CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Since blowing a second-half lead to Duke in the semifinals of the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament last year in Denver, the University of Arkansas basketball team has been determined to get another chance at the Final Four.
The Razorbacks are one game -- or "40 minutes of hell," as they like to say -- away from that goal.
With an impressive second half last night at the Charlotte Coliseum, Arkansas blew away future Southeastern Conference opponent Alabama, 93-70, to advance into tomorrow's regional final. The top-seeded Razorbacks will play fourth-seeded Kansas (25-7), which beat second-seeded Indiana, 83-65.
Led throughout by junior forward Todd Day, and helped by a strong second half from junior guard Lee Mayberry, Arkansas (34-3) wore down the tired and sore Crimson Tide, turning a close game into an unexpected rout. Day scored a game-high 31 points, and Mayberry had all 16 of his points in the second half. James Robinson led Alabama (23-10) with 21 points.
"When you play a team that will harass you for 40 minutes, and you're injured, it's going to take its wear and tear," said Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson. "I thought they got tired. When you get tired, you make a lot of mistakes."
It turned out to be a hellish final 15 minutes for the Crimson Tide and a horrible night for point guard Gary Waites. Waites, who had 21 points in Alabama's second-round victory over Wake Forest, didn't score until the end of the game was five minutes away and the game was out of hand.
And Alabama committed a season-high 26 turnovers.
"Certainly, the committee's selection of Arkansas as the No. 1 seed has through the first three games proved correct," said Alabama coach Wimp Sanderson, who for the sixth time in the past 10 years failed to advance his team past the round of 16. "We hung in there for 25, 28 minutes, but their defensive pressure got to us and we kind of broke apart."
After a drive by Alabama forward Robert Horry cut Arkansas' lead to 57-52, the injury problems seemed to take their toll. Horry, who came into the game with a pulled groin, reinjured it and came out briefly. Waites, playing on a sprained ankle, couldn't handle the traps applied by the Razorbacks.
Horry's short absence and Arkansas' defensive pressure proved to be too much for Alabama to overcome. The Razorbacks ran off nine straight points in a 24-9 run that broke open the game. Arkansas led by as many as 25 points on two occasions late in the game.
"The first half, Alabama came out and played the way we usually do, aggressively," said Arkansas center Oliver Miller, who picked up two fouls in the first five minutes of the game and didn't play the remainder of the half. "I think to begin with we were trying to figure them out."
Day had things figured out early. With the Crimson Tide leaving him wide-open for jump shots, the Southwest Conference's Player of the Year scored 15 in the first half on seven of 10 from the field. The rest of the Razorbacks were nine of 32, including zero of four for Mayberry.
"This was one of my better games," said Day. "In the last few games, teams have been on me a lot and leaving Oliver open in the middle. But tonight I was open for the first couple of shots. They went in, and that got my confidence up."