Arkansas in Sweet 16 with trouble at No. 1 Kansas

Arkansas in Sweet 16 with trouble at No. 1 Kansas

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  • March 19, 2023
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DES MOINES, Iowa — Kansas’ worst fears about the Jayhawks’ second-round matchup with Arkansas in the NCAA tournament came true. As a result, the Jayhawks are no longer there to defend last year’s title.

Kansas, the leaders in the West, fell to the Razorbacks 72-71. Arkansas, the region’s eighth seed, will be promoted to the Sweet 16. Kansas becomes the second No. 1 seed in this year’s tournament to drop out after Purdue.

Since the NCAA expanded the tournament field in 1985, only three times prior to this year have multiple No. 1 seedlings failed to make the Sweet 16: 2000, 2004, and 2018.

The Razorbacks eliminated a No. 1 from the tournament for the second straight year after doing so against Gonzaga last year. This time, Coach Eric Musselman was so moved by the performance that he jumped onto a table next to the field at Wells Fargo Arena, removed his jersey and cheered the Arkansas fans with a “Pig Sooie” cheer.

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“I’ve been training for a long time and this is a great win I’ve ever participated in because of Kansas history,” Musselman said. “A lot of people didn’t think we were going to win our first-round game.”

As sweet as the win was for Musselman and the Razorbacks, the loss was bitter for the Jayhawks. They hoped to become the first consecutive champions since Florida in 2006 and 2007. The Jayhawks were without head coach Bill Self Saturday as he continues to recover from heart surgery.

Early in the game, Kansas was concerned about the Razorbacks’ length, depth, and athletic ability, and indeed, those Arkansas qualities proved to be a problem for Kansas. Arkansas passed Kansas 36-29 and outplayed the Jayhawks in second chance points 15-2.

Arkansas choked off one of Kansas’ top long-range shooters, Gradey Dick, who was only 1-of-3-of-3 and had seven points.

“We obviously didn’t want to give Gradey Dick, number 4, any airspace,” Musselman said. “He’s an amazing shot, one of the best shots in college basketball.

“We didn’t want Gradey to see the light of day. We felt that if we could pin him for four or five 3-ball attempts, they would play to our advantage.”

On Friday, Roberts compared the Razorbacks to Texas in terms of physical prowess. The Longhorns beat the Jayhawks twice in the past few weeks, both times by double digits.

“They have some long athletes that have given them a hard time [Dick] getting shots,” said Norm Roberts, who filled in for Self during Kansas’ two tournament games. “I don’t think we screened for him as well as we wanted, maybe we could have walked a few more things for him but they spoiled him a bit. I thought we shared the ball pretty well and we had a lot of balance but they did a good job of preventing him from being stared at.

Arkansas put on a furious second-half rally after trailing by as much as 12 points, while Razorbacks guard Vomte Davis put on a spectacular second-half show. With Arkansas’ top two regular-season scorers, Ricky Council IV and Nick Smith Jr., struggling, Davis carried his team. He was 7-of-9 shooting with many of the contested shots and 6-of-7 from the free throw line for 21 second-half points.

“Coach Mus said we should go downhill,” Davis said. “I feel like we all did something to help us win.”

Davis fouled with 1:56 time remaining and the Razorbacks lost 64-63. From there the council took over. He made a stepback jump and five free throws to send the Jayhawks home.

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