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DEFENSE! It’s What Arkansas Does Best

A timely 40-percent shooting night helped but Hog defense is what brought them this far.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament West Regional-Arkansas vs Gonzaga Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

If the Arkansas Razorbacks (28-8 overall) didn’t have your attention before, they sure do now after their upset of top seeded Gonzaga.

When you look around the country, you won’t find another team playing defense at such an elite clip. Arkansas needed a midseason gut-check after losing five of six games including losses to Oklahoma, Hofstra and Vanderbilt. This Razorback team couldn’t shoot the ball well, had no flow offensively, guard anyone on defense and lose their guy on a drive to the basket.

Something happened during halftime of the road loss to Texas A&M and Missouri victory at home. The Razorbacks learned to defend and coach Eric Musselman figured out what lineup would be a successful one and the Razorbacks were off and running.

The Razorbacks limited teams to less 10-points less than their season average, forcing turnovers and frustrating players due to their lack of space to get off shots. Just like last night’s upset against Gonzaga, the Razorbacks defended well only allowing 68 points in the victory which is 20 points less than what the Bulldogs average. Gonzaga also shot 60-percent from two going into the matchup with Arkansas last night but only shot 44-percent. The Bulldogs also shot 37-percent from the field including 23-percent from three which is 15-percent below their season average. Lockdown defense.

Arkansas also erased a total of six Gonzaga shots. The worry many had about the Bulldogs was their height advantage. How would they stop NBA prospects Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren down low? Holmgren was pretty much a non-issue throughout the Sweet-16 matchup. Timme was able to get his with 23 points but wasn’t a factor on the boards only finishing with seven rebounds.

After the game, Eric Musselman went into detail about his team’s defensive performance and was complimentary of a couple of Razorbacks.

“I just thought defensively we played so good. I thought we did a great job of forcing turnovers. 15 turnovers. 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 just incredible the entire game on their point guard.”

Andrew Nembhard was the point guard defended by Toney throughout the game and finished 2-of-11 from the field with seven points, seven rebounds and forced into five turnovers. Nembhard is who makes the Bulldogs offense go and his ineffectiveness is what helped Arkansas win.

Wade did a terrific job of closing out on dribble drives and making sure Gonzaga didn’t have as many opportunities to get to the basket easily.

The Bulldogs were one of the fastest teams in the country coming into last night’s game. They led all of the NCAA in pace of play this season but were slowed down tremendously.

“Again, I thought it’s one of the fastest-paced teams that I’ve ever seen with the push of the ball, but even this morning we were still working on our transition defense. We wanted to take away their long outlet passes. 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 away in the back court, and I thought that really helped, and they did a great job of their pitch-ahead sideline and break. We took that away.”

Arkansas will face off against Duke Blue Devils for a spot in the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four on Saturday night in San Francisco. The approximate tipoff time will be 7:49 PM CST.