LAS VEGAS — What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas and what happened Thursday night was a high-flying, rebounding, dead-eye shooting machine known simply as UConn.
It wasn’t that the Arkansas Razorbacks started slow or played badly. It was that the UConn Huskies were that good.
Minutes before the Huskies took the floor for their Sweet 16 showdown with Arkansas, they came out of their locker room with a ritual fist punch to the chest of every teammate. That’s what they are: An unselfish team.
There was no fear, just a fierce glare and stare that knocked off the Hogs 88-65.
The Huskies were on a mission to go 3-0 against the SEC, having already beaten Florida in Gainesville. And it only took a few minutes to see how a beast from the Big East could beat the pride of the SEC back in November, when Alabama fell 82-67.
The Razorbacks gave it their best shot, but not many teams could have kept up with an opponent who outrebounded them 43-31 and had 22 assists on 31 field goals. Arkansas had seven assists and just 20 baskets.
By the time the Razorbacks got their first field goal of the second half, a three pointer by Anthony Black with 13:51 to play, the Razorbacks trailed 62-36.
That did spark a 10-0 run that closed the deficit to 19, but it was like poking a bull in the eye, and the Huskies answered with three consecutive threes.
UConn led 73-48 with 10:02 to play when Coach Dan Hurley called a timeout for some reason. At that point, the Hogs were shooting 29% in the second half, compared to the Huskies' 62%. (That cooled down when Hurley emptied his bench late in the game.)
A lot of Arkansas’ shooting woes were caused by UConn’s size and quickness.
Somehow the Huskies didn’t look as athletic on TV as they did in person on Thursday night.
Going into the under-eight-minute TV timeout, the Huskies led 75-51 and were strolling to the finish line. Their work day was basically finished.
The Huskies were the princes of the paint, dominating inside. With more than four minutes to play, Eric Musselman decided to give freshmen Derrian Ford of Magnolia and Morrilton’s Joseph Pinnon some NCAA experience.
UConn had gone to a zone, more to save their legs for Saturday’s Elite Eight showdown with the winner of the Gonzaga-UCLA game.
Hurley had used his bench throughout the game. Only two players logged more than 30 minutes as he played eight players generously, and all of those guys scored and had rebounds.
It has taken five seasons for Hurley to rebuild a program that was hit with NCAA sanctions before he arrived. If the Huskies can play the game they played Thursday night one more time, they will be a Final Four team.
They were that impressive.
The Huskies played above the rim, and their offense was so effective that it overshadowed the great defense they play.
The Razorbacks would finish 20 of 63 from the floor (31.7%) and 5 of 16 on three pointers, while UConn was a cool and collected 31 of 54, including 8 of 20 on threes.
Arkansas' streak of runs to the Elite Eight ends at two, but the team seeded No. 10 in the SEC Tournament has made the Sweet 16 three consecutive years.
Which is something to build off of, since 52 teams, including two No. 1 seeds, didn’t make the regional semifinals.
What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, and a powerful UConn won on the scoreboard and the box score.
The Razorbacks never led, and the game was tied only at the start. The Huskies scored on a rebound and then soared to a 34-17 lead, controlling the boards, the tempo — and anything else.