A look back: After beating Notre Dame, a tall task was ahead for the 1986 UALR Trojans

Chapter XX: Glory
   When Mike Newell woke up on Saturday morning, he was king of the world. Or at least king of college basketball. Reporters were falling out of the woodwork, wanting a piece of Newell and the Trojans after the miraculous upset of Notre Dame.
   The Democrat’s headline screamed: “Trojans humiliate Irish, 90-83.”
   Hall wrote: “It was not an upset. The best team won.”
   The Gazette’s Jake Sandlin wrote: “Confident, upstart University of Arkansas at Little Rock lived up to every one of its promises the previous week to become the news of the 1986 NCAA Tournament Friday. The Trojans, 14th-seeded, unheralded and mostly unheard of around the nation, scored the tournament’s biggest upset with a 90-83 stunner over No. 10-ranked and third-seeded Notre Dame at the Metrodome.”
   The South Bend Tribune told the story from the other side: “Little Rock quiets N.D.”
   Beat writer Forrest Miller gave UALR its due: “Talkative Arkansas-Little Rock backed up its boasting by knocking Notre Dame out of the 1986 NCAA basketball tournament Friday night.”
   UALR Sports Information Director Stan Denman only brought 30 media guides with him. National media was now swamping him for them. They had to get a box flown in from Little Rock.
   Once reporters got their hands on them, they didn’t always get things right. The New York Times ran a story saying, “Arkansas-Little Rock isn’t even in Little Rock. It’s in Murfreesboro, described in the school brochure as “the only place on the North American continent that produces diamonds.”
   Apparently, Times reporter Gerald Eskenazi misread a plug for Murfreesboro diamonds in UALR’s media guide. It called UALR a diamond in the rough in Little Rock.
The New York Times wasn’t all bad: “Newell puts the Irish away and his school on the map,” read the headline.
   The story went further: “In their sudden spurt to the national scene, and in their very first appearance in the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament, they unseated nationally-ranked Notre Dame 90-83 Friday night. That propelled “Ualr” (as their warm-up jackets read) to the second round of the Midwest Regional on Sunday.”
   The Dallas Morning News called UALR “Giant Killers.”
   Tim Cowlishaw wrote: “There were more than a few smirks around the press room late Thursday night when this sandy-haired, bronze skinned young man named Mike Newell announced, ‘This is the start of something big for UALR.’ And when Newell added, ‘No one has heard of UALR, but we’ll be another UAB in two years.”
   While everyone was still talking about Notre Dame, Newell was thinking about North Carolina State.
   On Friday, Chris Washburn scored 18 points to lead the Wolf Pack to a 66-64 victory over Iowa, a team that beat UALR in the season-opener in Hawaii. Roy Marble’s layup had cut the North Carolina State lead to 66-65 in the final minute, but Marble missed a one-and-one with 12 seconds to play as the Wolf Pack (19-12) held on.
1985-1986 N.C. State Wolf Pack
   UALR’s speed had North Carolina State Coach Jim Valvano concerned. Their name wasn’t doing anything for him either.
   “You don’t like playing a team with a hyphen in their name. They tend to have a cause,” said Valvano, who died in 1993 after a battle with cancer. “You guys in the press, you’ll write this up as Arkansas-Little Rock against the team from the Atlantic Coast Conference. Arkansas-Little Rock is playing for all the state of Arkansas. They’re playing for all the little people in the world. Their playing for the third-world nations of the world. We have got respect for them.”
   While Notre Dame had some size, North Carolina State had more. The Wolf Pack didn’t have a starter below 6-5, including 6-10 freshman Charles Shackelford, 6-11 sophomore Washburn, 6-7 junior Benny Bolton and 6-5 guards Nate McMillan, Ernie Myers and Vinny Del Negro.
Jim Valvano and Vinny Del Negro
“They’ve got a great team,” Newell said. “They are very talented, have great size and are very well-coached. But we’re looking forward to playing them. Again, it’s a situation where we think we can beat them.”    Valvano knew UALR would have the speed advantage.
   “Basketball is a game of quickness. Arkansas-Little Rock proved that again last night. Cleveland State, another up setter Friday, proved it against Indiana. They have three seniors who are on a roll. They’ve won 19 of their last 20 games. I consider that to be a hot basketball team. Jackson, Myers and Clarke all have great confidence in their abilities. They key last night was when Notre Dame came back and took the lead. That was when Arkansas-Little Rock could have folded their tent. But they beat Notre Dame down the stretch. They are an exciting team, an enthusiastic team. And I’m worried about them,” Valvano said. “I don’t know who will cut down the nets in Dallas this year, but Arkansas-Little Rock thinks they have a chance, and so do we.”
   And Valvano wasn’t buying any of the gee-whiz attitude that seemed to surround the Trojans.
   “[Newell] can tell you he doesn’t feel like an underdog,” Valvano said. “But he knows what this means for his program nationall. We’ve been on network TV, and 20 years from now we still will be. But when I coached at Iona and we played Louisville in the Garden, it took me five yours to get them in the Garden. So Newell might not say he’s an underdog, but he’s got a cause.”