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Arkansas Upsets No. 1 Gonzaga With 40 Minutes Of Hell, Now Plays 2 Seed Duke

Make that 1-10.

No. 4 seed Arkansas was 0-for-10 against the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament since seeding began in 1979.

But the Razorbacks revitalized their 40 Minutes of Hell defense of the 1990s to beat No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga, 74-68, and its No. 1 offense Thursday night at the Chase Center in San Francisco to reach the West Region championship game on Saturday.

Arkansas (27-8) advances to play No. 2 seed Duke (31-6) on Saturday (8:49 p.m. eastern, TBS). Duke beat No. 3 seed Texas Tech, 78-73, in a late game Thursday night as Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s retirement has been postponed again. The Arkansas-Duke winner will go to the Final Four in New Orleans.

The Razorbacks have reached the Elite Eight for the second straight year as the only Southeastern Conference team remaining in the NCAA Tournament following the first weekend. It lost to eventual national champ Baylor last year a win away from the Final Four. Gonzaga (28-4), which lost the national championship game last year to Baylor, was trying to reach its third straight Elite Eight and second straight Final Four.

In other games Thursday, No. 2 seed Villanova beat No. 11 seed Michigan, 63-55, and No. 5 seed Houston beat No. 1 seed Arizona, 72-60. Villanova (29-7) will play Houston (32-5) on Saturday (6:09 p.m., TBS) in San Antonio, Texas, with the Final Four on the line.

Arkansas’ defense held Gonzaga, which entered averaging 88 points a game for tops in the nation, to 20 points below its average and led for the entire second half after taking a 32-29 lead at halftime.

“Our defense – to hold them to 68 was incredible,” Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said. “We read everything. Before every meal, we read everything, and no one said we had a chance. Thank you to everyone who said we had no chance.”

Gonzaga was a 9.5-point favorite by FanDuel.

Arkansas outscored Gonzaga 13-2 to close the first half after trailing 27-19 and kept the Zags at bay on the Bay throughout the second half.

“It’s crazy,” said Arkansas forward Jaylin Williams, who scored 15 with 12 rebounds, three assists, a blocked shot and took his 45th charge of the season during his team’s run late in the first half. “We read everything they said. We believed in ourselves from the jump. It’s our fight, our grit. We played hard for 40 minutes, so that’s just what we do now.”

Guard JD Notae led the Razorbacks with 21 points, and forward Trey Wade added 15. Arkansas was coldly efficient with just eight turnovers.

Gonzaga, on the other hand, couldn’t zig or zag and committed 15 turnovers. Two of their best scorers – point guard Andrew Nembhard and shooting guard Rasir Bolton – combined to go 5 of 21 from the field for seven and eight points, respectively. Nembhard came in averaging 12 points and 5.8 assists a game and had three assists. Bolton, who entered the game leading Gonzaga in 3-point shooting percentage at 47 percent, made just 2 of 7 for 28 percent.

“It’s definitely disappointing,” Nembhard said. “I felt like I got to the spots I wanted to get to. Just didn’t fall for me tonight.”

Au’Diese Toney, a 6-foot-6 guard, held the 6-5 Nembhard to 2-of-11 shooting and forced five turnovers from him while blocking two shots and grabbing seven rebounds.

“I think his length was a factor,” Nembhard said. “He is athletic. He did a great job just pressuring me the whole game.”

The Zags were 5 of 21 from 3-point range for 23 percent and hit 26 of 64 shots overall for 37 percent. Gonzaga struggled as did New Mexico State last week to score on the hellish Hogs.

“All the credit goes to Arkansas,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “Their defense was just tough to get any rhythm against. We never really got any sort of rhythm in the first or second half. We just couldn’t get any rhythm, which is rare for us.”

Forward Drew Timme led Gonzaga with 25 points, but he was often the only option and turned it over five times. Center Chet Holmgren was held scoreless in the first half before finishing with 11 points – three below his average. He fouled out with 3:29 to go after two questionable calls. Guard Julian Strawther came in averaging 37 percent shooting from three-point range, but was 1 of 5 for 20 percent.

Arkansas shot 40 percent from the field, but only 28 percent from 3-point range (7 of 25) and was outrebounded, 45-42. Notae was just 9 of 29 from the field for 31 percent and 2 of 12 from three-point range for 16 percent.

“We’re not always cosmetically pleasing on offense,” Musselman said, then yelled, “But we win!!!”

Arkansas is three wins away from its first national championship since the 40 Minutes Of Hell defense helped win it all in 1994.

“Of course, we’re still hungry to keep achieving higher than what the expectations were,” Williams said.

“This is what we dreamed about,” Notae said when asked about finally beating a No. 1 seed. “This is what we came here to do. Coach said before we left Fayetteville, if we didn’t want to win, then don’t get on the plane. I feel like we brought that the whole time.”

FRIDAY’S NCAA TOURNAMENT GAMES (All times eastern)

No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s (21-11) vs. No. 3 seed Purdue (29-7), 7:09 p.m., Philadelphia, CBS

No. 4 seed Providence (27-5) vs. No. 1 seed Kansas (30-6), 7:29 p.m., Chicago, TBS

No. 8 seed North Carolina (26-9) vs. No. 4 seed UCLA (27-7), 9:39 p.m., Philadelphia, CBS

No. 11 seed Iowa State (22-12) vs. No. 10 seed Miami (25-10), 9:59 p.m., Chicago, TBS

Written by Glenn Guilbeau

Guilbeau has been on the LSU beat since 1998 with multiple outlets in Louisiana, prior to that he had covered both Auburn and Alabama. He won first place for his game feature on LSU's upset at Florida last season from the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA). He was also named Beat Writer of Year, by Louisiana Sports Writers Association in July; placed in three Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) categories – Beat Writer, Explanatory, Game Coverage – last spring. Guilbeau was also the FWAA first-place winner for columns in 2017 and was also the top overall winner in 2016 FWAA placing first for his game story, second in columns, and receiving honorable mention for features.

2 Comments

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  1. I can’t imagine how good Arkansas would be playing right now if Notae would simply stop throwing up so many inexplicably stupid shots. Even the announcers were cringing and saying “what are you doing?” at some of those bricks. When he is driving and dishing his guys are knocking down the big shots. Just do that.

  2. John, as someone who has watched Arkansas all season long I had this opinion for most of the non conference season… then we started winning and I realized I don’t want anyone else taking those shots. He’s kinda like a college James Harden. He’s gonna get up his shots, he’s gonna get to the foul line, and you’re gonna look up and he’s got 30 points. Unlike Harden tho he makes up for his real bad shot selection with great defensive pressure and steals. I’ll take those ill-advised shots any day of the week if I get that intensity on defense! Woo Pig!!!

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