2000 run in Atlanta ranks among Richardson's best

By: Bob Holt
Published: Sunday, August 2, 2020
From left Arkansas' Blake Eddins, Dionisio Gomez, Joe Johnson, Brandon Dean, Carl Baker, Larry Satchell and Chris Walker celebrate on the court after beating Auburn 75-67 Sunday, March 12, 2000 in the championship game of the Southeastern Conference Tournament at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
From left Arkansas' Blake Eddins, Dionisio Gomez, Joe Johnson, Brandon Dean, Carl Baker, Larry Satchell and Chris Walker celebrate on the court after beating Auburn 75-67 Sunday, March 12, 2000 in the championship game of the Southeastern Conference Tournament at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

— The University of Arkansas men's basketball team is 1-9 against Kentucky in the SEC Tournament.

None of those nine losses cost the Razorbacks an NCAA Tournament bid.

After Arkansas lost to Kentucky in the SEC Tournament in 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2015 and 2017, the Razorbacks made the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team.

But the one time the Razorbacks beat the Wildcats?

Arkansas had to get past Kentucky in a second-round game in the 2000 SEC Tournament to continue a run in Atlanta's Georgia Dome if the Razorbacks were to play in the NCAA Tournament.

The Razorbacks came into the SEC Tournament that season 15-14 overall after going 7-9 in conference play.

So the only way Arkansas was going to make the Big Dance was to win the SEC Tournament and gain the conference's automatic bid.

Only Auburn, in 1985, had won the SEC Tournament with four victories since the event was resumed in 1979 after a 26-year absence.

"At least it's happened once, now hopefully we can duplicate it," Arkansas senior guard Chris Walker said before the 2000 SEC Tournament. "Maybe it happens every 15 years, so 2000 will be our time."

That seemed highly unlikely, considering the Razorbacks hadn't won more than two games consecutively all season and had done it just once against SEC teams when they beat Alabama at home and Mississippi State on the road.

How could Arkansas win four games in four days on a neutral court?

But somehow the Razorbacks did it, and they beat three teams -- Kentucky, LSU and Auburn -- that played in the NCAA Tournament.

It remains Arkansas' only SEC Tournament championship since joining the conference for the 1991-92 season.

Arkansas opened the 2000 SEC Tournament by beating Georgia 71-64. It was the first time the Razorbacks didn't have a first-round bye.

"It's going to be weird," Arkansas Coach Nolan Richardson said of playing in the SEC Tournament's opening round. "I usually take three suits, but I'll be taking four this time."

Led by SEC Tournament MVP Brandon Dean and Joe Johnson, the Razorbacks made sure Richardson got to wear a suit all four days in the Georgia Dome as they beat No. 16-ranked Kentucky 86-72, No. 10 LSU 69-67 and Auburn 75-67.

Other key players for the Razorbacks were Walker, Teddy Gipson, T.J. Cleveland and Alonzo Lane.

After winning the SEC Tournament, the Razorbacks lost to No. 23 Miami 75-71 in a first-round NCAA Tournament game at Nashville, Tenn., to finish the season 19-15.

The NCAA Tournament loss did nothing to tarnish what the Razorbacks accomplished against seemingly impossible odds in winning the SEC Tournament title.

Twenty years later, it remains an amazing feat and one of the greatest career accomplishments for Richardson, who in 2014 was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Richardson had six teams at Arkansas make the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 in a seven-year span from 1990 through 1996. The Razorbacks advanced to the Final Four in 1990, 1994 and 1995. They won Arkansas' only national championship in basketball in 1994.

But none of those elite teams won an SEC Tournament title.

"That's a tall order," Richardson said before the 2000 SEC Tournament when asked about the possibility of winning four games in four days. "To do that with a young team that we have would probably be one of the greatest accomplishments, I know, in my history.

"For me, it would be bigger than winning the national championship because I knew we were going to win that one."

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