If you woke up Thursday with non-buyer’s remorse, because you didn’t book a San Francisco trip for Gonzaga’s West region game with Arkansas, you probably shed it halfway through Thursday’s second half.
You know, when the Razorbacks began to pull away from the cold-shooting Zags en route a 74-68 upset that ended Gonzaga’s season with a 28-4 mark. Or about three wins less than the top-ranked Bulldogs wanted.
There was one saving grace. The game was on CBS, which meant the A Team was on it. Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery, Grant Hill and Tracy Wolfson described the action.
What they saw …
• The word of the day? It was “muck.” As in fourth-seeded Arkansas mucked up the game. From the opening tip. Which is exactly what the Razorbacks (28-8) wanted to do.
Make a cut? An Arkansas player was in the way, hands attached. Come off a ball screen? A leg is stuck out and a trip happens. Drive to the hoop? A body – usually freshman post Jaylin Williams – is there to take a charge. Transition? Not happening.
“The same thing all year basically, Tracy,” Arkansas coach Eric Musselman told Wolfson after the final horn. “It really was great toughness. I mean, our defense, to hold them to 68 points, incredible defense. We believed. No one else did.”
Mucking it up also meant making Andrew Nembhard’s life miserable. The senior point guard was not good, 2 of 11 from the field, five credited turnovers (at least two more should have been assessed his way) and little in the way of attacking.
“What did coach Few say?” Nantz asked of the crew’s meeting with the Gonzaga coach. “He’s the captain of our ship.”
And he was at the helm as the Zags’ season sank.
• The leaks started early.
“I’ve been impressed with Arkansas’ defense early,” Hill said. “Trying to be disruptive and physical, taking Gonzaga out of their rhythm.”
Few agreed with that assessment.
“We need to be stronger with the ball,” Few said in his mandatory in-game interview after the second media timeout, even though at that point his team had taken care of the ball.
Arkansas’ disruptive pressure continued. It got more intense. And yet, midway through the first half, the Zags led by five when Musselman did his turn on CBS. What he said was instructive.
“We need to go to the basket and draw free-throw attempts,” Arkansas’ coach told Wolfson less than 8 minutes before halftime. “That’s kind of who we are. The script has been flipped. They’re the team shooting foul shots and in an early bonus.
“That’s kind of how we’ve won games all year. So we’ve got to do a better job attacking the rim.”
They did. Between that talk and halftime, the Razorbacks converted six shots around the basket and all three fouls were called on GU.
Yet Gonzaga actually raised its lead to 25-17 on a Rasir Bolton 3-pointer before everything changed. In the final 7 minutes, the Razorbacks went on a 15-4 run to lead by three at the half.
“We understand and respect the fact that they go on spurts,” Musselman told Wolfson headed into the locker room. “The next 20 minutes (it) will be paramount we have the same defensive intensity with the same physicality because we’ve seen them comeback on teams.”
What we saw …
• The officiating didn’t decide the game, but the trio of Michael Irving, James Breeding and Doug Shows struggled much of the game. At least according to Hill.
With 5 minutes left and GU trailing by five, Au’diese Toney drove the baseline and missed a shot. Williams hit a killer 3-pointer after an offensive rebound. But as Hill pointed out a couple of minutes later, Toney stepped on the baseline on his drive. It should have been Gonzaga’s ball.
“Just another missed call on that play there,” Hill said, referencing an early play in which Nembhard had been tripped and turned the ball over.
Then Chet Holmgren, who had been the Zags’ best second-half offensive threat, fouled out on “a questionable call there again,” as Hill said with 3:28 left. “The last three (fouls), causing him to foul out here in this important part of the game.”
Even Gene Steratore, serving as CBS’ officiating expert, chimed in with his disagreement, which is almost as big an upset as the final score.
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