Kansas, the top seed in the West, fell to the Razorbacks 72-71. Arkansas, the region’s eighth seed, will move on to the Sweet 16. Kansas becomes the second No. 1 seed in this year’s tournament to fall, following Purdue.
Since the NCAA expanded the tournament field in 1985, only three times have multiple No. 1 seeds failed to reach the Sweet 16 before this year: 2000, 2004 and 2018.
The Razorbacks eliminated a No. 1 seed from the tournament for the second straight season, having done so against Gonzaga last year. This time, coach Eric Musselman was so moved by the accomplishment that he jumped up on a courtside table at Wells Fargo Arena, removed his shirt and led Arkansas fans in a “Pig Sooie” cheer.
“I’ve been coaching a long time and that’s as great of a win as I’ve ever been a part of because of the history of Kansas,” Musselman said. “A lot of people didn’t think we were going to win our first-round game.”
As sweet as the victory was for Musselman and the Razorbacks, the defeat was that bitter for the Jayhawks. They were hoping to be the first back-to-back champions since Florida in 2006 and 2007. The Jayhawks were without head coach Bill Self on Saturday as he continues to recover from a heart procedure.
Going into the game, Kansas was concerned about the length, depth and athletic ability of the Razorbacks, and indeed those Arkansas qualities turned out to be a problem for Kansas. Arkansas outrebounded Kansas 36-29 and outscored the Jayhawks in second-chance points 15-2.
Arkansas smothered one of Kansas’ top long-range shooters, Gradey Dick, who was just 1-of-3 from 3 and had seven points.
“We just wanted to give no airspace obviously to No. 4, Gradey Dick,” Musselman said. “He’s an incredible shooter, one of the best shooters in college basketball.
“We didn’t want Gradey to see any daylight. We felt like if we could hold him to four or five 3-ball attempts they would play to our advantage.”
On Friday, Roberts compared the Razorbacks to Texas in terms of their physical qualities. The Longhorns beat the Jayhawks twice in recent weeks, both times by double digits.
“They have some long athletes that made it tough on [Dick] to get shots,” said Norm Roberts, who filled in for Self during Kansas’ two tournament games. “I don’t think we screened as well as we wanted to for him, maybe we could have ran a few more things for him, but they did nullify him a little bit. I thought we shared the ball pretty good and we had a lot of balance, but they did do a good job of preventing him from getting open looks.”
Arkansas put up a furious second-half rally after trailing by as many as 12 points as Razorbacks guard Davonte Davis put on a spectacular second-half show. With Arkansas’ two leading scorers in the regular season, Ricky Council IV and Nick Smith Jr., struggling, Davis carried his team. He was 7-of-9 shooting with many of the shots contested and 6-of-7 from the free throw line for 21 points in the second half.
“Coach Mus said to get downhill,” Davis said. “I feel like we all did something to help us win.”
Davis fouled out with 1:56 remaining and the Razorbacks down 64-63. Council took over from there. He made a stepback jumper and five free throws to send the Jayhawks home.