Gonzaga notes: Razorbacks slow down Andrew Nembhard, Zags’ offense for Sweet 16 upset
March 24, 2022 Updated Thu., March 24, 2022 at 9:41 p.m.
Gonzaga’s Andrew Nembhard drives to the basket against Arkansas in San Francisco. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)Buy a print of this photo
SAN FRANCISCO – For the fifth time in the last six games, Gonzaga’s Andrew Nembhard never left the court.
The senior point guard was outstanding in nearly every one of those games, but he exited the floor Thursday with his head and eyes down after a 74-68 upset loss to Arkansas in the Sweet 16.
Nembhard, who has choreographed one of the nation’s top offenses, was held in check for one of the rare times this season. The Razorbacks’ Au’Diese Toney, a 6-foot-6, 205-pound senior, bottled up Nembhard, slowing down Gonzaga’s high-powered offense and transition game in the process.
“I think his length was a factor,” said Nembhard, who was coming off a string of strong performances, including 32 points and 16 assists in GU’s two March Madness wins. “He did a great job, just kept pressuring me the whole game.”
Arkansas coach Eric Musselman studied tape of his teams’ previous two matchups against Nembhard. One came when Musselman was the head coach at Nevada and Nembhard was Florida’s point guard. The next was in Musselman’s first year at Arkansas when Nembhard was a sophomore with the Gators.
Those games didn’t go well for Musselman’s squads, but he felt like he had one distinct advantage entering Thursday’s matchup.
“Obviously we have the same system in, but we have different personnel,” Musselman said. “And certainly the job Au’Diese Toney did – we had a really tough decision because JD (Notae) is a really good defender, too, and a high-steal player – but we felt that cross-match would benefit us.”
Limiting GU’s transition game was one of Musselman’s defensive priorities.
“We wanted to take away their long outlet passes,” he said. “That was something that we picked up on film when Nembhard would get a head of steam, and Au’Diese met him really, really early in the backcourt. I thought that really helped.”
The Zags never found their stride offensively. They made just 37.5% of their shots, second lowest of season behind Saint Mary’s (36.7%) in the regular-season finale. Gonzaga finished with nine turnovers and 15 assists.
Gonzaga had 23 assists and seven turnovers against Georgia State and 18 assists and seven turnovers versus Memphis. The Zags were plus-120 in points off turnovers through 31 games, but Arkansas won that statistic 10-8.
Toney’s defense was one of the primary reasons Arkansas reached the Sweet 16. He shut down New Mexico State’s Teddy Allen, who had scored 37 points in a first-round win over UConn. Allen scored 12 points but needed 16 shots in the Razorbacks’ second-round win.
Nembhard was limited to seven points on 2-of-11 shooting. He finished with seven boards, five turnovers and three assists.
“It’s definitely disappointing,” he said. “As coach (Mark Few) said I felt like I got to the spots I wanted to get to. I got shots that I usually get on a regular basis, just didn’t fall for me.”
Holmgren shares blocks record
Freshman Chet Holmgren had an up-and-down night while battling foul trouble throughout.
He swatted two shots to finish the season with 117, matching Brandon Clarke’s single-season team record set in 2019. Holmgren’s first block came in the first half when center Jaylin Williams stretched out his 6-foot-10 frame and attempted a scoop shot only to meet Holmgren’s hand.
Holmgren equaled the record with 9:40 remaining in the second half when he rejected Trey Wade near the rim.
Holmgren fouled out with 3:29 remaining.
“Getting Chet in foul trouble, that was one of the big things for us,” Williams said. “We wanted to keep driving at him. We stuck to the game plan.”
Holmgren didn’t score in the first half, but he came on strong to finish with 11 points and 14 rebounds in 23 minutes.
“He is a heck of a player, but we’ve been in situations like that all year, and it’s next man up,” said Gonzaga forward Drew Timme, who scored a game-high 25 points. “That’s how this team operates. We don’t win or lose based on one player.”
Arkansas wins majority of 50-50 balls
The shorter Razorbacks held their own on the boards (GU 45-42) and paint points (Arkansas 36-34). They repeatedly stung the Zags, using their quickness to chase down most of the 50-50 balls.
“Those were big, and we talked about that going into this,” Few said. “There was a couple right down the stretch that were huge (when) we cut it to two or three and had a little bit of momentum going on the offensive end.”
On one momentum-swinging play, Notae secured a loose ball and Williams hit a 3-pointer to boost Arkansas’ lead to 62-54 with 5 minutes left.
“We just could not come up with those balls,” Few said. “They were very opportunistic and they’re quick-handed and they’re strong. They might not be the tallest, longest team we’ve played, but they’re very strong, so they’re able to cover ground. The physicality in the paint I think was a big factor.”
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