ATLANTA -- Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson talks about his players giving their opponents "40 minutes of pure hell," with their tenacious press and depth.
But yesterday, the second-ranked Razorbacks got a little taste of hell themselves from a bunch of Devils.
After running off eight points in the first 45 seconds of their NCAA Southeast Regional second-round game against the Arizona State Sun Devils, the Razorbacks watched Arizona State run right back at them, threatening to upset the regional's top-seeded team.
"Arizona State has a good ballclub," said Arkansas guard Arlyn Bowers. "We just couldn't shake them. We just couldn't put them away."
Still, despite horrid free throw shooting at the end of the game, the Razorbacks held off Arizona State 97-90 to advance to Thursday's Southeast Regional semifinals against Alabama, which knocked off Wake Forest 96-88 yesterday. In the other Southeast semifinal, it will be Indiana (29-4) vs. Kansas (24-7).
Yesterday, every time the Razorbacks (33-3) tried to distance themselves, Arizona State (20-10) would climb right back. In the second half, the Sun Devils closed leads of 10 and 12 points before tiring from the strain of coping with Arkansas' end-to-end pressure.
"I would like to know what conditioning program they're on, so we can bring it to Arizona State. They looked like they were gliding," said freshman forward Jamal Faulkner, who scored a career-high 29 points.
Richardson warned the media about expecting too much from a Razorback team that has averaged 20 more points per game than its opponents this season.
"Tonight was good for our team," said Richardson. "I did not expect to come to the NCAA and make a mockery of the tournament.
"I tell my team that a raggedy ride is better than a smooth walk. We played raggedy tonight, but we got the win."
In the first game, Alabama (23-9) turned back a young Wake Forest (19-11) team that lost despite shooting 59 percent for the game.
"If that's happened before, it had to be when I was a high school coach," said Wake coach Dave Odom.
"You want to say they had a hot night and they did," said Alabama coach Wimp Sanderson. "But they got a lot of cheap baskets." At least they did until Sanderson changed strategy in the second half, going from a man-to-man defense to a 2-3 zone designed to neutralize Wake inside.
It worked, as Odom was forced to take out 6-foot-9 swingman Anthony Tucker and go with a three-guard set that was largely ineffective in the second half.
"With Tucker in the lineup, we are at a disadvantage, because he doesn't know whether to play inside or outside," Odom said. Also at a disadvantage were Wake forwards Rodney Rogers and Chris King.
"We become so perimeter-minded on offense that we take Rodney and Chris out of the offense with a zone," Odom said.
King, who had 20 points at the half, scored just nine in the second stanza. Rogers took just five shots in the second half, scoring on four of them, to finish with 16 points.
Odom, whose son Lane is a graduate assistant coach with Alabama, said he will root harder for the Crimson Tide than any other non-Atlantic Coast Conference team, adding he thinks Sanderson's team can go a long way in the tournament.
"I think his team right now is playing the kind of game that is capable of beating any team in the country, and I don't exclude UNLV," said Odom.
His buddy, Sanderson, of the loud plaid jackets, wasn't buying into that kind of talk.
"We played well the last two games, but basketball is a crazy game and just because you've been playing good doesn't mean that you will play well the next game," said Sanderson.