Leading into Thursday’s matchup with Gonzaga, nobody gave the Hogs a chance to win against the Bulldogs. For the second half of the season, Arkansas time after time stepped up when the lights were bright and delivered. Would they be able to do it again on the big stage against a team that many thought would be the last team standing in the tournament?
From the opening tip, Gonzaga came out looking they had something to prove taking a quick 5-0 lead. Although the game had just started, Arkansas went on a crucial run of their own taking a 6-5 lead. The entire first half was back and forth with neither team able to get much separation. Gonzaga’s star center Chet Holmgren would sit the majority of first half in foul trouble, something that would ultimately hurt Gonzaga at the end of the game. Arkansas was able to take advantage of Gonzaga’s miscues in the first half and poor three point shooting to take a 32-29 lead into halftime.
The second half was mostly back and forth, but Arkansas seemed to have all the momentum continuing to make things difficult for Gonzaga with their speed and strong defense. Arkansas forward Trey Wade would provide a much needed spark for his team off the bench, knocking down three three pointers and finishing with 15 points. The Hogs biggest lead of the game came in the second half after star guard JD Notae hit a off-balanced three pointer with 6:41 left in the game making the score 59-50. Gonzaga would not go away, mostly thanks to forward Drew Timme would had 25 points for the game which led all scorers. With 3:29 left and Arkansas leading 62-56, Chet Holmgren would pick up his fifth foul as JD Notae drove straight to the basket. From that moment on, it felt like Gonzaga would not have enough to pull off the come back.
They didn’t. Holmgren would finish with 11 points, all of which came in the second half. Arkansas matched Gonzaga shot for shot and stop for stop and looked like the better team for most of the game and that was largely because of Arkansas guard JD Notae who finished with 21 huge points on not his best shooting night. He shot 9 of 29 from the field. Arkansas forward Jaylin Williams was solid as usual both offensively and defensively, recording 15 points and 12 rebounds. Another player that played exceptional defense was Au’Diese Toney for the Hogs, holding Gonzaga point guard Andrew Nembhard to 7 points shooting 2 of 11 from the field. Arkansas would hang on for a 74-68 win, giving them their second win over the AP No. 1 team in the same season. No other Division I men’s basketball team had ever beaten an AP No. 1 ranked team both in the regular season and NCAA Tournament in the same season. Arkansas will now play the 2 seed Duke on Saturday night in the Elite 8. This game features a 1994 National Championship rematch when Arkansas defeated Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils 76-72. Will this be coach K’s final game? Tipoff is set for 7:49pm on Saturday in San Francisco. It will be televised on TBS.