It was 35 years ago, on Feb. 12, that the University of Arkansas basketball team flew through a thunderstorm from Dallas to Little Rock, then drove on icy roads to Pine Bluff to take on undefeated No. 1 North Carolina, the defending national champion.
It was the Razorbacks' fourth game in eight days. They already had beaten Baylor in Barnhill, then did a Texas two-step from College Station to Dallas while beating Texas A&M and SMU.
The Hogs wouldn't get out of Dallas until a day later because of weather, and the roads to Pine Bluff that Sunday were so treacherous that an empty arena was feared. Students at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff were told if they could get to the arena, they would have a seat. The place was packed.
In those days, the Razorbacks regularly played a couple of games in Little Rock and at least one in Pine Bluff. North Carolina's legendary coach Dean Smith thought Pine Bluff might be the most neutral. He was wrong.
More than 7,500 fans packed the Pine Bluff Convention Center.
Dick Enberg and Al McGuire were the broadcast team for NBC. They were the big dogs of their days.
North Carolina was led by Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins, Matt Doherty, Brad Daugherty and Steve Hale, who had chosen the Tar Heels over the Hogs.
Arkansas' starting five was Joe Kleine, Leroy Sutton, Charles Balentine, Alvin Robertson and Ricky Norton.
The rocky road had the Hogs reeling a little, and the last thing Eddie Sutton said before taking the floor was, "Forget all you went through, we're here now, it is time to go to work, you have nothing to lose."
In hopes of saving his team's legs, Sutton went with a 2-3 zone and led at the half 38-34.
The Hogs came out like their hair was on fire and went on an 8-2 run. It seemed like the roof might come off the place because it was so loud -- almost as loud as Barnhill, which was nicknamed Barnhell.
North Carolina fought back to take a 58-57 lead before Kleine stuck a jumper, but Jordan hit back-to-back baskets to make it 64-63 with 1:15 to play.
Sutton drew up a new inbound play. Instead of Balentine getting the pass, Robertson did and was immediately double teamed. He passed to Norton, who gave it back, and again Robertson was swamped. Kleine was covered but moved forward to help Robertson, who saw Balentine on the baseline and delivered his 10th assist of the game as the Newport native hit a leaner with two seconds left to make it 65-64.
Although McGuire screamed Hale's shot from the corner at the buzzer was good, it wasn't and the Razorbacks had the upset. The bold headline in the Arkansas Democrat the next day read "Balentine's Day."
Jordan finished with 21 points, Perkins 17 and 11 rebounds, and Hale with 15 points.
Kleine had 20 points and 10 boards, Leroy Sutton had 11 points, Balentine 10 and Robertson 9, but he had all those assists and 2 steals. Norton had five assists, and Darryl Bedford came off the bench to score 12.
Eddie Sutton laid a great foundation for Razorback basketball, and Nolan Richardson took it to the next level. In his 17 seasons, Richardson led the Hogs from the Southwest Conference to the SEC. He won almost 70 percent of his games and made the Final Four three times, including the national championship in 1994.
From 1975 to 1995, Arkansas basketball was a household name. The Razorbacks went to 18 NCAA Tournaments. Sutton was 12-8 and Richardson 23-9 in the dance.
For the past 24 years, the fans have been waiting patiently to become pertinent again.
Sports on 02/14/2019
Print Headline: WALLY HALL: Hogs center of college hoops 35 years ago