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Recovering From the School of Hard Knocks

March 17, 2003|Jim Barrero and Jim Rhode | Times Staff Writers

A bad season such as the one UCLA had in 2002-03 has happened at other college basketball powerhouses. Some, such as Duke, Kentucky and Maryland, have rebounded nicely, and Louisville seems headed in the right direction. Others, such as Georgetown and Michigan, still haven't recovered. The jury is out on Arkansas and North Carolina. A look at how these schools, all winners of NCAA championships, became powerhouses, their slip-up seasons and the recovery process:

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*--* ARKANSAS THE CREDENTIALS When a university has a basketball arena named for a co-founder of one of the nation's most famous discount department store chains, it doesn't figure that the campus is dripping with tradition. But despite Bud Walton Arena, which opened in 1994 and is named for one of the Wal-Mart pioneers, Arkansas' tradition has been there from the start. Coach Nolan Richardson's arrival in 1985 only enhanced the reputation as he led the Razorbacks to their only national championship in 1994 behind Corliss Williamson, Corey Beck and Scotty Thurman and his "Forty Minutes of Hell" philosophy on defense. Arkansas has made six Final Four appearances, including three before Richardson took over. The Razorbacks won 22 Southwest Conference titles from 1926 to 1991, and two Southeastern Conference championships since joining the league in 1992. After a dry spell from 1952 to '74, Eddie Sutton arrived for the 1974-75 season to revive the Razorbacks' fortunes. Sutton cured Arkansas' 19-year absence from the NCAA tournament in 1977. That began a string of nine consecutive postseason appearances and 24 seasons out of 25, missing only during Richardson's first year. Sutton's 1977-78 team led by Sidney Moncrief, Ron Brewer and Marvin Delph took the Razorbacks to the Final Four 2001-02 14-15 record First losing season since 1985-86 WHAT HAPPENED If a losing season wasn't bad enough, Richardson seemed to finally snap during a late-season tirade to the media that he is treated differently because he is African American. A few days later an ESPN program focused on Arkansas as one of 36 Division I programs that had a 0% graduation rate for African American players who entered school from 1990 to '94. Soon after, the remaining six years of Richardson's contract were bought out THE AFTERMATH Arkansas hired Stan Heath, who had led Kent State to a 30-6 record and an Elite Eight appearance in 2001-02, to replace Richardson and things appear to be getting worse. The Razorbacks endured a 9-19 record this season and Richardson has a lawsuit pending against the university. Arkansas rewarded Heath with a one-year contract extension 2002-03 * Two five-game losing streaks. * Losses to Oral Roberts, Tulsa and Troy State. * Lost 15 of last 19 games

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*--* DUKE THE CREDENTIALS The Vic Bubas-coached Blue Devils wrested Atlantic Coast Conference supremacy from North Carolina in the early 1960s, winning four of six conference championships to start the decade. But Duke's rise to prominence with such players as future NBA All-Star guard Jeff Mullins virtually coincided with the start of John Wooden's reign as the Wizard of Westwood with a run of 10 national championships in 12 years. The Blue Devils reached the Final Four three times from 1963 to 1966 but would develop a habit that would drive them Cameron crazy. Duke would go to eight Final Fours over four decades without winning a national championship before a Mike Krzyzewski-coached, Christian Laettner-led team finally got the checkered flag at Indianapolis in 1991. The Blue Devils were a tour de force the next year too, repeating as national champions, and were coming off another Final Four appearance in 1994 when 1994-95 13-18 record Averaged 26 wins a season from 1984 to '94 WHAT HAPPENED The season started well enough at 9-3, but Krzyzewski, trying to ride out a painful back injury, finally had to have surgery. Without Coach K, the Blue Devils went down, down, down and it didn't help that the talent level had also dipped, with Laettner, Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill being replaced as stars of the team by Cherokee Parks, Steve Wojciechowski and Eric Meek THE AFTERMATH Like Krzyzewski's back, the Blue Devils were on the mend in 1995-96, compiling an 18-13 record and losing to Earl Boykins-led Eastern Michigan in the first round of the NCAA tournament. But one season later, Duke went back to the business of being Duke: 1996-present * Two Final Four appearances, one national championship (2001). * Five consecutive ACC tournament championships (1999-2003). * Averaged 32 victories and with a winning percentage near 90% (1996-2002). * Four players (Elton Brand, Shane Battier, Mike Dunleavy and Jason Williams) were top-six selections in NBA draft

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