UConn Sends Hogs Packing in Blowout Win

By Otis Kirk

UConn never trailed against Arkansas and took a dominating 88-65 victory eliminating the Hogs from the NCAA Tournament on Thursday night in Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena.

Arkansas (22-14) advanced to the Sweet 16 for the third season in a row under Eric Musselman, but unlike the past two tournaments they won’t be going to the Elite 8. The Huskies are the No. 4 seed in the West Regional while Arkansas was No. 8. 

“I just give UConn, I think our whole team — I’m speaking for all the players and coaches, give UConn a ton of credit,” Musselman said. “I thought from the opening tip they came out with a great sense of urgency. They cut hard. They crashed the offensive boards, especially early in the game.

“They did a great job rebounding the ball for the entire 40 minutes. And uncharacteristically we did not defend at the level that we have for most of the year.”

Arkansas trailed 46-29 at intermission thanks to a 14-0 run in the first half that broke open a close game at that point. The run pushed UConn to a 34-17 lead. The Razorbacks needed to come out hot in the second half. Instead, UConn outscored the Hogs 16-4 to start the second half taking a 62-33 lead with 15:44 remaining in the mismatch. 

“I think, first of all, it’s really hard to make the NCAA Tournament,” Musselman said. “It’s really difficult to be one of the teams that plays their way into the tournament and then it’s really difficult to win a game. Really proud of the way that we positioned ourselves non-conference. It started then by playing really well non-conference.

“And then obviously the way that we played the first two games in this tournament, we played phenomenal. And tonight we ran into a team that passed the ball really well and shared it. But there’s a lot of great things going on at Arkansas, and proud of these three guys as well as everybody in our locker room. Because, again, there’s not a lot of teams that have been to three straight Sweet 16s in the entire country, and we are one of them. So we’re really proud of that. The culture is strong. And as a staff, we’ll start working towards next year, tonight, as soon as we get back to the hotel.”

Anthony Black played a very good game for Arkansas. He finished with 20 points, four rebounds, one assist and five steals. 

“They were pretty long and athletic, physical team,” Black said. “So you know, it’s the tournament. And they’re going to let you play. So when you play against teams that are super athletic and strong and physical, it’s always a little bit harder to score. But they just — I guess they just had a pretty good game plan for us on defense. And like Vo said, we took some looks that we usually take and we’ll take again if we get the chance, and just some of it just didn’t fall tonight. But they’re a great defensive team.”

Arkansas also got good performances from Ricky Council IV and Nick Smith Jr. Council added 17 points while Smith had 11 points. Davonte “Devo” Davis picked up two fouls less than two minutes into the game and was never a factor. He finished with three points.

UConn standout forward Adama Sanogo had 18 points, eight rebounds and two blocks. Arkansas’ four big men, Kamani Johnson, Jalen Graham, Makhi and Makhel Mitchell combined for seven points, nine rebounds and one block. 

Jordan Hawkins led all scorers with 24 points. Hawkins felt the quick start to the game was important for UConn.

“We knew we had to come out real fast on them,” Hawkins said. “They’re a really physical team, but we had to come out with a first punch. That’s how you come out with teams like that. That’s what we did. We jumped out to an early lead, and just continued playing physical, crashing the glass.”

Alex Karaban had 11 and Nahiem Alleyne added 10. Andre Jackson Jr. played a good game for the Huskies. He had seven points, eight rebounds, seven assists and three steals. 

UConn shot 57.4 percent from the field compared to 31.7 for Arkansas. UConn hit nine of 20 3-pointers. UConn outrebounded the Hogs 43-31. 

UConn will now face the winner of UCLA and Gonzaga on Saturday in the Elite 8. Those two teams played the second game of the night in the West Regional at T-Mobile Arena. UConn coach Dan Hurley is looking forward to Saturday’s game.

“I thought obviously we just played pretty much exactly to our team identity,” Hurley said. “We played elite defense. Offensively the 22 assists, the inside, the outside, and the rebounding dominance, and really where we are right now is exactly where we talked about where we would be, when we got together. 

“After we lost the first-round game last year we met in the boardroom, we sat together and said this is where we’re going to be. We’re exactly where we thought we would be. And obviously we’re thrilled to play one more to go to the Final Four.”

UConn (28-8) has now won 12 of its last 14 games and nine of the past 10. 

Photos Courtesy of Craven Whitlow CW3 Action Sports

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