For the fifth straight season, Gonzaga's hopes of celebrating a long-coveted national championship and quashing its reputation as a March underachiever have been dashed. Another year, another missed opportunity for them to cut down the nets as a top seed in the NCAA Tournament. It's a clear pattern.
The Bulldogs' journey to the Final Four wasn't the least bit smooth, or a long trip. On Thursday in the West Region semifinals, they were simply ineffective against 4th-seed Arkansas on both ends of the court. And their inopportune struggles resulted in a 74-68 loss and premature Sweet 16 exit. According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Razorbacks are the first team ever to beat an AP No. 1 during the regular season and the NCAA Tournament in the same season.
"We just came out with a gameplan. I knew that I had to run Chet [Holmgren] around a little bit, because he's pretty good. I had to keep him off-balance all night," Arkansas forward Trey Wade explained to the JR SportBrief show on Thursday. "We just stuck to the gameplan, and came out on top... I think the biggest thing with our team is sticking to the plan and playing great defense...
"We play hard, play at a great pace, and we just play defense. We want to out-tough teams, player harder than others, and that's what we stand on... That's just me playing my role. I'm taking shots all day at practice and in my off-time. It was just a matter of hitting them, they didn't respect it... We've got to keep it rolling. We're not done yet. Great win, but I want more."
Arkansas' aggressive and muscular brand of defense gave Gonzaga fits from the opening tip. They limited the tournament's No. 1 overall seed to 29 points during the first half and forced 15 total turnovers, and the Bulldogs managed to shoot just 37.5-percent, their second-lowest mark of the 2021-22 season. Razorbacks guard JD Notae scored a team-high 21 points, while Wade added 15 points with seven rebounds.
With their thrilling upset win in San Francisco, the Razorbacks have reached the Elite Eight for a second consecutive season, and are one win away from clinching their first Final Four appearance since 1995. Arkansas will play 2nd-seed Duke on Saturday night, and according to FiveThirtyEight's projections, they currently have a 51-percent chance to win.
The entire Razorbacks conversation between Wade and JR can be accessed in the audio player above.