Scottie Bordelon is a reporter for WholeHogSports.com. A graduate of the University of Arkansas, Bordelon previously covered high school sports for the Times Record in Fort Smith and the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Springdale. He is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and Football Writers Association of America, and was awarded 2022 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Poor shooting dooms Hogs in Sweet 16 loss
Arkansas guard Ricky Council (1) shoots during an NCAA Tournament game against Connecticut on Thursday, March 23, 2023, in Las Vegas.
LAS VEGAS — Arkansas players and fourth-year coach Eric Musselman gave a tip of the cap to Connecticut’s defensive performance in Thursday’s Sweet 16 matchup at T-Mobile Arena.
The Huskies, the No. 4 seed in the West Region and a top-15 team in regards to defensive efficiency, according to KenPom data, held Arkansas to a season-worst shooting night during their 88-65 victory over the eighth-seeded Razorbacks.
Musselman’s team, vying for a third straight Elite Eight appearance, shot 31.7% from the field. Arkansas' previous low was 33.3% during a 65-58 win over North Carolina-Greensboro on Dec. 6.
“Their length was good,” Arkansas wing Ricky Council said. “I know I probably got my shot blocked two or three times. I felt like I got fouled a couple of those times, but I’m not going to put it on that. Their length was really [good]. We knew that.
“They’ve got two strong centers in there, which is hard to stop. Other than that…[length] was the main issue.”
Council turned in a 17-point game on 4 of 12 from the field. Eight of his points came at the free-throw line, and he was 3 of 9 on two-point attempts.
The Razorbacks were 15 of 47 (31.9%) on looks inside the three-point line. The 15 two-point buckets were tied for the second fewest in a game this season.
StatBroadcast also showed Arkansas (22-14) made 9 of 22 layups. The Razorbacks had three shots blocked.
“They’ve got a huge team,” Arkansas freshman guard Nick Smith said when asked about issues that UConn’s defense created. “Their bigs were pretty big."
Arkansas hung with the Huskies for eight-plus minutes and found itself down 20-17 with 12:04 remaining in the first half after back-to-back scores from Council and freshman wing Jordan Walsh.
With Walsh’s bucket, the Razorbacks were 6 of 12 from the field. They were 4 of 18 the rest of the first half and trailed 46-29 at halftime.
Arkansas’ shooting struggles continued after the break. The Razorbacks made 10 of 33 (30.3%) shots, including 8 of 24 two-point looks, and misfired on 11 of its first 13 twos in the second half.
“They had the big guys just lumbering around the paint,” Walsh said. “They were just sitting there waiting to block shots and played super help defense coming off of our bigs. They weren’t respecting the three at all, so they obviously did their research for the scouting report.
“They knew exactly what our weaknesses were and they attacked them perfectly and executed the way they were supposed to.”
Asked about the Huskies’ defense, Musselman said Arkansas did not get off many clean looks. He then rattled off some of the Razorbacks’ shooting numbers from the final box score.
Junior guard Davonte Davis finished with 3 points on 1 of 10 from the field; starting forward Kamani Johnson was 0 of 3 and did not score; Walsh had 2 points and made 1 of 5 shots; and forward Makhi Mitchell was 1 of 4 and scored 2 points.
Freshman guard Anthony Black scored a team-high 20 points on 5 of 12 from the floor, and Smith added 11 points on 4-of-9 shooting.
“They just had a pretty good game plan for us on defense,” Black said. “We took some looks that we usually take and we'll take again if we get the chance. Some of it just didn't fall tonight.
“But they're a great defensive team.”
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