A look back: 1986 UALR Trojans weren't disappointed when they found out Notre Dame was their opponent

Chapter XV: Announcement
   After a late night of partying at The Excelsior, Newell, the coaches and players camped out at the hotel to wait for the NCAA Tournament selection show, which was scheduled to be broadcast at 5 p.m. by CBS Little Rock affiliate KTHV.
   Newell thought he knew the procedure and didn’t think he’d have to wait all afternoon to find out where they were headed.
   When he subbed for Billy Tubbs in the 1983 NCAA Tournament, he received a telephone call from the NCAA Division I Men’s Selection Committee telling him they were going to Evansville to play the University of Alabama at Birmingham before the broadcast hit the air.
   He assumed the same would happen on this day. Members of the media started showing up at the 15th floor suite about 3:30 p.m.
  The phone rang three times and the media and gathered administrators moved into the bedroom to watch as Newell answered what was thought to be a historic call. Television cameras turned on. Newspaper photographers were clicking away. Reporters started documenting Newell’s actions. Each time the call was just someone wanting to know where the Trojans would be playing.
   “I’m the Athletic Director as well as the coach. Why aren’t they calling me?” Newell wondered.
   At 4:45 p.m., everyone moved in front of the television, convinced the call would never come. Finally, 5 p.m. arrived. And CBS Sports went on the air with its “Road to the Final Four” show.
   Brent Musburger and Billy Packer greeted the audience.
   “From Kansas City, this man, Dick Schultz, chairman of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, will announce which 64 teams will embark on the road to the Final Four,” Musburger said. “Good afternoon everybody and welcome. I’m Brent Musburger, along with Billy Packer. And we’re about to find out which highway 64 teams will attempt to travel just to get to Dallas.”
   “Well, it ought to be very interesting,” Packer said. “It’s a super time of the year for me. Maybe the Saturday, the super Saturday before the final game, might be a little more important, but this one always leads up to a great day.”
   In Kansas City, Missouri, Gary Bender was at the home of the NCAA, standing in front of four large brackets -- two yellow and two white. There weren’t the high-tech brackets we’re used to seeing now, these looked like pieces of paper taped to poster board. But it relayed the same message.
   “Now before we go to the boards and show you the different regions, we want to tell you about the top four seeds in each of those regions,” Bender said. “In the West, it’s St. John’s In the Midwest, Kansas. In the Southeast, Kentucky. And in the East is Duke. Duke the top overall seed.Four of the top nine all-time winningest programs.”
   Anticipation was now running high at The Excelsior. They figured to be anywhere from a 13 to 15 seed. They also figured they could be sent just about anywhere.
   Quiet fell over the suite as Bender announced the West Region with games in Ogden, Utah, and Long Beach, Calif. Sixteen teams were announced, no UALR.
   “It’s not Louisville. It’s not St. John’s either,” Newell shouted out seemingly after each matchup was announced, drawing a big laugh each time.
   “Now we go to the Midwest Region. Two sites -- Dayton, Ohio, and Minneapolis, Minnesota,” Bender said. “In Dayton, they’ll be playing at the Dayton Arena. Those games on Thursday and Saturday.”
   16. North Carolina A&T vs. 1. Kansas
   9. Temple vs. 8. Jacksonville
   12. Washington vs. 5. Michigan State
   13. Texas Tech vs. 4. Georgetown
   “Now the other site in the Midwest Region, the Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Twin Cities,” Bender said. “Those games will be played on …. “
   In mid-sentence, the graphic switched from a picture of the Metrodome to the bracket. And a loud roar took over the suite.
  On the bottom of the screen was: Arkansas-Little Rock, seeded 14th, matched up with Notre Dame, seeded 3.
   “We see it on TV and the place went nuts,” Newell said. “Gosh yes, that made it better. We didn’t have to sweat it out, but not knowing made it better. Then we find out we’re playing Notre Dame.”
   Most probably couldn’t even hear how Bender made the announcement: “Notre Dame, who made it to the Final Four in ‘78, and with the best record among all independents, is third seeded. And they will meet the Trojans of Arkansas-Little Rock, 14th seeded.
   It was a relief for Springer.
   “All of us just wanted to see our name,” he said. “We thought we’d go someplace hard. But going up north, close to where my family is from and playing a team like Notre Dame made it even better.”
   With everyone celebrating, Newell was locked in, trying to see who else was in the region.
   11. Iowa vs. 6. North Carolina State
   10. Miami (Ohio) vs. 7. Iowa State
   15. Akron vs. 2. Michigan
   Newell liked this matchup almost immediately.
