In a week that delivered one of the most memorable finishes in Razorback Basketball history, we take a look back at some other big shot makers that helped build the program more than 35 years ago. Just as fans will one day recount where they were when Michael Qualls slammed home the game-winner in overtime against Kentucky, there are plenty of long-time Razorbacks who can recall the birth of the Razorback Triplets. So in honor of memorable moments, present and past, we go back to the history books to re-visit the story of the three players who helped change Razorback Basketball forever.
When Ron Brewer, Marvin Delph and Sidney Moncrief built the cornerstone of Arkansas’ basketball program from November 1975 through March 1978, they were the most famous trio in the Southwest Conference. They helped the Razorbacks go 19-9, 26-2 and 32-4 in their three years together. However, they had played 88 games at Arkansas before an ex-coach turned commentator gave them the nickname that would make them known throughout the entire world of college basketball.
While Arkansas had dominant basketball teams in the late 1920s and at times during the ’30s and ’40s, the program had gone dormant for over 20 years when Eddie Sutton was named head coach before the 1974-75 season. Delph and Jim Counce were Sutton’s first signees. Brewer and Moncrief came a year later, Brewer from junior college with three years of eligibility left and Moncrief as a freshman from Little Rock.
Brewer, Delph and Moncrief were all 6-4 but played much taller because of extraordinary leaping ability. They captured regional attention during the 1977 season when they became the first team ever to go 16-0 in the SWC and finished the regular season 26-1. The Hogs lost their chance for national attention, though, when they lost to Wake Forest in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Marquette, coached by Al McGuire, won the 1977 NCAA championship and would have had to face Arkansas had the Razorbacks defeated Wake Forest. McGuire called it a career after his team won the title and he became a color analyst for NBC, the network that held the rights to the NCAA Tournament at the time.
Meanwhile, Arkansas was making a national name for itself. The Razorbacks stormed through the SWC again, although they stumbled twice and shared the crown with Texas. The Hogs were sent to the NCAA West Regional where six of the top 11 teams in the final Associated Press poll were gathered.
The Razorbacks disposed of Weber State before squaring off with second ranked UCLA in the regional semifinals at Albuquerque, N.M. McGuire was watching the game, preparing to work the regional finals. With Brewer, Moncrief and Delph exhibiting incredible quickness, the Hogs jumped to a 40-20 lead. UCLA used full court pressure to slowly draw back in the game but Arkansas had enough to prevail 74-70.
McGuire liked what he saw and proclaimed Brewer, Moncrief and Delph "The Triplets." He raved about their ability and their artistry on the court. When Arkansas defeated California-Fullerton to earn their first spot in the Final Four in 31 years, the legend was born.
Kentucky trimmed Arkansas, 64-59, in the national semifinals, crushing the Hogs’ hopes of winning a national championship. At that time a third place game was held and Brewer cemented his reputation as a clutch last second shot artist when he buried a 20-foot jump shot with one second on the clock to allow the Razorbacks to trim Notre Dame, 71-69.
"The Triplets" were finished. Moncrief had another year left and almost took the Hogs back to the Final Four. Arkansas lost a heartbreaking two-point decision to Larry Bird-led Indiana State on a shot at the buzzer in the Midwest Regional finals. Together, Brewer, Delph and Moncrief led the Razorbacks to 77 victories in three years. They revived a dormant program. They were similar but uniquely different.
Delph was a smooth shooter. To this day Arkansas has not had a player with a shot more pure than that of Delph. He finished his career as Arkansas’ all-time leading scorer but less than a season later his mark was passed by Moncrief.
Brewer had lightning quick hands. He could steal a dribble and dunk on the other end before an opposing guard knew the ball was missing. He had an uncanny knack for last-second dramatics, beating Texas Tech and Baylor, both on the road, with buzzer beaters before making his shot against Notre Dame.
Moncrief was the heart of the program. He still ranks second in career scoring and first in career rebounding at Arkansas. He elevated the play of everyone around him. The 1977 collapse against Wake Forest came after he had fouled out of the game with Arkansas leading by six points. He didn’t shoot much from farther than eight feet away for three years until Brewer and Delph were gone and outside punch was needed. He worked so hard he became an efficient shooter from the perimeter.
While it seems impossible, it’s been 35 years since "The Triplets" last played together for the Razorbacks. Thanks to Al McGuire, their memory will live as long as college basketball is played.
Razorback Road is a weekly column published on Thursdays by Associate Athletic Director for Public Relations Kevin Trainor. Trainor is a graduate of the University of Arkansas and has worked for Razorback Athletics for more than 20 years. Follow Trainor on Twitter @KTHogs.