It's a long way from New York to Indianapolis, and even longer from November to April, but second-ranked Arkansas or No. 3 Arizona could pull off an NCAA-NIT Grand Slam -- sort of.
It has been 40 years since CCNY became the only team to capture the postseason NCAA and NIT tournaments in the days when they were eight-team events - both at Madison Square Garden - and a school could compete in each.That is no longer possible, but it wouldn't be surprising if the winner of tonight's Arkansas-Arizona game for the preseason Big Apple NIT championship wound up in the NCAA final, as well - especially with top-ranked UNLV on probation and ineligible to defend its title.
Tonight's game pits Arkansas' strength and quickness against Arizona's speed and size.
"They're quicker, we're bigger," said Arizona coach Lute Olson, whose Wildcats crushed Notre Dame 91-61 in Wednesday night's semifinals, the worst loss for the Irish in almost nine years. "The biggest thing is the quickness aspect, but I don't think we're slow."
In the other semi, Arkansas beat No. 6 Duke 98-88.
Arkansas is averaging 105 points per game to Arizona's 100.3.
"We're playing good basketball, but we've got to keep up the intensity level against Arkansas," said Arizona's Chris Mills, who scored 25 points, including five 3-pointers, against Notre Dame.
"I don't think they can stop our big guys (Sean Rooks and Brian Williams) and we probably can't stop their running game. The key is to slow down the tempo in the first half."
"A lot will depend on how well we can handle their various pressures," Olson said. "And we're going to have to get back in the transition game.
Arkansas played almost a half without its big man, 6-foot-9, 295-pound Oliver Miller, who picked up two personal fouls in the first 21/2 minutes and sat out the rest of the first half.
That gave junior college transfer Isaiah Morris a chance to play and he keyed Arkansas' comeback from a 24-13 deficit with 13 points and seven rebounds, finishing with 19 and 10, respectively. The Razorbacks led 44-41 at halftime and never trailed thereafter.
Todd Day, Arkansas' leading scorer last season, was held to 5 points in the first half but scored 16 in the second. Meanwhile, Arkansas' tenacious defense forced Duke into 18 turnovers, including seven by playmaker Bobby Hurley, who made only two of 11 shots.