Bittersweet ending: Hogs' stay West cut short this time

By: Bob Holt Bob Holt's Twitter account
Published: Friday, March 24, 2023
Arkansas guard Anthony Black (0) goes up for a shot against Connecticut forward Alex Karaban (11) during an NCAA Tournament game Thursday, March 23, 2023, in Las Vegas.
( Charlie Kaijo)
Arkansas guard Anthony Black (0) goes up for a shot against Connecticut forward Alex Karaban (11) during an NCAA Tournament game Thursday, March 23, 2023, in Las Vegas.

LAS VEGAS — Connecticut buried the University of Arkansas basketball team under a three-point barrage on Thursday night in an NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 matchup.

The Huskies hit 9 of 20 three-pointers and defeated the Razorbacks 88-65 in the West Region semifinals at T-Mobile Arena to end Arkansas’ season.

It was the timing of Connecticut’s three-pointers, more than just the volume, that did in the Razorbacks.

All of the Huskies’ made three-pointers were in the game’s first 29 minutes and helped them build a 29-point lead.

Connecticut, a No. 4 seed, advanced to the Elite Eight for the 12th time, and first time since 2014 when the Huskies won their most recent of four national championships. Connecticut will play Gonzaga on Saturday.

The Razorbacks, seeded No. 8, were denied a third consecutive Elite Eight appearance after they advanced the previous two seasons as a No. 4 seed.

“I think the threes came in bunches,” said freshman guard Anthony Black, who led the Razorbacks with 20 points. “We just didn’t do a good job of stopping the bleeding.

“They just got momentum and started feeling good and making shots.”

The 23-point losing margin was the largest for the Razorbacks (22-14) this season. Their previous most-lopsided loss was by 18 points at Tennessee, 75-57 on Feb. 28.

“I think our whole team — I’m speaking for all the players and coaches — give UConn a ton of credit,” Arkansas Coach Eric 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) have hit 30 of 67 three-pointers in their three NCAA Tournament games.

Before lighting up the Razorbacks, Connecticut hit 11 of 25 three-points in an 87-63 victory over Iona and 10 of 22 in a 70-55 victory over Saint Mary’s.

Coming into Thursday’s night game, the Huskies were shooting 36.2% on three-pointers.

“We make threes a lot, but it’s hard to get threes against Arkansas because they do such a great job,” Connecticut Coach Dan Hurley said the Razorbacks holding opponents to 30.6% three-point shooting coming into the game. “They’ve got such great length on the perimeter.

“Those guys are so athletic. But when you have dominant centers, it creates pretty good looks at three. And honestly, I thought we probably could have made one or two more.”

The Huskies have two dominant post players in 6-9 junior Adama Sanogo, who had 18 points and 8 rebounds against Arkansas, and 7-2 freshman Donovan Clingan, who had 5 points and 5 rebounds.

Arkansas junior guard Davonte “Devo” Davis said the Razorbacks stressed guarding the three-point line in their preparation for Connecticut.

“When we went over how they make their threes, we guarded it right in practice,” Davis said. “We just didn’t do it the correct way every time in the game.

“That’s what happened — we didn’t execute on the defensive end, even though we tried.”

Senior guard Nahiem Alleyne and sophomore guard Jordan Hawkins hit three-pointers, and Hawkins hit three free throws after being fouled by Black to push Connecticut’s lead to 59-33 with 16:10 left.

The Razorbacks pulled within 62-43 on junior guard Ricky Council’s jump shot with 13:22 left.

Connecticut then removed all doubt about the outcome with back-to-back three-pointers by Alleyene and Hawkins for a 71-46 lead with 11:43 left.

Musselman said the Razorbacks came into the game believing they had to hold the Huskies to five or fewer three-point baskets.

Hawkins led Connecticut with 24 points. He hit 6 of 13 shots, including 3 of 9 three-pointers, and was 9 of 9 on free throws.

“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.”

Connecticut shot 57.4% (31 of 54) from the field, hit 17 of 21 free throws, and had 22 assists.

“To me, the most impressive thing is that they had 22 assists,” Musselman said. “We tried to cause turnovers and rush the quarterback, but 22 assists is a lot of assists.

“I know we caused 17 turnovers, but they got inside game, two great centers. They have great perimeter shooting.

“Guys off the bench contributed for them. It’s a really good team.”

Connecticut sophomore forward Alex Karaban had 11 points, 7 rebounds and 2 steals. Junior forward Andre Jackson had 7 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists.

Council scored 17 points and freshman guard Nick Smith added 11 points for Arkansas.

The Razorbacks (22-14) never led as the Huskies took a 46-29 halftime lead on two free throws by Hawkins with 28 seconds left in the half.

The Huskies jumped out to a 20-13 lead on a dunk by 7-2 Clingan with 13:12 left in the half on a lob pass assist from Jackson after a steal by Karaban started a fast break.

Freshman forward Jordan Walsh spun in the lane and hit a bank shot to pull the Razorbacks within 20-17.

Connecticut senior guard Tristen Newton then hit a three-pointer to start a 14-0 run by the Huskies that pushed their lead to 34-17 with 7:42 left on Sanogo’s layup.

Arkansas went 4:40 without scoring — missing five shots and having turnover — before senior forward Makhi Mitchell hit a driving layup to make it 34-19.

“I thought obviously we just played pretty much exactly to our team identity,” Hurley said. “We played elite defense. Offensively the 22 assists, the inside, the outside, and the rebounding dominance.”

The Huskies out-rebounded the Razorbacks 43-31 after Arkansas out-rebounded its first two NCAA Tournament opponents — Illinois and Kansas — by 16.

“They’re pretty tough,” said Arkansas senior forward Kamani Johnson, who had team-highs of five points and three assists. “They’re a big team, physical team. Their guards, all five of them crashed the boards.

“They’re a pretty tough team to rebound with. But I think we just kind of beat ourselves today on the glass in just effort and defense overall.

“We’re a much better team than the way we played today. Credit to UConn, they’re a hell of a team, but it’s kind of on us.”

The Razorbacks shot a season-low 31.7% (20 of 63), including Davis going 1 of 10 after he scored 25 points in Arkansas’ 72-71 victory over No. 1 seed Kansas.

“We didn’t get any clean looks, obviously,” Musselman said. “They’re a really good defensive team. You have to tip your hat to them.”


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