Gonzaga Bulldogs center Chet Holmgren (34), guard Julian Strawther (0) and guard Rasir Bolton (45) head to the locker room after falling to the Arkansas Razorbacks during the second half of a Sweet 16 game on Thursday Mar 24, 2022, at Chase Center in San Francisco, Calif. The Arkansas Razorbacks won the game 74-68. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
SAN FRANCISCO – It was starting to look familiar. Gonzaga, up against a halftime deficit, force-feeding Drew Timme with hopes the junior forward could establish himself the same way he did in the second half of the Bulldogs’ previous NCAA Tournament games against Memphis and Georgia State.
Timme nestled in a jump hook on Gonzaga’s second possession and a few opportunistic Arkansas misses created a window for the Bulldogs. But just like most of the windows they had on Thursday night, a fast, aggressive and physical Arkansas team sealed them up before any real damage could be done.
Gonzaga continued searching for the big scoring run that’s allowed them to flatten so many opponents this season, but the run never came. Despite 17 second-half points from Timme, the top-seeded Bulldogs couldn’t match the offensive efficiency or defensive tenacity of the fourth-seeded Razorbacks, who led for the final 18 minutes before closing out a 74-68 Sweet 16 upset of Gonzaga at the Chase Center.
Gonzaga’s season, one that saw the Bulldogs earn a No. 1 ranking in the first and final editions of the Associated Press Top 25, and claim the NCAA Tournament’s top overall seed for the second straight year, ends two wins shy of another trip to the Final Four. The Bulldogs finished 28-4.
The result marked Arkansas’ first win over a No. 1 seed after nine attempts. The Razorbacks (28-8) will play No. 2 Duke in the Elite Eight on Saturday in San Francisco.
“It’s always, gosh, just so tough whether it finally ends,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “Especially short of the goal we all had, and, obviously, the groups we’ve had it’s the first time we’ve lost this round in quite a while.
“… All the credit goes to Arkansas. Their defense was pretty just tough to get any rhythm against. I think we never really got any sort of rhythm in the first or the second half. To me that was the difference in the game, and I felt like we had stretches where we guarded them pretty good. We just couldn’t get any rhythm on our offensive end, which is rare for us.”
With 68 points, Gonzaga had its third-lowest scoring output of the season. The Bulldogs settled for 24-of-64 shooting (37%) from the field – their second-lowest percentage this year. Gonzaga amplified its offensive woes by going 5 of 21 (23%) from the 3-point line and committing 15 turnovers, the third most the Bulldogs have had this season.
With all that weighing Gonzaga down, not to mention the absence of freshman sensation Chet Holmgren who fouled out with 3:29 left, the Bulldogs were still within two possessions in the final 2 minutes and stumbled on some momentum when Andrew Nembhard hit an off-balance, running 3-pointer to make it 68-65 with 16 seconds remaining.
Arkansas’ Chris Lykes made two free throws on the other end and Au’Diese Toney came up with a clinching block, pinning Nembhard’s layup off the glass with 8 seconds left – a play that symbolized the aggressive, quick-handed, hounding defense applied by the Razorbacks all game.
“I just thought defensively we played so good. I thought we did a great job of forcing turnovers,” Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said. “Gonzaga is a great passing team. They’re extremely unselfish. We held them to nine assists, so that differential of assist to turnovers, we felt like things we wanted to do defensively.
“I thought Trey Wade did a great job of denying and pressuring their trail man. We eliminated a lot of their high-lows, which was extremely important for us. Au’Diese’s defense was just incredible the entire game on their point guard.”
Timme finished with 25 points, shooting 9 of 19 from the floor and 7 of 8 from the free-throw line. The junior forward, who had 22 points in the second half against Georgia State and 21 against Memphis, responded with another second-half flurry against Arkansas, scoring 17 of GU’s 39 points on 4-of-6 shooting from the floor after halftime.
Seven other GU players combined to go 8 of 24. Nembhard, superb as a scorer and facilitator in the Bulldogs’ previous NCAA Tournament games, finished with seven points on 2-of-11 shooting from the field, five turnovers and only three assists. Timme accounted for another five turnovers.
In what’s expected to be his final game at Gonzaga, Holmgren, a potential top-three pick in the NBA draft, had an 11-point, 14-rebound double-double and matched Brandon Clarke’s school record by blocking two shots to reach 117 on the season.
But foul trouble limited the 7-footer to just 8 minutes in the second half. Holmgren walked back to Gonzaga’s bench with under 4 minutes left after he was whistled for his fifth foul trying to defend the paint against a driving JD Notae.
Notae filled the stat sheet with 21 points on 9-of-29 shooting from the field, including 2 of 12 on 3-pointers, and added six rebounds, six assists, five turnovers, three steals and two blocks.
The Razorbacks’ point guard hit a one-legged, off-balance 3-pointer that gave Arkansas its largest lead (59-50) with 6:38 left.
“He was being aggressive all night on the defensive and offensive end. It was big,” Wade said of Notae. “It kept the momentum our way, and we just kept running the floor and making plays.”
Arkansas center Jaylin Williams had a 15-point, 12-rebound effort and Wade had 15 points with seven rebounds.
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