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Arkansas is one of the most storied programs in college basketball history. Boasting two national championship appearances with one victory, six Final Fours, 11 Elite Eights, and 14 Sweet Sixteens, there have been dozens of games the Razorbacks have played with great importance.
In ranking the most important games in program history, there are certain ways to look at each entry in this list. Did the game have a direct and/or immediate impact on the program? Did it elevate the program? Was it the cause of an event or chain of events that impacted the trajectory of the program?
For this list, most of these will be measured by positive effect, rather than negative, so while the 1995 loss to UCLA, which prevented the Razorbacks from being repeat champions could be included, it was not in this list. With all that said, here is the list:
15. Loss to North Carolina in the 2017 NCAA Tournament
I know I just said that the list would not include negative important games, but hear me out. Even though it was one of the more gut-wrenching losses in recent memory for Arkansas, it was a net positive.
The Razorbacks led by five, 65-60, with just 2:56 remaining in the game, but would go scoreless down the stretch to lose 72-65. Razorback fans do not look back on the matchup fondly, as it was riddled with controversy down the stretch. That controversy was brought back to life recently with North Carolina forward Justin Jackson commenting on the game in a recent podcast appearance.
“Shout out to those referees, too, for that game,” Jackson said, sparking outrage yet again on Arkansas Twitter.
The reason the game ranks as one of such importance, though, is because of the circumstances surrounding it. It was year six of the Mike Anderson era and the prodigal son had struggled to restore Arkansas to a similar status to when he was an assistant under Nolan Richardson. The NCAA Tournament birth was just Anderson’s second in that time frame, but the hopes were high that Arkansas could take the next step like UAB and Missouri did under Anderson.
With All-SEC performer Moses Kingsley and a backcourt trio of Jaylen Barford, Dusty Hannahs and Daryl Macon, the Razorbacks beat Seton Hall, but lost in heartbreaking fashion to the Tarheels when they were in position to end a 21-year Sweet Sixteen drought.
Arkansas would not win another NCAA Tournament game under Anderson, only making one more appearance the following year, and the loss seemed to solidify the fact that Anderson was not going to take Arkansas to the next level, opening the door for the Razorbacks to fire him in 2019 and hire Eric Musselman.
14. Win over Kentucky on Super Bowl Sunday 1995
In an epic showdown in the college basketball world, No. 9 Arkansas faced No. 5 Kentucky on Super Bowl Sunday. The game was nationally televised as the top 10 teams battled back and forth throughout the entire game.
Superstars Corliss Williams and Scotty Thurman combined for 50 points, two of which came from Thurman with just 10.6 seconds remaining to give Arkansas the victory. With the game being nationally televised, a top-10 contest, and the win giving the Razorbacks a 4-2 record over the Wildcats since joining the SEC at the time, it made the list.
13. Win over AP No. 1 Auburn, 2022
Arkansas was riding an eight-game winning streak going into a showdown against top-ranked Auburn. The Tigers were the first No. 1 team Arkansas had faced since Kentucky in 2015 (twice), and the Razorbacks were looking to hold home court as an unranked team.
The atmosphere was explosive, the game itself was a slugfest with each team competing relentlessly, and the stakes were high. The Razorbacks trailed by two with as little as 21 seconds remaining in regulation, but a layup from forward Jaylin Williams tied the game and forced overtime.
Arkansas built a 6-point lead in overtime and sealed the game to hold off the Tigers and win 80-76. In the closing moments, Davonte Davis took an outlet pass and dunked the ball home as the lights went out and fireworks shot up from behind the backboard. The crowd rushed the court and Davis knocked Auburn guard Wendell Green Jr. in the face coming off the rim, but Arkansas secured its first ever win over an AP No. 1 opponent while the Razorbacks were unranked.
12. Loss to North Carolina in the 1993 Sweet Sixteen
This isn’t the first North Carolina entry into the list, and it won’t be the last.
Arkansas had experienced great success under Nolan Richardson by 1993. He had led the Razorbacks to five straight NCAA Tournaments, including a Final Four and two Elite Eights. Richardson attempted to add to those totals and win an ever-elusive national championship in his sixth straight NCAA Tournament appearance in 1993.
The four-seeded Razorbacks made quick work of Holy Cross, managed to defeat St. John’s and then faced off against No. 1-seeded North Carolina in the Sweet Sixteen.
It was a tie game at halftime, as Arkansas was looking to defeat the top-seeded Tarheels and move on to its third Elite Eight in four years, but that wasn’t the case.
The team, dubbed “Richardson’s Runts” for its lack of size, put up a valiant effort, but lost by six points to the eventual national champions. Arkansas returned six core pieces from that team in Williamson, Thurman, Corey Beck, Dwight Stewart, Clint McDaniel and Roger Crawford, plus added 6-foot-11 freshman Darnell Robinson and sharpshooter Al Dillard en route to winning its first ever national championship the very next year.
11. U.S. Reed’s halfcourt heave propels Arkansas over Louisville, 1981
Eddie Sutton led Arkansas to its fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance in 1981 — his seventh year on the job. He had effectively turned the Razorback program completely around, from an NCAA Tournament drought of nearly 20 years to a regular participant.
Three years prior, Arkansas beat UCLA to make the Final Four for the first time since the field expanded to 32 teams in 1975. The Razorbacks were a program on the rise and had a strong start to building a reputation as a powerhouse.
To maintain this newfound status, the Razorbacks needed to continue to have success. Sutton had the team playing at a high level throughout the season, rising as high as No. 5 in the AP Poll. An early exit in March Madness would not negatively impact the program’s reputation, but winning games would certainly help it.
In the second round, U.S. Reed made one of the most exhilarating plays in NCAA Tournament history, launching a halfcourt shot as time expired to defeat four-seed Louisville.
The clip is still shown annually during the NCAA Tournament, and it was another run in March Madness that Sutton could hang his hat on early into his tenure in Fayetteville, as it was a second consecutive Elite Eight appearance.
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