Memphis and No. 20 Arkansas aren’t located far from each other on the map, but these teams had to go all the way to the Bahamas to create their first matchup since Jan. 2, 2003.
The Tigers (4-0) and the Razorbacks (4-1) will duel in the second semifinal of the Battle 4 Atlantis on Thursday in Paradise Island, Bahamas. Memphis advanced to the semis with a 71-67 win over Michigan on Wednesday afternoon, while Arkansas needed a late rally and two overtimes in a 77-74 victory over Stanford.
Both teams will feature absurdly long and athletic players — many of whom transferred prior to this season or last.
“Coach (Penny) Hardaway does a great job,” Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said. “They play really, really hard. They’ve got size up front and then they’ve got really good length at the wings. For our guys, getting rest and getting ready is going to be really important.”
There are endless angles to the resumption of this rivalry — perhaps starting with Arkansas forward Chandler Lawson, who spent the past two seasons at Memphis before taking the graduate transfer route to Fayetteville. Lawson posted career highs in rebounds (13) and blocks (five) in Wednesday’s win against Stanford.
Then there’s Hardaway, who faced Arkansas three times during his two seasons (1991-93) as a player for the Tigers — back when these squads played on an annual basis. Wednesday’s win marked Hardaway’s first contest on the sideline this season since being suspended for the first three games due to recruiting violations.
“It felt great to be on the sideline again — and being with my guys and just going to battle,” Hardaway said. “So proud of my team for pulling this win out.”
Memphis got past Michigan despite receiving a total of 20 points from its usual top scorers: St. John’s transfer David Jones, Wichita State transfer Jaykwon Walton and Louisiana grad transfer Jordan Brown. Ashton Hardaway, the younger of Penny’s two sons on Memphis’ roster, came off the bench to score a team-high 17 points on 5-of-7 shooting from 3-point range.
“I just feel like any time my teammates trust me with the ball to score, I’m pretty confident in my shot,” Ashton Hardaway said. “Today was my opportunity, really, to show what I could do.”
Arkansas doesn’t have many, if any, unproven players in its rotation. Tramon Mark, the Houston transfer who’s already appeared in a Final Four and spent time at No. 1 in the polls, took over Wednesday against Stanford. He had just nine points with four minutes left in regulation, but he finished with a team-high 25 — one shy of his career-high.
Long-armed forward Trevon Brazile added 14 points and 17 rebounds against Stanford, but he missed two dunks that were included in Arkansas’ total of 17 missed layups.
“We’re still discombobulated and trying to figure out who we are offensively,” Musselman said. “That’s what happens with a changing roster like we have. But in the huddles, you can tell certain guys really want the ball. I felt T-Mark was one of them.”
–Field Level Media