- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2001

Boss Hog is still hungry.

Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson scoffs at those who think his star is on the wane in Fayetteville. The 16th-year coach categorically dismisses the notion that, at 59, he's lost the fire that made the Razorbacks one of the most feared programs in college hoops between 1990 and 1995.

In that six-year span, Arkansas compiled a record of 175-36, made three trips to the Final Four and won a title (1994). Quite simply, nobody in the state seems more frustrated about the fact that the Razorbacks haven't made it past the second round of the NCAA tournament since 1996.

"Nobody needs to remind me that we haven't done anything in the tournament for a while now," said Richardson, who takes his seventh-seeded Razorbacks (20-10) to Boise, Idaho, for a first-round matchup with Georgetown (23-7) on Thursday. "Shoot, I used to never even think about winning 20 games; I always thought we should win 25 or 30. So the last few years that we've been hanging around the 19- or 20-win mark obviously haven't satisfied my standards.

"People say the fans are down on me, and that's a problem for me. But the fans don't hurt me. I hurt me. Fact is, in the late '80s and early '90s, we won as many games as anybody. When we became one of the top programs, I created a monster down inside me. And I've got to feed that monster. I haven't been doing that the last few years, but the monster is still there, and he's hungry."

Over the last month, Richardson's inner beast has driven the Razorbacks from the brink of the NIT to an NCAA bid. An Arkansas team that started the Southeastern Conference season 0-3 won six straight league games before losing in the semifinals of the conference tournament to eventual champion Kentucky.

The Razorbacks are scandalously small, featuring just one regular taller than 6-foot-8. That would seem to create a mammoth advantage for the Hoyas, who have a bigger lineup than any team Arkansas has faced this season. The Hoyas' 10-man rotation includes 6-8, 260-pound lane load Mike Sweetney and a trio of 7-foot centers. And both coaches agree that the performance of Georgetown's pivot pounders could be the key to the game.

"Georgetown isn't just big, their frontline is huge," Richardson said. "We certainly can't afford to let those guys get comfortable, or they'll eat us alive. That said, size has been a concern for us all season. We could be playing Darby O'Gill and the Little People, and we'd still be smaller. But we've found ways to manage."

Much like Big East champion Boston College, Arkansas regularly scraps the conventional approach and uses a four-guard set around supersoph forward Joe Johnson (14.2 points, 6.6 rebounds) to attack larger teams with its quickness. And thanks to that set and Richardson's trademark brand of maniacal fullcourt defense, Arkansas still managed to win 10 of its 16 SEC regular-season games despite being outrebounded 13 times.

"Size can actually hurt you when it comes to dealing with our press," Johnson said.

Richardson's swarming press, formerly known as "40 Minutes of Hell," has been re-dubbed "40 Minutes of Heck" by order of the Arkansas state legislature, which found the longtime slogan offensive for a state-funded institution.

"Now we have to say, 'Let's have some heck,' " Richardson said with a chuckle. "I guess I understand, we are in a Bible situation down here."

Of course, nobody objected to the mild profanity six years ago when the Razorbacks were in the midst of their NCAA title run. But these days, it seems folks want to question a lot of things about Richardson and his program.

"Let me tell you what, we were going great until the NCAA came in here in 1996 and knocked us down with a 16-month investigation," Richardson said. "What did they find? Nothing. But our recruiting still hasn't fully recovered from that fallout. We've only got one senior on the team this year, so we're young. But we're headed back in the right direction.

"And I'll tell you, I've been coaching 37 years, but I don't feel old. So I'm ready, and the kids are ready. All they need is a little more seasoning, and they should get plenty against Georgetown."


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