CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Neither Arkansas nor Kansas spent much time studying the other's tendencies yesterday in preparation for today's Southeast Regional final in the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament.
The top-seeded Razorbacks will try to run and press fullcourt against Kansas (25-7) in this contrasting matchup at the Charlotte Coliseum. The fourth-seeded Jayhawks will try to slow down Arkansas (34-3) by setting up their half-court offense, and wear down their opponents as much mentally as physically.
"With Arkansas, you have to beat an attitude," said Kansas coach Roy Williams. "Their attitude is that they are going to go after you for 40 minutes and they want you to quit. Our attitude is that we're going to be in there the whole game. It's going to be a battle of wills."
Not to mention won'ts. The Razorbacks won't change what has worked for them throughout the season, losses to Arizona, Nevada-Las Vegas and Texas notwithstanding. It worked here again Thursday night, when Arkansas wore down Alabama in the second half and pulled away to a 93-70 victory.
"Our game never changes," said Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson, looking to go back to the Final Four for the second straight year. "We never change for anyone. Your worst enemy is yourself. Our habit is go out and do what we do well. We don't worry about trying to stop a team's offense. We try to do the things we need to do defensively to win."
What the Razorbacks do well in their fullcourt press is force turnovers, as they did 26 times against the Crimson Tide. But what the Jayhawks showed in their shocking, 83-65 dismantling of second-seeded Indiana Thursday is that their motion offense can overcome pressure. What they haven't proven yet is whether they can handle 94 feet of it, rather than just half-court man-to-man.
Though Kansas doesn't consider itself in UNLV's class, the Jayhawks know what the Runnin' Rebels did to Arkansas in their celebrated mid-season matchup in February and what its motion offense did to UNLV in last season's pre-season NIT. "That's a game we can look at," senior forward Mike Maddox said of a 91-77 victory in New York. "If we can run our offensive sets, and attack their press, we can get some easy baskets."
Williams, for one, said he doesn't think it will be that simple. Nor does the former North Carolina assistant, whose system virtually mirrors that of the Tar Heels, say it's impossible. "It's a different kind of challenge," said Williams. "Nolan calls it '40 minutes of hell.' I've got other names for it myself that we won't talk about. It's easy to say you're going to handle their pressure. It's hard to do."
What Kansas hopes to do is wear down the Razorbacks in terms of jaw-jolting picks, freeing up its guards for jumpers or getting the ball inside when its big men roll to the basket. As Maddox said , "They better get ready to get hit a lot."
Even Arkansas forward Todd Day didn't seem too excited about the prospect of playing a team like Kansas. While Richardson wouldn't even venture a guess as to what might happen if the Jayhawks slowed down the Razorbacks, Day admitted, "If they can do that, it would be to their advantage."
Underlying this overwhelming contrast is a remarkable similarity. Both teams seem to be thriving on the fact that neither thinks it gets much respect across the country. Arkansas has claimed that UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian called the Razorbacks "the weakest of the No. 1 seeds," and Kansas didn't like the way it was overlooked before it played Indiana.