Razorbacks' season ends with lopsided loss in Sweet 16

UConn's Andre Jackson Jr. (44) and Tristen Newton (2) reach for the ball against Arkansas' Kamani Johnson (20), middle, in the first half of a Sweet 16 college basketball game in the West Regional of the NCAA Tournament, Thursday, March 23, 2023, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)

LAS VEGAS — There will be no third consecutive Elite Eight appearance for Eric Musselman's Arkansas basketball team in 2023.

Fourth-seeded Connecticut made fairly quick work of the eighth-seeded Razorbacks and won 88-65 at T-Mobile Arena on Thursday in the Sweet 16. 

Arkansas' season came to a close with a record of 22-14.

"I'm speaking for all the players and coaches: give UConn a ton of credit," Musselman said. "I thought from the opening tip they came out with a great sense of urgency. They cut hard, they crashed the offensive boards, especially early in the game.

"They did a great job rebounding the ball for the entire 40 minutes. And uncharacteristically we did not defend at the level that we have for most of the year."

The Huskies (28-8) advanced to play in the West Region championship game against Gonzaga on Saturday. The winner will advance to the Final Four in Houston.

UConn, which has won 9 of its last 10 games, led by double figures for the final 29:50 and never trailed. The Huskies shot 57.4% from the floor, including 60.7% in the first half.

Arkansas finished with a season-low 31.7% mark from the field. The Razorbacks, who had shot 53.1% on two-point attempts entering the game, were 15 of 47 inside the arc and 10 of 23 on layups and dunks.

"They were pretty long and athletic, a physical team, so, you know, it's the tournament," Arkansas freshman Anthony Black said. "And they're going to let you play. When you play against teams that are super athletic and strong and physical, it's always a little bit harder to score."

UConn took command of the game roughly midway through the first half. After Arkansas’ Ricky Council and Jordan Walsh scored in back-to-back possessions to cut the deficit to 20-17, the Huskies made a big push.

UConn guard Tristen Newton kicked off what became a 14-0 run over 4:03 with a three-pointer. The Huskies tacked on another three-pointer, three scores at the rim and a pair of free throws. 

They led by as least 15 points for the final 5:04 of the half and carried a 46-29 lead into halftime.

StatBroadcast data showed UConn scored points on 20 of 31 possessions prior to halftime. Arkansas, which was led by nine first-half points from freshman Nick Smith, made 33.3% of its looks.

Outside of Smith, the Razorbacks were 7 of 25 from the floor.

A three-pointer from Huskies guard Jordan Hawkins with 16:12 remaining put them ahead 59-33. The jumper handed Arkansas its largest deficit of the season.

"Hawkins is as good of a shooter as we've played all year," Musselman said. "He rises up over people. He moves without the ball really well. To me, the most impressive thing is that they had 22 assists.

"We tried to cause turnovers and rush the quarterback, but 22 assists is a lot of assists."

The Razorbacks reeled off 10 consecutive points in a 27-second span after falling behind by 29. But UConn swung back with 3 threes — including two from Hawkins — in rapid succession to go back up 25.

Hawkins, after the last triple, shushed the Arkansas fan section as he returned back down the floor. The Huskies finished 9 of 20 from three-point range.

The Razorbacks were led offensively by Black, who had 20 points, and Council added 17 points. Smith contributed 11 points.

Hawkins scored a game-high 24 points on 6 of 13 from the field and 3 of 9 beyond the arc. He made all nine free-throw attempts. 

Adama Sanogo, UConn’s 6-9 star forward, had 18 points on 9 of 11 from the floor, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks in 24 minutes. The Huskies were plus-21 when he was on the floor and plus-32 with Hawkins in the lineup.

UConn advances to the Elite Eight for the first time since it won a national championship in 2014. For Musselman and Arkansas, building toward the 2023-24 season begins now.

"There's not a lot of teams that have been to three straight Sweet 16s in the entire country, and we are one of them, so we're really proud of that," Musselman said. "The culture is strong. And as a staff, we'll start working towards next year, tonight, as soon as we get back to the hotel."