Bob Holt is a sports reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he sits on the board of directors for the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. He has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year four times and has been inducted to the Arkansas Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame.
NCAA Tournament Report: No encore performance by Devo
Arkansas guard Davonte Davis is shown during an NCAA Tournament game against Connecticut on Thursday, March 23, 2023, in Las Vegas.
LAS VEGAS — After University of Arkansas guard Davonte “Devo” Davis helped carry the Razorbacks to a third consecutive Sweet 16 appearance by scoring 25 points in their 72-71 victory over No. 1 Kansas, it was an uncharacteristically tough shooting game for the 6-4 junior from Jacksonville on Thursday night.
Davis, who in his previous 10 NCAA Tournament games averaged 12.9 points and shot 46.9% (45 of 96), was 1 of 10 from the field in Connecticut’s 88-65 victory over the Razorbacks in the West Region semifinals in T-Mobile Arena. He finished with three points.
“I’m not sure,” Davis said when asked what happened on offense against the Huskies. “I mean, I got the shots I usually make, but they just weren’t going in.”
Freshman guard Anthony Black led Arkansas with 20 points and hit 5 of 12 shots and 9 of 11 free throws.
“Anthony did a pretty good job getting downhill,” Davis said. “I’m glad he was able to get downhill and try to keep us in the game.
“I was trying to get to my spots, but they just weren’t going in. But Anthony, for sure, got to his spots and converted when we needed him.”
Connecticut never let Arkansas have the lead — or tie the score — after the Huskies in their previous two NCAA Tournament games didn’t get rolling in high gear until the second half.
The Huskies beat Iona 87-63 after trailing 39-37 at halftime and beat Saint Mary’s 70-55 after leading 31-30 at halftime.
Connecticut led the Razorbacks 46-29 at halftime and was ahead by as many as 29 points in the second half.
“We knew we had to come out real fast on them,” said sophomore guard Jordan Hawkins, who led the Huskies with 24 points. “They’re a really physical team, but we had to come out with a first punch.
“That’s how you come out with teams like that. That’s what we did.
“We jumped out to an early lead, and just continued playing physical, crashing the glass.”
Connecticut held Arkansas to a season-low 31.7% )20 of 63) shooting from the field.
Huskies Coach Dan Hurley said it was his team’s best defensive game of the season along with Connecticut’s 82-67 victory over SEC champion Alabama — the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament — in Portland, Ore., on Nov. 25.
“I thought we guarded Alabama great, because Alabama is like the hardest team for me to guard in the country with all the answers they have,” Hurley said. “But this was right there.
“Our plan was to try to take away paint points and make them shoot perimeter shots, tough twos, middies, and make them shoot threes, which is a little bit different than what we try to do defensively.
“But I thought [assistant coach] Kimani [Young] crushed it with the scout, and we just got in the gaps and made them kind of one dimensional.”
It was the seventh time in 36 games this season the Razorbacks shot less than 40%.
Arkansas’ previous shooting low was 33.3% (18 of 54) in a 65-58 victory over North Carolina-Greensboro in Walton Arena.
The Razorbacks’ other victory when they shot less than 40% was when they beat Illinois 73-63 in a first-round NCAA Tournament last week in Des Moines, Iowa. They finished at 38.1% (24 of 63) against the Illini.
Arkansas shot 36.9% (24 of 65) in a 60-57 loss at LSU; 33.9% (19 of 56) in a 72-59 loss at Auburn; 36.7% (18 of 49) in a 75-57 loss at Tennessee; and 35.7% (25-70) in an 88-79 loss to Kentucky in Walton Arena.
Connecticut Coach Dan Hurley led the Huskies to their first NCAA Tournament Elite Eight appearance since 2014 with his father, Bob, a legendary high school in New Jersey, and his brother Bobby, the former Duke and NBA point guard who is now Arizona State’s coach, in the stands cheering him on.
Hurley’s son, Andrew, played the final 1:23 of the game with the Huskies having a big lead.
P.J. Carlesimo, who was Dan Hurley’s college coach at Seton Hall, also was on press row as a radio analyst.
The gathering caused a reporter to ask Hurley if it would rank among the best days in his life?
“Best day of my life was when I met my wife Andrea and got married,” Hurley said. “I’ve obviously got to say that.
“But I actually mean it. Some men wouldn’t mean that. I mean it.
“I would just say, basketball for me, as a player, it wasn’t a joyride. My career, fired at Rutgers as an assistant, high school coach for nine years, had to prove myself at every level.
“And I’m proud of the way that my career has unfolded where I’ve had to prove myself at every level I’ve coached at.”
Most-lopsided NCAA Tournament losses
The Razorbacks’ 23-point loss to Connecticut was their fifth-most lopsided in NCAA Tournament play.
Arkansas’ worst NCAA Tournament loss was by 35 points, 97-62, to Oscar Robertson and Cincinnati in 1958.
There also were losses by 31 points to North Carolina, 108-77, in 2008; by 27 points to Oklahoma State, 68-41, in 1945; and by 25 points to Oklahoma State, 65-40, in 1958.
Thursday night marked the 20th time in 36 games the Razorbacks played a team that made the NCAA Tournament field, including their three games in the Big Dance against Illinois, Kansas and Connecticut.
The Razorbacks finished the season 8-12 against NCAA Tournament teams.
Connecticut improved to 9-6 against NCAA Tournament teams.
Connecticut improved to 3-0 against SEC teams this season.
The Huskies beat Alabama 82-67 in Portland, Ore., and won 75-54 at Florida.
Arkansas went 0-2 against Big East teams. Including the Razorbacks’ being beaten by Connecticut, they lost to Creighton 90-87 at the Maui Invitational.
Musselman in Big Dance
Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman fell to 10-6 in NCAA Tournament games, including 8-3 with the Razorbacks.
This was the fourth time in the last five times the NCAA Tournament was held that a Musselman-coached team advanced to the Sweet 16. His Nevada team made it in 2018 and this was the third consecutive Sweet 16 appearance for Arkansas.
The NCAA Tournament was canceled in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Arkansas fell to 1-4 all-time against Connecticut and played the Huskies in a postseason game for the second time, though Thursday’s night’s matchup was on a much bigger stage.
The first time the Razorbacks played the Huskies was in the third-place game of the 1997 NIT. The game tipped off in the late afternoon and had an attendance of perhaps 500 in Madison Square Garden as Connecticut won 74-64.
In three regular-season meetings since then the Huskies won 77-68 in Maui in 2005 and 75-62 in Hartford, Conn., in 2006, and the Razorbacks won 102-67 in Portland, Ore., in 2017.
Commish in the house
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey was on press row for the Arkansas-Connecticut game.
Arkansas was among three SEC teams to advance to the Sweet 16 along with Alabama — the NCAA Tournament’s No. 1 overall seed — and Tennessee, which lost Thursday night to Florida Atlantic.
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