Ed O’Bannon, the forward who won National Player of the Year. O’Bannon was joined by point guard Tyus Edney, his own brother Charles and freshman Toby Bailey.
After a regular season of meeting expectations and getting the 1-seed in the West, UCLA was on the verge of disaster in the Round of 32. They trailed Missouri 74-73 with five seconds left. Edney made one of March Madness’ memorable plays, going coast-to-coast for the game-winner that saved his team’s season. UCLA closed out their regional run with an electrifying 102-96 win over a UConn team that had Ray Allen, Donyell Marshall and Kevin Ollie.
Arkansas brought the key pieces back from their 1994 national championship run and were the preseason #1 with heavy expectations of a repeat title. Corliss Williamson and Scotty Thurman were as good as they’d been in ‘94, averaging 20 points/8 rebounds and 15/4 respectively. But this Razorback team wasn’t quite as deep as the previous year and they had some hiccups in the regular season that resulted in losing the SEC title to Kentucky, both regular season and tournament, and settling for the 2-seed in the Midwest.
The Razorback ride through March was positively hair-raising. They edged Texas Southern 79-78 in the Round of 64, then needed overtime to get past both Syracuse and Memphis. Then a big break came—with the regionals behind held in Kansas City, top-seeded Kansas fell to Virginia in the Sweet 16. The Hogs beat the Cavs 68-61. In the four-game regional run Williamson scored 92 points and pulled down 38 rebounds and Arkansas had their third Final Four in six years.
Another year, another loaded team for Dean Smith. This one had sophomores named Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace, who each had long NBA careers ahead of them. Stackhouse averaged 19 points/8 rebounds/3 assists, while Wallace was good for 16/8. UNC finished in a four-way tie for the ACC title, but a loss in the tournament final relegated them to the 2-seed in the Southeast.
After a slow start against Murray State where they trailed by a point at the half, the Tar Heels played some excellent basketball—particularly on the defensive end. In the regionals, they beat a Georgetown team with Allan Iverson 74-64. Then they forced top-seeded Kentucky into a 28 percent shooting performance. Stackhouse’s 18/12/6 line in the regional final secured Dean’s ninth Final Four trip.
It was a long time for Oklahoma State. They hadn’t been to a Final Four since Hank Iba’s glory days in the early 1950s. When Eddie Sutton arrived in Stillwater in 1991, they had reached just one NCAA Tournament since 1965. Led by 7’0” senior Bryant Reeves and guard Randy Rutherford, who each averaged 20ppg and combined for 18 rebounds a night, Okie State finished second in the Big Eight regular season, won the league tournament and was the 4-seed in the East.
The Cowboy run through the regionals was exceptionally impressive at the time and looks even better in the eyes of history. They beat top-seeded Wake Forest in the Sweet 16 and then knocked off 2-seed Massachusetts. The respective centers in those games were merely Tim Duncan and Marcus Camby. Rutherford went for 23/11 in the 71-66 win over Wake, while Reeves posted a 24/10 line in the 68-54 win over John Calipari’s UMass team that sealed the Final Four berth.
SEATTLE: THE 1995 FINAL FOUR
Second-half dominance was the story of all three games at the Kingdome. UCLA-Oklahoma State was tied at the half before the Bruins pulled away to win 74-61. UCLA forced 19 turnovers, while Edney and the O’Bannon brothers combined for 55 points. Arkansas trailed North Carolina 38-34 at the half in the prime-time game, but turnovers were again a big factor. The Hogs forced 15, got a 21/10 night from Williamson and won 75-68.
On Monday night, one team wanted to revive a dynasty and another wanted to establish one. UCLA held a 40-39 lead at the half, before one more potent second half run settled the championship. O’Bannon went off for a 30/17 night that was as good as any title game performance this side of Danny Manning in 1988. Freshman Toby Bailey was the X-factor with a 26/9 game himself. The final was 89-78 and for the only time in the post-Wooden era, the trophy was going to Westwood.