   “We’re really happy, No. 1, to be in the NCAAs,” Newell said. “Notre Dame is a very talented team. I think we match up well with them. We’re a little quicker than they are. They don’t have the height of North Carolina or Michigan or Louisville, the kind of height that has hurt us in the past. So we’re very happy. I think that’s a real good pick for us. Here’s a team that’s big, but not oversized.”
   Packer and Musburger glossed over the game. They were more concerned about the potential matchup of Iowa State Coach Johnny Orr against his former team, Michigan.
   “Orr took Michigan into a championship game that you covered back in the days where you were a youngster and had hair and were working for NBC,” Musburger said.
   “That’s when I was getting paid real money,” Packer joked.
ESPN’s selection special with Bob Ley and Dick Vitale largely did the same. Vitale was furious about Syracuse and LSU getting to play games on their home courts.
   “The winner of that game takes on the winner of Arkansas-Little Rock, the Trojans coached by Mike Newell, and Notre Dame,” Ley said.
Watch the CBS and ESPN announcements

   Newell had a big smile on his face during the taping of his show that evening.
   “What a great week it’s been for UALR Trojan basketball,” Morgan said. “In fact, the greatest week of the season.”
   “Last night was the climax of a lot of hard work,” said Newell, who already had the TAAC championship ring designs on the set and was showing them off.
Queen’s “We Are The Champions” played in the background as the week’s highlights were played.
Newell also took questions on his show. This week’s was about the possibility of a new arena for UALR.
   “Well, that’s something, Max, that is not really in our hands. I do think there is a need for one and in the future I think we’ll see one, maybe 2, 3, 4 years down the line,” Newell said., politicking as usual. “I think our program is growing as such that in another year or two, we’re going to need a 12,000 or 13,000-seat arena.”
   The talk then turned to Notre Dame.
   “In fact, we might be a little more quick than they are, Max,” Newell said. “They’ve got some big kids, not necessarily from the standpoint of height, but 240-pound Tim Kempton, he’s 6-8, then they’ve got the Barlow kid at 6-10. Then they’ve got Donald Royal that’s about 6-7, 235. So, they’re big, beefy kids.”
   Notre Dame Coach Digger Phelps didn’t seem worried.
   “Let’s go play. We’re conditioned and ready. We don’t know anything about Arkansas-Little Rock, but we will by Friday,” he said. “There is no easy way and there is no looking for breaks. I know nothing about Arkansas-Little Rock. I will try and get some tape on them tonight. I don’t think parings mean anything. At this point, it just comes down to let’s go and play.”
   “That looks really good, doesn’t it Max?” Newell said. “UALR vs. Notre Dame at the NCAA Tourney in Minneapolis, Minnesota.”
   Each week, Newell would also rank the top nine basketball teams in the country. This week he had: 1. Duke; 2. Kansas; 3. Kentucky; 4. St. John’s; 5. Michigan; 6. Notre Dame; 7. Louisville; 8. Georgia Tech; 9. UNLV.
   “I probably should have put Notre Dame at number one,” Newell said. “They are playing really good basketball and that’s going to be a tough test for the Trojans.”
   The following morning, the South Bend Tribune proclaimed to its readers: “Little Rock is first Irish foe.”
   “Now, we were on the big-time level. Small UALR was getting its notoriety. I can really relate to George Mason [in 2006] and what those guys went through,” Clarke said. “We just believed in each other.”
   In sizing up the second-day, first-round matchups, CBS and ESPN deemed the game unlikely to be competitive and slotted it for 9:37 p.m. Central time. That meant no CBS coverage outside of the local markets and no ESPN coverage except for a couple of live break-ins and tape-delay in the middle of the night.
   This would be the first time the Metrodome had hosted a NCAA regional, but the home of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and Major League Baseball’s Minnesota Twins had previously hosted one other basketball game. The 1984 United States Olympic team played an exhibition game there against a group of NBA All-Stars.
   UALR’s first NCAA Tournament appearance would also be lucrative to the school. Teams making the tournament field would earn between $150,000 and $160,000. The money went up from there.
UALR got 250 tickets as a participant. Metrodome officials had sold about 14,000 of the 37,000 available tickets. They were affordable. A six-game ticket cost either $12 or $15.
   And while winning was on the mind of everybody, Young’s dream of getting his school into the NCAA Tournament had been realized. And he was prepared to capitalize.
   “It’s a dream-come-true for us. We’ve worked hard for years to make this happen. We’re forever grateful for the people in our community and this opportunity to bring this program to the people of Little Rock,” Young said. “I think we’re ready. I think our game has peaked at the right time to win by over 20 points the last three games. We’ll need that against Notre Dame, but Mike will have them there.”