Copyright 2006 Maddie Daddy's Productions
Chapter VI: SuccessUALR opened the 1985-1986 season in paradise with a trip to Hawaii to play on the campus of the University of Hawaii-Pacific.
Texas Tech was also scheduled to make a trip to Hawaii and Newell tried to use his connections to set up a game. After all, Texas Tech played in the Southwest Conference, home of the Razorbacks, and Newell knew beating the Red Raiders could give his program a needed shot in the arm back home.
There was talk that UALR would take on Texas Tech in the second game of the tournament in Hawaii, but it never materialized.
Instead, the Trojans took on Iowa and Hawaii-Pacific. They also had plenty of fun.
As they got off the plane, they receive the traditional leis. Morgan wore a wild Hawaiian shirt, while Newell, smiling as the Hula girls kissed the travel party, went with a sports coat.
“That was my first time in Hawaii. It was a great experience,” Clarke said. “Coach Newell told us when he was recruiting us that we were going to get a chance to see the world. He told us we’d see places we’ve never seen before. And we did.”
Myers, wearing a UALR basketball sweatshirt, leaned in to steal a kiss of own after receiving his lei.
McCurdy and Kidd looked like they couldn’t believe where they were. Some scuba dived, while some, including a shirtless Newell, laid on the beach. Players even took part in an impromptu beach volleyball game against other tourists.
Springer tried surfing, though he only got as far as lying on the surfboard in shallow water.
“It was a long flight. I remember getting seasick” Springer said.
Newell’s young son, Nate, who later go on to play for his father at Arkansas-Monticello, wore floaties on his arms as he swam in the Pacific Ocean.
They also took a trip to the Pearl Harbor museum and looked over the list of names of those who died in the 1941 attack.
“It was neat for all of us. It was probably the first time there for all of us except Mike and Jim. We really enjoyed it,” Dittman said.
Morgan captured everything he could for “The Mike Newell Show.” Newell waved to the home folks as he sat in a lounge chair. They visited a volcano and they attended a luau. Basically, they enjoyed every bit of the experience.
“We’d head down to the beach,” Morgan said. “We made nice stories out of that.”
They also played basketball, opening the season against Iowa out of the Big 10 Conference. This game was important for UALR in a lot of ways. Not only was it the season opener, but this was also the same Iowa team that had slaughtered UALR in Iowa City the previous year. And it was an Iowa team that would eventually end up in the 1986 NCAA Tournament under George Raveling.
UALR trailed 50-45 at halftime before Jackson started a six-point run with two free throws with 7:47 remaining. Myers hit from 15 feet and Smith on a turn-around 12-footer to cut the lead to 81-77.
With three seconds remaining in regulation, Myers took a long inbounds pass from McCurdy and hit an 18-foot jump shot from the right wing, swishing through the net as the buzzer sounded to send the game to overtime tied 91-91. Those who saw it say the shot would most resemble the famous shot Duke’s Christian Laettner hit to beat Kentucky a few years later in the NCAA Tournament.
A confused Raveling at first thought UALR had won the game. But instead it was headed to overtime.
UALR led 93-91 and 95-93 before Iowa scored nine-consecutive points to take an insurmountable 102-95 lead. Iowa held on to win 108-99, dropping the Trojans to 0-1 on the season.
“Even though we lost to Iowa, a year earlier they had just drilled us. It was all over about seven minutes into the first half. That was, again, a point where you sit back and say, we’re a lot closer to reaching our goals than maybe we had anticipated,” Dittman said.
Myers’ 31 points led UALR. He made 9 of 12 field goals and 13 of 16 free throws. Clarke added 17, Jackson 16 and Worthy 10. UALR shot 56 percent from the field, but allowed Iowa to shoot 61 percent. Roy Marble’s 27 points led the Hawkeyes.
And at the time, there was no way to know just how close these teams would come to meeting again at the 1986 Midwest Regional in Minneapolis. An entire season would have to be played first.
And that season continued with a game at McKinley High School Gymnasium against Hawaii-Pacific as the Trojans responded well, winning 85-67.
“Coach Newell always tells the seniors that we have go to keep giving and giving until we can’t give anymore, and then give a little more,” Myers said.
UALR raced to a 45-33 halftime lead and held on throughout the second half. Myers again led the Trojans, this time with 23 points. He made just 4 of 9 field goals, but made 15 of 17 free throws. Jackson added 17, Clarke 16 and Reggie Smith 10. Clarke had 15 rebounds while Myers had 10.
“Clarke did an outstanding job on the boards,” Newell said. “He showed why he led the TAAC in rebounding last year and he has a chance to lead the nation in rebounding this year.”
With the sightseeing and basketball out of the way, UALR headed home with high expectations and raced to a 3-1 start to the season.
The home opener was December 4 against Middle Tennessee State, another team that would end up making the 1986 NCAA Tournament. It didn’t start well with the Trojans falling behind by 14 points in the first half at Statehouse Convention Center. Middle Tennessee still led 42-32 at halftime before a 10-0 run by the Trojans tied the game. UALR held on for a 72-70 victory before a crowd of 4,264.
Jackson made 10 of 16 field goals and led UALR with 20 points. Myers consistently got to the free throw line again, making 11 of 14 en route to 13 points. Clarke added 13 points while freshman Curtis Kidd made himself known for the first time with 12 points. Most of the damage was at the free-throw line where Kidd made 6 of 6 compared to 3 of 14 field goals.
UALR then hit the road, traveling to Huntington, West Virginia, to play in the Marshall memorial Invitational.
Up first was George Mason, the same George Mason that made the improbable NCAA Tournament run to the Final Four in 2006. This Patriots team was able to exploit UALR on the inside. The Trojans trailed 30-28 at halftime, but behind 17 points from Smith off the bench, rallied for a 70-67 victory.
Smith played 25 minutes, making 6 of 11 field goals and 5 of 8 free throws. He also added 10 rebounds, Jackson and Myers each had 15, while Kidd added 11 as the Trojans improved to 3-1.
Marshall would be a tougher task on December 14 and UALR fell behind by as many as 21 points in the first half and still trailed at 19 at halftime of the first true road game of the season. Jackson, who made 7 of 18 field goals, hit a 20-footer with just more than a minute to play to bring UALR all the way back and gave the Trojans a 76-75 lead. But Marshall, playing before a crowd of 8,093, didn’t fold. Tom Curry, who finished with 19 points, and Skip Henderson, who had 28 points, both sophomores for the Thundering Herd, each scored in the final eight seconds for a 79-76 victory over UALR.
Myers had 21 points to lead UALR. Clarke, who made just 5 of 14 free throws, had 11 and Kidd had 10.
UALR was 3-2 and still feeling pretty good about itself. But unseen troubles were on the horizon.