This is the initial installment of a new weekly feature here at Arkansas Expats. Each Wednesday, we'll take a look back at a memorable and/or important (to us, anyway) Razorback game. So, sit back, relax and let the memories (or, in some cases, the heartache and angst) flow.
At the end of this post is a great YouTube find: footage from the 1979 NCAA Midwest Regional Final between Sidney Moncrief's Razorbacks and Larry Bird's Indiana State Sycamores. The action itself is not terribly memorable - it's of the first few minutes of the game, but it's still pretty amazing to see a clip from this historic - and heartbreaking - contest.
To set the stage: Indiana State was undefeated and ranked number one in the country heading into the game. The Hogs, of course, had been to the Final Four the year before but considering the losses of Ron Brewer, Marvin Delph and Jimmy Counce - two-thirds of the 1978 team's starting lineup - expectations for the 1979 team weren't very high. In fact, Arkansas entered the season unranked.
However, the pundits overlooked one very important factor: Sidney Moncrief was a total bad-ass.
Super Sid led the team in scoring, averaging 22 points per game, and rebounding, hauling in 9.6 boards a game. (Amazingly, the 6'4" Moncrief led the team in rebounding in each of his four seasons in Fayetteville.) U.S. Reed wasn't half-bad either, and Steve Schall, Scott Hastings and Alan Zahn formed a very solid frontcourt for the Hogs.
The Hogs stumbled a bit in the middle of the season, losing four of five games, but they then peeled off a 14-game winning streak that carried them to the Midwest Regional Final of the NCAA Tournament, one win away from a repeat trip to the Final Four. The game itself, of course, was a nailbiting heartbreaker: with the score tied with just more than a minute to play, a controversial walking call on U.S. Reed gave the Sycamores the ball, and Indiana State held it for the rest of the game. Moncrief's defense prevented Bird from getting the ball for a last shot, but the immortal Bob Heaton took an off-balance, left-handed jumper that rolled around the rim and dropped through at the last second to give Indiana State the win.
In our 2009 Q&A with U.S. Reed, he had this to say about the game and the traveling call:
That was one of those games - we knew we could win that game. We felt pretty good about it. I had the ball at the end of the game. I was dribbling the ball, andcame up and just stuck his foot out there and tripped me. It was pretty evident.
The crazy thing about it is, I lost control of the ball, so it's anybody's ball then. I went over and picked the ball up - and the ref called traveling.
The big deal wasn't the trip. It was the fact that I lost the ball - it got away from me - and then I went over and picked it up. I didn't dribble or anything, and he called traveling.
So, it was like, "What are you calling?" Everybody was pretty upset.
And then they go down and throw up a left-hand shot with one second left. It goes in, and that's the end of the game.
That probably was the worst loss of my career. We were on the way to the Final Four.
The comments thread on YouTube is definitely worth checking out. But I wanted to highlight this remark by ttlms, one that powerfully and succinctly summarizes the way I think we all feel about that tragic Saturday in Cincinnati: "This game still makes me puke 31 years later."
On with the show: