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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Gonzaga-Arkansas key matchup: Razorbacks’ JD Notae leads backcourt loaded with experience

March 23, 2022 Updated Wed., March 23, 2022 at 8:38 p.m.

SAN FRANCISCO – As frequent purveyors of the transfer guard market , the Gonzaga Bulldogs have at least one thing in common with their next opponent at the NCAA Tournament.

The top-seeded Bulldogs will roll out a starting lineup Thursday that includes Andrew Nembhard, a point guard who spent two years at the University of Florida before relocating to Gonzaga, along with Rasir Bolton, a well-traveled senior who had stints at Penn State and Iowa State before moving to Spokane.

Fourth-seeded Arkansas reconstructed its backcourt using a similar tact. Starting point guard JD Notae is in his third season with the Razorbacks after transferring from Jacksonville State. Wings Stanley Umude and Au’Diese Toney made offseason moves to Fayetteville after opening their careers at South Dakota and Pittsburgh, respectively.

Gonzaga sophomore wing Julian Strawther is the only nontransfer of the six projected backcourt starters in Thursday’s game.

The five others have combined to play 619 games for 11 schools.

Averaging a team-high 18.4 points per game and 3.7 assists, Notae is Arkansas’ top offensive threat. The first-team All-SEC guard has scored 30 games on three occasions this season – most recently on Feb. 26 in a two-point win over No. 6 Kentucky – and has hit 20 or more 11 times.

But Notae’s efficiency numbers have dropped in the postseason. The senior guard enters the Sweet 16 game having averaged 14.7 ppg in four games at the SEC and NCAA tournaments and made 15 of 56 (26%) shots from the field during that stretch as well as 4 of 22 (18%) from the 3-point line.

“Handful. Man, a handful. Watched a bunch of him – more clips yesterday,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “Just how adept he is at just little tiny slots to be able to get in the lane, and so good in transition.

“Plays with a lot of freedom. It’s hard. I mean, he can pull the 3 on you or he can fake and drive and get a crease and get downhill. Great at getting to the line, like we talked about a little earlier.”

If Notae isn’t firing on offense, there’s a good chance he’ll still be a handful on the defensive end. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound guard leads the SEC and ranks No. 15 nationally at 2.3 steals per game. He’s coming off an eight-steal game against New Mexico State at the NCAA Tournament after compiling that many in the previous eight games combined.

The Razorbacks pair Notae with two 6-6 wings in Umude and Toney, the team’s second- and third-leading scorers at 12.0 and 10.7 points, respectively. All three guards are also aggressive rebounders, each averaging at last 4.5 boards per game.

Nembhard, who’ll take on the defensive assignment against Notae while Bolton and Strawther handle Umude and Toney, sized up the matchup with Arkansas’ point guard on both ends of the floor.

“I think he is a real aggressive player,” Nembhard said. “We need to make all of his shots tough tomorrow – it’s kind of a group commitment to guard him. On defense, we just have to be solid with the ball.

“We’ve played a lot of handsy defenders like that before, so nothing new in that case.”

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