Arkansas Saw Gonzaga Dancing In Pregame, And Saved The Last Dance For The Hogs

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They call the NCAA Tournament the Big Dance, but careful when you dance.

Players from No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga apparently started boogeying a little too early Thursday night before playing No. 4 seed and 9.5-point underdog Arkansas at the Chase Center in San Francisco.

And the Razorbacks (28-8) are the ones still dancing after a 74-68 victory. They advance to the NCAA West regional championship game on Saturday (8:49 p.m. eastern, TBS) against No. 2 seed Duke (31-6). The Blue Devils beat No. 3 seed Texas Tech 78-73 Thursday night. The winner steps to the Final Four at the Superdome in New Orleans April 2-4.

“We felt like they were dancing before the game,” Arkansas sophomore forward Jaylin Williams said. “That was a disrespect to us. We came into the game playing hard and had a chip on our shoulder.”

Arkansas was picked to finish third in the SEC behind Kentucky and Alabama back in October, even though they reached the Elite Eight and were the last SEC team standing in the NCAA Tournament last year before losing to eventual champion Baylor. No. 2 seed Kentucky and No. 6 seed Alabama both lost in the first round last week.

Some were dancing on Arkansas’ grave early this season when the Hogs started off 0-3 in the SEC with losses at Mississippi State, 81-68, at home to Vanderbilt, 75-74, and at Texas A&M, 86-81. None of those teams made the NCAA Tournament and finished 10th, 11th and tied for fifth in the league, respectively. The Razorbacks regrouped, beat No. 1 Auburn and finished fourth in the SEC at 13-5, but then lost to the Aggies again in their SEC Tournament opener, 82-64.

In beating Gonzaga, Arkansas won its first game against a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament after losing 10 straight and became the first team anywere to beat an Associated Press No. 1 team in the regular season and an A.P. No. 1 team in the NCAA Tournament.

“I think we’ve been disrespected the whole year,” Williams said after scoring 15 points with 12 rebounds, three assists and a blocked shot. He also broke the record for number of rebounds in a season — 349 set by Derek Hood in 1998-99. Williams has 354 so far.

“They (the prognosticators) gave (Gonzaga) an 86 percent chance to win,” Williams said. “We saw that, and everything they were saying.”

Duke is a four-point favorite to win Saturday by FanDuel, provided the Blue Devils don’t dance around before the game.

“God bless them. What a great group these kids,” gushed Mike Krzyzewski after his team’s win. He announced last summer that this, his 42nd season as Duke’s coach, would be his last.

“They’ve grown up so much in the last 12 days. It’s such a joy. It’s an amazing thing,” he said.

Arkansas last played Duke on April 4, 1994, in the national championship game in Charlotte, N.C., and won 76-72 for its only national title. Duke beat Arkansas 97-83 on March 31, 1990, in the Final Four national semifinals in Denver before falling to UNLV 103-73 in the national title game.

Krzyzewski, 75, won five national championships since that loss from 1991-2015 and will be coaching for his 13th Final Four.

Musselman, 57, is in his second straight Elite Eight in his third season at Arkansas after taking Nevada to three NCAA Tournaments, including a Sweet 16 in 2018. He made sure his players knew few, if any, were giving his team a chance to beat Gonzaga, and the doubters will likely say the same about the Razorbacks’ chances against Duke.

“There’s been not much talk about Arkansas,” Musselman said.

“Yeah, just being the underdog, man, and using it to your advantage. They never see you coming,” said Arkansas forward Trey Wade, who scored 15 points with seven rebounds and a blocked shot and steal.

“I can’t compliment these guys enough and the entire team for the way that they buy into game preparation,” Musselman said. “It’s probably the coolest thing I’ve ever been a part of, that they just kind of do what we ask.”

And then they danced.

“We got the water bottles, went crazy,” Williams said. “We started dancing. It’s fun to win.”

Written by Glenn Guilbeau

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