JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - It’s been 19 years since Arkansas reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, but one of the members of that team is anxious to watch the Razorbacks try and do it again on Saturday.
Former Arkansas guard Pat Bradley was part of a 12th-seeded Razorback team in 1996 that beat fifth-seeded Penn State 86-80 and fourth-seeded Marquette 65-56 in Providence, R.I. before losing to top-seeded and eventual national champion UMass 79-63 in Atlanta.
These No. 21 and fifth-seeded Razorbacks (26-8) will face fourth-seeded North Carolina (25-11) Saturday night at 7:40 p.m. CST inside Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena.
“Just to see that we are in the position again to be nationally respected is great,” Bradley said. “Just to be back in these conversations. There is nothing like the smell of postseason play and it is good to be back.”
Bradley, who hit a school-record 366 3-pointers in his career and whose 1,765 points is fifth all-time, was on hand in Jacksonville to watch Arkansas down 12th-seeded Harvard 56-53 Thursday night.
A win after a seven-year absence from the Big Dance was the latest achievement this season for fourth-year Razorback head coach Mike Anderson, who has his program currently riding the best campaign in 19 years.
“I was talking to some people today and they are so focused on the tournament that they lose sight of the accomplishments of this season - second in the SEC, tournament championship game, 20 something wins,” Anderson added.
“I would like to think that we are all prisoners of the moment and excited about the potential of the Sweet 16, but to look back and think of what Coach Anderson said he was going to do when he got here, how he said he was going to do it,” Bradley added.
“I know the casual fan looks at tournament victories, but when you see now where the program is going, that feels better than anything,” continued Bradley, who held the SEC career 3-point shooting record until Tennessee’s Chris Lofton broke it in 2008.
Bradley - a former Everett, Mass., standout who actually averaged a whopping 46 points as an eighth grader and 22 as a senior, signed with Arkansas right after the Razorbacks won the national championship in 1994.
The signing of Bradley - who hit a 3-pointer in an SEC-record 60 straight games (a record since broken by Ole Miss’ Marshall Henderson) - came during the start of a season when the Razorbacks would return to the 1995 championship game.
Arkansas went into the 1996 NCAA Tournament as a 12th-seed, but certainly didn’t feel like an underdog against the higher seeds in Penn State and Marquette.
“That is what was so beautiful about the time that I came in during 1996 and our Sweet 16,” Bradley said. “We didn’t feel like we snuck in as a 12th seed and beating a 5 and 4 was any big deal. We expected it because of the name that was on our jersey. We were supposed to be there.”
Bradley thinks that the current day Razorbacks will have that same attitude after winning its first game on Thursday and will keep it as the program moves forward.
“We got into the tournament as a five seed this season, we didn’t just crawl in,” Bradley said. “You want to win, but you know what could happen in 40 minutes - anything.
“But I believe these guys - especially with the way they have won so many close games this season - go onto the court expecting to win,” Bradley added. “It’s why they are able to execute and take care of business with confidence at the end of games.”
Bradley wants the Razorbacks to take down the Tar Heels and move on to Los Angeles to play in the Sweet 16.
But he was clear that Arkansas has already met his expectations for the season.
“It is about expectations - what do you expect?? Bradley said. “We went into these season expecting to get into the tournament.”
The bar will now be raised for Arkansas next season, especially if sophomore forward Bobby Portis returns as is currently expected.
“After this season with these guys coming back, they are going to expect to be back in the tournament and because that is what you have to live up, too,” Bradley said.
“With that level of expectation and now that the guys have finally broke through, it gets better,” Bradley added.
Bradley was having a conversation with his former Arkansas head coach Nolan Richardson, who said something that surprised him.
“Coach Richardson said earlier that he thought Mike Anderson was a year ahead of schedule and I was thinking ‘What?’
“But when you look at it and how it is set up with Jimmy Whitt and some of the other guys, Beard looks like a solid guy at point and everyone else getting better, the bar is raised instead of let’s just get to the tournament.”
Bradley, now a radio personality in Little Rock, hopes the current Razorbacks get to experience what he did in 1996.
“If you win Saturday and you go to LA, there is going to be 25 microphones in your face and you are going to go from ‘we think we are pretty good’ to ‘the nation is watching us and this is a big deal,’” Bradley said.
“It is a magical feeling that I hope these guys get to feel when everyone’s eyes on you - not just the state of Arkansas, not just the SEC,” Bradley added. “When you get to the second weekend, you know how exciting it is.”
Pat Bradley during his day as a Razorback.
Pat Bradley congratulates Ole Miss' Marshall Henderson after he broke Bradley's SEC record of 60 straight games with a 3-pointer made.
Bradley's Proud of Hogs Return To Relevance
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