Journey into 'hell'

By Patrick Klein

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Forget payback. That Arkansas has won two straight over Arizona, including beating the Wildcats in the semifinals of the 1994 Final Four, is not important.

Don't worry about how Joseph Blair and Ben Davis will match up with the Razorbacks' pair of 6-foot-11 junior centers, Lee Wilson and Darnell Robinson.

Nolan Richardson's "40 minutes of hell" full-court pressure? Not a problem.

Let's get down to what's really important, such as: Where the heck is Fayetteville, Ark.?

That was the question Arizona head coach Lute Olson was asking Wednesday after his team beat Long Beach State 91-57 in the first round of the preseason National Invitation Tournament. Olson was angered that his Wildcats, who have the best winning percentage in the country since 1988, were about to be sent on the road for the second round to the 16th-ranked Razorbacks' home arena.

Arkansas defeated Northeast Louisiana 75-67 on Wednesday.

Olson said he had no idea how he would get his team to Fayetteville in time for last night's 7:30 practice. The game starts tonight at 5:30 Tucson time and will be televised by ESPN and broadcast by KNST radio (AM 790).

"You can't get to Fayetteville from anywhere I know," Olson said. "I'm not pleased we don't get a second-round game. We won the tournament the last time we were in it (1990), and we have guaranteed sellouts. If you're going to send us somewhere, at least send us somewhere where we can get there."

Olson said Arizona was being forced to travel because the Pacific 10 Conference does not get the proper respect from the rest of the country, particularly the East Coast. The NIT is based in New York City.

"Frankly, it's a good thing I didn't have access to the contract before we signed it," Olson said. "I don't think the Pac-10 has been shown the proper respect in the NIT. Things like this to me are wrong. I think the Pac-10 should take a stand.

"We've had the best winning percentage over the last eight years. Do you think North Carolina would be playing on the road in they were in it, or Duke?"

Olson was further incensed because of the Wildcats' opponent. Arkansas was the NCAA runner-up last year, and the last time the Wildcats and the Razorbacks were in the NIT, they met in the finals in 1990, an 89-77 Arizona win.

"Arizona and Arkansas played in the final of the NIT the last time, and we're in the same bracket?" he said. "It doesn't make sense, absolutely no sense."

But the game still has to be played, and the Wildcat players are looking forward to it.

Blair said he did not care where the game was played, and when asked if he relished the thought of playing Arkansas' big guys, the 6-10, 265-pound Blair said it was the other way around.

"They are looking forward to playing us because we're better than them," he said.

The Razorbacks are famous for their pressure defense, and point guard Reggie Geary, who had one turnover against Long Beach State, said taking care of the ball would be the key.

He also said he didn't have a problem with going on the road in fact, Geary said he thrives on it.

"I love the road, being the hated group," he said. "There is nothing better than a quiet arena. We're licking our chops. I hope they sell out."

While Arkansas lost the anchors of its two consecutive Final Four teams starters Corliss Williamson to the NBA and Corey Beck and Scotty Thurman to graduation the Razorbacks have brought in 10 newcomers in an effort to reload.

Davis said it doesn't matter who plays for them, the Razorbacks will still be a formidable opponent.

"It's going to be a big game," he said. "This is the reason you go to Arizona, to have the chance to play games like this."

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