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OPINION | WALLY HALL: Razorbacks' rollicking ride put on pause

by Wally Hall | March 30, 2021 at 2:15 a.m.

A great run by the Arkansas Razorbacks came to an end against No. 1 seed Baylor, 81-72, on Monday night.

In the Hogs' previous three NCAA Tournament games, they overcame double-digit deficits. This time, Baylor was just too good.

Although the Razorbacks cut an 18-point deficit to 62-58 with 9:34 to play, the Bears were too experienced and poised to wilt under the pressure.

It was 66-60 with 6:27 to play, but the Razorbacks went more than eight minutes without a field goal.

Baylor hit back-to-back threes while the Hogs managed one free throw. While the Razorbacks never backed down, never said quit, the more experienced Bears were on their way to the Final Four.

It was an amazing journey for the Razorbacks, who in mid-January were 2-4 in SEC play.

That's about the time Eric Musselman molded his players into a team with a practice that made them all appreciate and respect one another.

But in the Elite Eight, a slow start was impossible to overcome against a team that has been ranked No. 2 every week but one, when the Bears slipped to No. 3. They are a well-deserved No. 1 seed.

Arkansas trailed 13-2 when Musselman went with a smaller lineup, and JD Notae immediately showed why he was put in the game. By the half, he had scored a team-high 12 points and helped the Razorbacks pull to within 46-38 after trailing 29-11.

Notae fouled out with 14 points in 15 minutes with 13:38 left in the game.

Both teams were shooting lights out, but turnovers -- something the Hogs usually dominate in -- were a difference as the Bears had 21 points off the Razorbacks' 15 miscues. The Hogs had six points off Baylor's nine turnovers.

Baylor went scoreless for the last 4:10 of the half as Arkansas scored the final seven points.

From 1990-96, no one wanted to play the Hogs.

Arkansas' last visit to the Final Four was 1995 in Seattle. The Razorbacks were as big of a name as anyone in an Elite Eight that year that included North Carolina, Virginia, UCLA, Kentucky, UConn, UMass and Oklahoma State.

In the 1995 Final Four, they were the defending national champions and had a 32-6 record going into the finals against UCLA. The Bruins should have lost in the second round when trailing Missouri 74-73 with 4.8 seconds left, but the Tigers let point guard Tyus Edney go coast-to-coast for a game-winning, uncontested layup.

Making the Final Four this year would have pitted the Hogs against another old Southwest Conference foe, Houston.

This is the Cougars first Final Four appearance since "Phi Slama Jama" left in 1984. They advanced by beating the 15, 12, 11 and 10 seeds.

Take nothing away from the Cougars. They are good, and that's why when Hunter Yurachek -- who came to Arkansas as athletic director from Houston -- tried to hire Kelvin Sampson two years ago, he wasn't budging. Three of his current starters were his foundation for this season.

Yurachek ended up hitting a grand slam with the hire of Musselman, who achieved something no other coach in school history has -- get to an Elite Eight by his second year.

While Musselman's name will be associated with an opening or two -- perhaps Texas and Oklahoma -- he stands to become a living legend in the state of Arkansas.

He united a fan base that had gone decades without any real NCAA Tournament success.

The once loud-and-proud fans had almost nothing to cheer until Musselman, who embraces the Razorback Nation. He also took nine new faces and blended them into a family of fighting Razorbacks.

It was a great ride that will be continued next season.

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