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On This Date in Sports: April 4, 1994: Clinton and the Razorbacks

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With President Bill Clinton in attendance and cheering them on, Arkansas beats Duke 76-72 in the Finals of the NCAA Tournament at the Charlotte Coliseum. It is the first National Championship for the Razorbacks, as Scotty Thurman’s high arching three-pointer with under one minute proves to be the difference as Corliss Williamson is named NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.

After a one-year absence, Duke was back in the Final Four for the fifth time in six years under Coach Mike Krzyzewski. The Blue Devils began the tournament as #2 seed in the Southeast Region thanks to a record of 28-6. Duke started their tournament with an 82-70 win over Texas Southern and followed that with an 85-74 win over Michigan State. In the Sweet 16, the Blue Devils downed Marquette 59-49 before taking out #1 Purdue 69-60 in the regional finals in Knoxville, Tennessee.

It was a special season for Arkansas who gave their opponents 40 minutes of hell all season while posting a record of 25-3 under Coach Nolan Richardson. The Razorbacks road to the Final Four began with a 94-79 win over North Carolina A&T. Next was 85-73 win over Georgetown to get to the second weekend. In the Regional Semifinals Arkansas clobbered Tulsa 103-84. In the Elite Eight in Dallas with President Bill Clinton in attendance, the Razorbacks edged Michigan 76-68 to reach the Final Four for the first time since 1990.

Rounding out the Final Four in Charlotte was Arizona making their first trip since 1988 and Florida making their first-ever appearance in the semifinals. The Gators were the #3 seed in the East Region under Coach Lon Kruger. The story of the region was the second round upset win by Boston College over defending National Champion North Carolina, ending the Tar Heels 3-year streak of reaching the Sweet 16. Florida meanwhile reached the Sweet 16 with a 64-62 win over James Madison and a 70-58 win over Penn. In the regional semifinal in Miami, the Gators beat UConn 69-60 in overtime. Next was a 74-66 win over Boston College. Arizona started the tournament as the #2 seed in the West under coach Lute Olsen. The Wildcats path began with an 81-55 win over Loyola-Maryland, which was followed up by a 71-58 win over Virginia. In the Sweet 16, Arizona beat Louisville 82-70 before beating #1 Missouri 92-72 in the Regional Final in Los Angeles.

Duke seeking their third championship in four years, reached the Final game for the fourth time since 1990 with a 70-65 win over a pesky Florida team as Grant Hill led all scorers with 25 points. Meanwhile, it was Corliss Williamson for Arkansas, scoring 29 points with 13 board and five assists as the Razorbacks beat Arizona 91-82.

The championship game was tight throughout, as Bill Clinton became the first sitting president to attend a basketball national championship game. There was no question where his loyalties as he served as governor of Arkansas before his election to the presidency. At the half, Arkansas held a slim 34-33 lead. Duke using a balanced attack took control of the game in the second half, building a ten-point lead as all five starters reached double digits. However, the Razorbacks turned up the defensive pressure and forced 23 turnovers. With one minute left the game was tied until Scotty Thurman hit a three-point shot over Antonio Lang to give Arkansas the lead for good. The Razorbacks would go on to win the game 76-72 as Nolan Richard joined John Thompson a decade earlier as the second African American coach to win the NCAA Tournament.

In the championship game, Corliss Williamson led all scorers with 23 points and eight rebounds, on the way to being named as the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Corey Beck added 15, as did Scotty Thurman who hit the game’s biggest shot. It was a relatively disappointing game for Grant Hill who had 12 points with 14 rebounds and five assists in his final collegiate game, making just 4-of-11 shots from the field. Antonio Lang was the Blue Devils leading scorer with 15 points, while Jeff Capel and Cherokee Parks each had 14 and Chris Collins had 12.