UConn picked up its third double-digit victory of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday night as the No. 4 seed Huskies throttled No. 8 seed Arkansas 88-65 in the West Regional Semifinals during the opening night of Sweet 16 action. Jordan Hawkins led UConn with 24 points while Adama Sanogo contributed 18.
The Huskies shot 57.4% as a team and limited Arkansas to just 31.7% shooting as the Razorbacks fell one game short of reaching the Elite Eight for a third straight season. UConn will play either No. 2 seed UCLA or No. 3 seed Gonzaga in the Elite Eight on Saturday and should be riding high into the matchup following yet another complete game.
With a 42-24 edge in paint points and 14-8 positive margin in points off turnovers, UConn beat Arkansas at what the Razorbacks do best. Arkansas roared back from a halftime deficit to knock off No. 1 seed Kansas in the second round last weekend but simply could not get enough stops to ever mount a similar charge against the Huskies.
UConn led 46-29 at halftime, and Arkansas never got any closer as the Huskies began the second half on a 16-4 run, extending their lead to 29 points at one point, which allowed coach Dan Hurley to get his starters off the floor late in the second half to prepare for Saturday’s game.
Anthony Black led the Razorbacks with 20 points while Ricky Council IV added 17.
Diversity of weapons
Sanogo dominated UConn’s run through the first weekend of the Big Dance, scoring 28 points in an 87-63 win over Iona in the first round and 24 in a 70-55 win over Saint Mary’s during the second round. But in the first half against Arkansas, balance was the name of the game for UConn, which received scoring contributions from nine players in the game and eight in the first half alone.
“This is who we’ve been the whole year,” Hurley said in his halftime interview.
Then, in the second half, the Huskies showcased why they can be so dangerous. After spreading the wealth around early, the Huskies turned to Hawkins to cement their lead early in the second half. The sophomore guard scored 14 points in the first 11 minutes of the second half alone. One night it can be Sanogo who leads the way, another it can be Hawkins. Supporting them both is a deep well of role players, all of whom made substantive contributions Thursday. There is not just one key to shutting down UConn, and a respectable Arkansas defense learned that the hard way.
Pace? No problem
UConn entered ranking No. 213 nationally in KenPom.com‘s adjusted tempo metric, meaning the Huskies are not a team that played particularly fast this season. Arkansas ranked No. 50 in the metric and seemed intent on making UConn adapt to its style in the first half. Doing so turned out to be no problem for the Huskies, who led 6-3 in fast break points and edged the Razorbacks 9-4 in points off turnovers during the first half while building a lead that turned out to be insurmountable.
Even 7-foot-2 Donovan Clingan had no trouble getting back on defense and participating in UConn’s transition offense. This sequence from the Huskies in the first half stood out as an example of how well they adjusted to the game’s pace. Alex Karaban made a baseball pass to Andre Jackson, who then lobbed to Clingan for an alley-oop finish.
Mixed ending for Arkansas
Arkansas entered the NCAA Tournament having lost four of its previous five games and six of its last nine. For a team coming off consecutive Elite Eight performances and was picked to finish second in the SEC’s preseason poll, an 8-10 league record marked an obvious disappointment, and there was little sign that an NCAA Tournament run was coming.
A pair of victories last week helped rewrite the narrative surrounding the 2022-23 Razorbacks. But a blowout loss in the Sweet 16 will send them into the offseason on a sour note. Relative to where things stood just two weeks ago, reaching the Sweet 16 marks a fantastic result for Arkansas. But relative to preseason expectations, this won’t go down as one of coach Eric Musselman’s best seasons in five years on the job.