When Arkansas men’s basketball defeated Texas Tech, 68-66, behind 20 points from Justin Smith on Sunday, it earned the program its first bid to the Sweet 16 in a long time. But when was the last time Arkansas made the Sweet 16?
Arkansas Last Sweet 16 Appearance
The last time Arkansas went to the Sweet 16 was 1996: 25 years ago. It hasn’t been since the days of Nolan Richardson and his 40 Minutes of Hell that the Razorbacks have reached the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
That Sweet 16 trip came in the midst of the most successful period in Arkansas history. In both of the two previous seasons, the Razorbacks reached the national championship game appearances with a victory in 1994, the team’s first and only national crown in its history. It was the ninth-straight NCAA Tournament appearance for Arkansas.
Junior guard Jesse Pate lead the team in scoring, averaging 13.4 points per game, though he was ruled ineligible after 21 games for academic reasons. Freshman guard Kareem Reid wasn’t far behind Pate with 12.9 points per contest, plus 6.6 assists and 2.0 steals per outing. Junior center Darnell Robinson was third in scoring with 12.7 points per game. He also hauled in an average of 7.0 rebounds each night.
The team start the campaign as the preseason No. 16 team in the AP Poll, and was No. 25 in the poll released Nov. 27, 1995, but otherwise didn’t appear in the rankings. After building a 14-6 record into early February, Arkansas dropped five of its last eight and three of its final four games, finishing the regular season 17-11 with a 9-7 SEC mark, good for second place in the West behind Mississippi State.
The Razorbacks had a bye to the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament, where they walloped South Carolina, 80-58. But Kentucky returned the favor in the semifinals, rejecting Arkansas’s bid for the tournament title, 95-75, giving the team a 18-12 record as Selection Sunday loomed.
Arkansas was awarded one of the final at-large bids in the NCAA Tournament as a No. 12 seed in the East Region. In its first game, the Razorbacks faced No. 5 seed Penn State, which tied for second in the Big Ten and started the season 13-0. Reid had 21 points and freshman forward Derek Hood put up a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds as the Razorbacks survived the Nittany Lions in a tight one, 86-80, extending the program’s streak of winning at least one game in the NCAA Tournament to eight years in a row.
In the second round, Arkansas faced No. 4 seed Marquette, which was fresh off a beating of No. 13 seed Monmouth in the first round and finished second in the CUSA Blue Division. After trailing, 33-31, at halftime, Richardson’s men roared back in the second half, outpacing Marquette by nine points and coming away with a 65-56 triumph to claim a ticket back to the Sweet 16. Reid had a tough shooting night, shooting 1-of-10 from the field and scoring just six points, but he got his teammates involved instead and dished nine dimes. Freshman guard Pat Bradley had 12 points and was one of four Razorbacks to score in double figures to fill Reid’s void, while Hood (11 points, 13 rebounds) and Robinson (10 points, 11 rebounds) both had double-doubles.
Next, No. 1 seed Massachusetts awaited Arkansas in Atlanta, and the Minutemen proved to be too much for the Razorbacks to handle. UMass, which had lost just one game up to that point and would go on to the Final Four, opened up a 40-24 advantage at the break and didn’t look back, eliminating Arkansas from the NCAA Tournament, 79-63. Bradley went 6-of-10 from the field and lead Arkansas in scoring with 15 points. The loss ended the Razorbacks’ season and confirmed a 20-13 total record.