Thursday’s game between Arkansas and Connecticut isn’t just a Sweet 16 game. It’s a game between two of the highest-profile programs in the country for the last 30 years.
Certainly, UConn’s star has been brighter for a bulk of that time. But Arkansas was coming off Final Fours of its own in the late 90s, then again in the mid 90s. After a dry spell, Mike Anderson turned the Hogs into regular NCAA Tournament-border teams and Eric Musselman has catapaulted Arkansas to three straight Sweet 16s.
Weirdly enough, despite the prestige, the two teams have met only four times in the past and never in the NCAA Tournament. In fact, each previous meeting was in a tournament, just not that one.
Let’s look at back the short history between two of the country’s best.1
1997: UConn 74, Arkansas 64 (NIT)
29 Nov 1997: Pat Bradley #22 of the Arkansas Razorbacks moves on the court during the Premier Classic against the Fresno State Bulldogs at the American West Arena in Phoenix, Arizona. The Razorbacks defeated the Bulldogs 70-69. Mandatory Credit: Todd Warshaw /Allsport
Only twice under Nolan Richdson did Arkansas fail to make the NCAA Tournament. The 1996-97 season was one of them. The Hogs were still solid, though, making the final four of the NIT. They played UConn in the third-place game, falling to the Huskies by 10 despite Pat Bradley’s 18 points, all of which came from beyond the arc.
2005: UConn 77, Arkansas 68 (Maui Invitational)
NASHVILLE, TN – MARCH 9: Jonathon Modica #24 of the Arkansas Razorbacks is seen on court against the Georgia Bulldogs during day 1 of the SEC Men’s Basketball Conference Tournament March 9, 2006 at the Gaylord Entertainment Center in Nashville, Tennessee. Arkansas won 80-67. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Charlie Villanueva was the only key player UConn had lost from the previous season which led to the Huskies taking a No. 3 ranking into their game against Arkansas at the Maui Invitational. Rudy Gay dropped 28 points to Ronnie Brewer’s 25 and Connecticut escaped with a nine-point win.
2011: UConn 75, Arkansas 62
Dec 3, 2011; Hartford, CT, USA; Connecticut Huskies guard Ryan Boatright (11) drives the ball in the second half against Arkansas Razorbacks guard B.J. Young (11) at the XL Center. The UConn Huskies defeated the Arkansas Razorbacks 75-62. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
It’s easy to forgot how prolific a scorer B.J. Young was. His breakout came freshman year here against UConn. Young scored 28 points off the bench, though they weren’t enough to stop the eighth-ranked Huskies in the SEC/Big East Challenge.
2017: Arkansas 102, UConn 67
Mar 12, 2017; Nashville, TN, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks guard Jaylen Barford (0) goes for a layup during the second half against the Kentucky Wildcats during the SEC Conference Tournament at Bridgestone Arena. Kentucky won 82-65. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Jaylen Barford had 24 points, Daryl Macon had 17 and C.J. Jones – remember him? – dropped 18 in Arkansas’ one and only win over Connecticut. It came in the third-place game of the Phil Knight Invitational in Oregon. The Hogs will go for two in a row on Thursday.