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If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some defense with your hair on fire.
If you’re going to San Francisco, you’re going to meet some not so gentle people there.
Arkansas coach Eric Musselman, a former coach of the Golden State Warriors in San Francisco from 2002-04, has gone home again, arriving on Tuesday for the NCAA Tournament West Region semifinal against No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga (28-3). Tip-off is at 7:09 p.m. eastern Thursday on CBS in the 18,064-seat Chase Center.
Musselman, who wore a shirt with “San Francisco Warriors” on it for a press conference Monday, said he plans to schedule some team activities around the city – perhaps a tour of the former Alcatraz prison in San Francisco Bay or the Muir Woods and its giant redwood trees across the Golden Gate Bridge.
Then it will be time to face the Zags’ redwoods – 7-foot freshman center Chet Holmgren, a potential high first round pick who averages 14.2 points with 9.8 rebounds and 3.6 blocked shots a game, which is fourth in the nation, and 6-10, 235-pound junior forward Drew Timme, who averages 18.2 points and 6.8 rebounds a game.
There is also 6-5 senior point guard Andrew Nembhard, a transfer from Florida after the 2018-19 season who is averaging 12 points and 5.8 assists a game while hitting .385 from 3-point range. Senior 6-3 shooting guard Rasir Bolton (11.3 points a game) would lead the nation in 3-point field goal percentage at .470 (62 of 132), but he does not have the minimum of 2.5 made a game to qualify for the NCAA statistics. And 6-7 sophomore guard Julian Strawther averages 11.8 points a game and is hitting .371 from 3-point range (53 of 143).
Off the bench is 6-8 junior forward Anton Watson, who averages 7.5 points and 4.5 rebounds. It is no wonder Gonzaga leads the nation in scoring with 87.8 points a game and in scoring margin at 21.8. Arkansas is No. 48 in scoring with 76.2 points a game and 138th in scoring defense at 68 a game.
“They present a lot of problems,” said Musselman, who is bidding to reach the Elite Eight for the second straight season. “They do have a lot of weapons. They have a potential lottery pick in Holmgren, and Timme has been as good as any player in the entire country. Those two run a great high-low game. Nembhard does a great job of advancing the ball, even after made baskets. He’s one of the smartest point guards in college basketball, and he’s really improved as a 3-point shooter.”
Gonzaga coach Mark Few utilizes a lot of screens for deep looks with Strawther, Bolton and Nembhard.
“We’re going to have to play at an elite level to give us a chance to win,” Musselman said.
Arkansas (27-8), though, has been playing at an elite level since January as it has won 17 of its last 20 games in different ways. The Razorbacks won their NCAA Tournament opener, 75-71, over No. 13 seed Vermont and won a defensive struggle over No. 12 seed New Mexico State, 53-48. They are the only remaining SEC team after six were invited.
“We’re happy we’re still alive,” Musselman said. “We got hot at the right time. We kept getting better during the course of the year. We were able to play as well as anyone down the stretch. We’ve had an incredible season.”
The Gonzaga-Arkansas winner plays Sunday against the winner of No. 2 seed Duke (30-6) and No. 3 seed Texas Tech (27-9) with a trip to the Final Four in New Orleans on the line. Arkansas lost to No. 2 seed and eventual champion Baylor last year in the South Regional final, 82-72.
“I went and got my haircut today (in Fayetteville), and everybody was talking about the game Thursday,” Musselman said. “There’s an incredible, incredible buzz. There were people waiting at the airport when we landed (Sunday). It’s awesome. You never can take for granted how hard it is to win in this Tournament. There are lot of great programs out there not playing.”
“Not many people,” Musselman said and laughed. “I shouldn’t say not many people, no one’s talking about Arkansas even having a chance in this game. I got two good eyes, and my Internet works really good. I got great connections, and I haven’t found anybody who is even giving us a chance to be in the same arena with Gonzaga. It’s a great challenge for sure. It’s going to be a lifetime experience for our guys, without a question.”