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COLLEGE BASKETBALL / NCAA POSTSEASON TOURNAMENTS : The Sty's the Limit for Razorbacks : Midwest: President Clinton and his family help cheer Arkansas to a 76-68 victory over Michigan and a berth in Final Four.

March 28, 1994|MARK HEISLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DALLAS — The new Arkansas chic, which has produced the nation's president, not to mention the Super Bowl owner and coach, added a Final Four entry to the list Sunday.

Not just any entry, either, but the pre-tournament favorite, Arkansas' mighty Razorbacks, who smacked down Michigan's aging youths, 76-68, in the final of the Midwest regional before a crowd that included President Bill Clinton.

President Clinton sat between his wife Hillary and daughter Chelsea. During the game, he explained the finer points to Chelsea. After the game, he embraced Arkansas Coach Nolan Richardson.

"As we met at half court today, I think he was as proud of the Hogs as I was proud," Richardson said.

"When you're a Hog, a Razorback, if they cut you open, you're going to bleed little pigs. That's just the way it is."

The President also said he would follow the Hogs to Charlotte, N.C., so if you're tiring of this subplot, you haven't seen anything yet.

In Arkansas, the power elite stay on familiar terms. President Clinton is a longtime Hog fan. Bud Walton, brother of the late Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart Stores, recently built the Razorbacks a 20,000-seat arena.

Hog chic spread easily to Dallas, what with Arkansas having won its last 11 games in Reunion Arena, dating to its days in the Southwest Conference, which plays its tournament there. And for entertainment in Texas, the Razorbacks could follow the exploits of two more native sons, Cowboy owner Jerry Jones and Coach Jimmy Johnson, whose feud has been getting daily "team coverage" on TV stations and running on front pages.

True to form, the Razorbacks rolled over little Tulsa and were installed as a solid favorite over Michigan. The Fab Four, accustomed to dominating events, were obliged to answer questions about the Hogs' roster (bigger and deeper than theirs) and the Hogs' shorts (longer than theirs), not to mention the Hogs' presidential fan club.

"We've got our own President that's (sic) going to be pulling for us," Michigan Coach Steve Fisher said. "I don't know (if) he's going to make the game. Gerald Ford, a Michigan grad. I guarantee you, he knows everything about our kids."

Tied in presidents, 1-1, the teams took to the floor to see who was best.

The Razorbacks, who start a freshman, two sophomores and two juniors, came out tight and missed their first six shots before they calmed down and began bringing to bear their 255-pounds-per-man front line and their nine-deep rotation.

Arkansas trailed, 8-3, then went on a 20-1 run for a 23-9 lead and the game's tone had been set.

But Richardson wasn't fooled.

"We watched Michigan play on tape," he said. "We knew their background. I remember when we were up 14, I thought, 'Wow, we must be doing something right.'

"That's a very good Big Ten team. You can ask Dick Vitale and Billy Packer, they'll probably tell you the Big Ten has the best teams. And we think they're the smartest people in the world."

According, then, to the prophecy of Vitale, Packer and whoever else has ever said something Richardson didn't like, the Wolverines fought back.

It took all game but they kept coming, led by junior center Juwan Howard, the quiet member of the Fab Four, who would lead all scorers with 30 points.

The Razorbacks led by as many as 12 points in the second half. The Wolverines were within two points at 63-61 with 5:00 left when Michigan's Dugan Fife stripped Arkansas' Corey Beck, triggering a three-on-one fast break.

Jalen Rose, bringing the ball up, took it all the way himself . . . and missed.

"Oh, definitely, I saw my teammates trailing," Rose said later. "But that was a three-foot shot that I make 99% of the time. It just didn't go in."

Either Rose should have passed or that 1% picked a fine time to kick in. The Razorbacks drew away again, but Rose, still aching to hit the big shot, continued to step up. With 1:04 left, he hit a three-pointer to cut Arkansas' lead to 71-68. The Wolverines got the ball back needing a three to tie. Again Rose took the shot. Again he missed.

Overall, the flashiest of the Fab Four shot five for 19, which would be a disappointing way to end a career that has been consistently colorful, if not always efficient.

"For me, personally, it would be selfish to think of myself right now," said Rose, a junior who is expected to enter the NBA draft.

"This is a hard time for Michigan basketball. We've been kind of spoiled in Michigan basketball. This is a hard pill to swallow."

Someone else is getting the adulation now. Richardson was selected Naismith coach of the year Sunday. Of course, he wondered out loud why he can never win coach of the year in his own Southeast Conference.

But he laughed as he wondered.

"Coach of the year," he said. "The President comes to the game and hugs you. Going to the Final Four. That's one hell of a day, fellas."

Midwest Notes

Blood on the shorts of Michigan's Juwan Howard set off an unusual sequence of events toward the end of the game. With Arkansas leading 71-68 and the Razorbacks dribbling downcourt, officials whistled play dead with 48 seconds left when blood was spotted on Howard's shorts. As Howard neared the Michigan bench, he slipped out of shorts, wearing underneath a pair of tight compression shorts. Then there was the problem of whose shorts he would wear. He was given one pair, but that player had to find someone else's. About three players ended up swapping pants before everything was resolved. Makhtar Ndiaye replaced Howard for a few seconds.

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