It has been more than six years now since Arkansas scored one of the biggest victories in Razorback basketball history by upsetting No. 1-ranked North Carolina, 65-64.
And teams representing the two schools will get together for only the fourth time ever at 8:10 tonight in Reunion Arena with the winner staying around for the NCAA Tournament's Midwest Region championship game Saturday afternoon. Texas and Xavier square off in the other semifinal game late tonight. The losers will go home, their season at an end.Despite the infrequent games between Carolina and Arkansas, the Tar Heels are no strangers to these Razorbacks.
``Since I was a little kid, I always wanted to play against North Carolina,' said Arkansas' leading scorer, Todd Day. ``You think about Dean Smith and the tradition. I got a letter from North Carolina when I was in high school, but they didn't actively recruit me.
``You have to be a little scared and to give them a lot of respect.'
Day's fellow backcourt starter, Lee Mayberry, also knows a thing or two about the Tar Heels. ``North Carolina is my favorite team and has been since I was young,' he said. ``I wish I had gotten a letter from North Carolina. I would have framed it.'
Apparently, neither Day nor Mayberry will let that admiration get in the way of business tonight. The two are the key elements in a guard-oriented running offense that the Tar Heels must keep under control without the services of one its chief weapons, Kevin Madden. Madden's career came to an end Monday when he suffered a severe knee injury that will require corrective surgery when the season ends for Carolina.
Freshman George Lynch is likely to see more playing time in Madden's absence, but the aggressive nature of his game has caused him to foul out seven times this season even though he has been an infrequent starter.
Arkansas also is known for its aggressive form of play. ``We are aggressive. That's just me,' Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson said at Wednesday's press conference. ``I'm one of those kind who likes to play golf in an hour - 18 holes. And that's probably why I usually shoot 103.'
Arkansas is seeded fourth in the Midwest Region, but is the highest-seeded team remaining. The three teams that join the Razorbacks here are responsible for sending the top three seeds home early with Carolina dispatching top-seeded and nationally No. 1-ranked Oklahoma Saturday afternoon in Austin on Rick Fox's dramatic shot with two seconds left.
Texas knocked off second-seeded Purdue and Xavier slammed the door on third-seeded Georgetown, both in second-round games in Indianapolis Saturday.
Texas was expected to be the crowd favorite here for geographical reasons. But Razorback fans stood in line and wound up with an estimated 75 percent of the tickets not claimed by allotments to the individual schools.
For Carolina, it will be a lot like playing in Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium with the home crowd tonight strongly favoring Arkansas.