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OPINION | WALLY HALL: Zags sent home earlier than they expected

by Wally Hall | March 25, 2022 at 2:17 a.m.


Elite Eight Arkansas.

Has a ring to it and it should.

For the second consecutive season, or every time that Eric Musselman has coached the Arkansas Razorbacks in the NCAA Tournament, the Hogs have made it to a regional final.

It was not an upset Thursday night. The best team won 74-68, sending No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga home licking the same wounds that cost the Zags the NCAA championship a year ago, as Baylor ended their perfect season.

The weaknesses were obvious. Too much finesse, too little physicality.

Too much hype, too little athleticism.

Too little fight against a team that can bob and weave, jab and punch, and throw a knockout punch when they need it throw while always going toe to toe.

Gonzaga is a blue blood team. Its success in the NCAA Tournament is amazing, but Thursday night they ran into a band of Razorbacks who were fearless.

The Hogs didn't think they could win. They knew they could, and the longer the game went, the bigger the chip got on the Hogs' shoulder.

The almost 10-point underdog Razorbacks took the lead with 18:05 left in the second half and never trailed again.

The Zags threw every thing they had at them, but it just wasn't enough.

With JD Notae fighting to shoot himself through a cold night going 9 of 29 from the field, others stepped in and put the team on their shoulders.

It was a team win because every player on the court played defense like they invented it.

Trey Wade, who averaged 3.2 points per game and lived more on his defense and hard screens, scored 15, hitting 6 of 10 from the floor including 3 of 4 from behind the arc.

Jaylin Williams was called a pro by the CBS announce team and someday that will be right, but Thursday night the sophomore from Fort Smith was a double-double question that the Zags never had an answer for.

He had 12 rebounds and 15 points and outplayed the highly touted Drew Timme, who scored 25. But seven of those were free throws, and he struggled to get around or over Williams who was a bull in a china shop, turning the fine-tuned Zags into a mess.

The entire team deserved a game ball.

For five days the Razorbacks have had to live with Gonzaga this, Duke that.

What other team beat two No. 1 teams this season?

Granted, the Hogs beat a No. 13 and No. 12 seed to get to the Sweet 16, but that was THE No. 1 seed pulling all stops and a lot of their hair out to try and salvage yet another that ended with a one-way ticket home.

It was the first time in 11 tries that the Razorbacks have beaten a No. 1 seeded team, but it probably won't be the last.

In the opening half, Gonzaga looked about as deserving of the No. 1 seed as Texas A&M who didn't make the NCAA Tournament.

Arkansas' physical play and athleticism forced the Zags into nine early turnovers, and that helped limit them to only 29 points, while the Razorbacks got a coast-to-coast lay-up from Notae in the final six seconds to take a 32-29 lead into the locker room.

The Razorbacks' quick hands on the perimeter and Williams' brute strength down low frustrated the Zags, and they made just 24 of 64 shots, missing inside and out as they were held to 20 points below their season average.

The pressure got to Gonzaga, which during one span turned it over three times and went 0 for 7 from the field.

Arkansas, playing with great confidence and poise, attacked the glass, made clean passes and had great spacing.

In fact, the Razorbacks looked more like a No. 1 seed than the Zags.

The NCAA Tournament is about surviving and advancing, but Thursday night the Razorbacks made a statement: Bring your A game or be prepared to go home.


Print Headline: Zags sent home earlier than they expected

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