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COLLEGE BASKETBALL / NCAA MEN'S TOURNAMENT : Bump in Night Saves Razorbacks : Midwest: Arkansas gets benefit of a hand-check call and holds off Memphis in overtime, 96-91.


KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Arkansas got its 40 minutes of hell and then some as the defending national champion needed overtime--and a controversial foul at the end of regulation--to defeat Memphis, 96-91, in the Midwest Regional semifinal at Kemper Arena.

When it was over, Razorback power forward Corliss Williamson, his legs cramping, walked slowly toward press row, plopped himself on a table, bowed his head and said, "I'm tired." That's when teammate Scotty Thurman arrived, wrapping Williamson in a bearhug and yelling to the crowd, "We're still lucky, baby. We're still lucky."

Thurman will get no argument from Memphis Coach Larry Finch, who watched as the sixth-seeded Tigers "self destructed" in the second half after building a 79-67 lead with 7:23 to play in regulation. Even so, Memphis clung to a one-point advantage with 11.5 seconds remaining when referee David Hall made the call that saved the Razorbacks' bacon.

As Arkansas guard Corey Beck dribbled toward the foul line, Tiger defender Chris Garner lightly poked at the Razorback's ribs. That immediately drew a whistle from Hall, who moved in front of the scorer's table and motioned for a hand-check foul.

Finch nearly had to be sedated. Meanwhile, Beck stepped to the line, the score, 83-82, in favor of the Tigers, and made one of two free throws to tie the game.

Memphis (24-10) still had a chance: They had the ball with 11.5 seconds to score. Instead, a three-point attempt by Justin Wimmer fell short--Finch thought the Razorbacks committed goaltending--and the game went to overtime, where Arkansas quickly moved ahead and stayed there.

The Razorbacks will face Virginia in the final Sunday.

Afterward, Finch worked himself into a miniature rage as he recounted the events of those last 11.5 seconds.

"That was too light to be called a hand check," said Finch, dabbing his sweaty forehead with a handkerchief. "There's no doubt in my mind. I don't want to sit here and whine and take away from a great game, so that's all I'm going to say about that."

The silence lasted about a millisecond.

"It makes me mad--(11.5) seconds left on the doggone clock--and you call a doggone touch foul down there when (we've) been mugged all night," he said. "That's ridiculous. I can see why guys go off when they get on this podium. It's ridiculous! Utterly ridiculous! This is the national basketball tournament. This is ridiculous."

Garner was more composed than his coach. Asked about the questionable call, he said "It was the same defense I played all game."

And it's probably not a good idea to ask Finch about Wimmer's potential game-winner at the end of regulation. Replays seemed to indicate the shot was short, not that Finch cared.

"As far as I could see, I saw the ball was way short," Thurman said. "He just grabbed the basketball. I don't think it was goaltending because I don't think Dwight Stewart can jump that high."

The second-seeded Razorbacks (30-6) could afford to joke. For the second consecutive tournament game, they were forced to overtime and lived to tell about it.

"Man," Arkansas Coach Nolan Richardson said, "we had another blowout."

Last week against Syracuse, they needed Lawrence Moten's ill-fated timeout call to escape. This time they can thank David Hall and also Tiger freshman center Lorenzen Wright.

According to Williamson, Wright recently popped off to the media about being a better player than the Arkansas star. "Inside, he said he was more of a man than me," said Williamson, who takes those things personally.

So Williamson played 39 minutes of the possible 45, scored 27 points, made 10 of 16 shots and grabbed 13 rebounds. Wright had 12 points, 14 rebounds and a lesson in media relations.

The Razorbacks now advance to the final eight, but it hasn't been as easy as last year's trip. They've needed missed free throws (Texas Southern), missed signals (Moten's timeout) and an official's whistle to rescue them from likely defeat.

"I'm just very happy and delighted that our team figured out a way to win and we never gave up," Richardson said. "So again, as you might say, we're living on the edge. As I told them in the dressing room, 'Let's just keep edging out of here, and that way we'll have a chance to get back where you guys would like to go.' "

Off the edge and into the Final Four.

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