The betting favorite to win the NCAA Tournament has been eliminated from March Madness after No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga fell to No. 4 Arkansas 74-68 Thursday in the Sweet 16. The stunning result makes the Zags the second home-bound No. 1 seed of the tournament and crushes their chance at redemption after finishing as the national runner-up a season ago.
Gonzaga finishes the year with 28 wins and four losses in what was a dominant season for the WCC champs, however, its flameout comes after a lackluster showing in the tournament. It started sluggish against No. 16 seed Georgia State in the first round and again against No. 9 seed Memphis in the second round before flipping the second-half switch in both games to advance. Arkansas, though, had the goods to hold them off, as it took the lead with 18:09 in the second half and did not relinquish it.
"Defensively, we played so good," said Arkansas coach Eric Musselman breaking down the win after holding Gonzaga to 37.5% shooting from the floor -- its second lowest rate all season. "I thought we did a great job of forcing turnovers. We eliminated a lot of their high-lows, which was extremely important for us. And then Trey Wade's points were huge when we needed them."
"They were physical at all five spots," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said after the game in an interview on CBS. "We actually got some looks we liked, took the right shots, just didn't go in. Arkansas deserves a lot of credit. That defense is real. We just could never really generate any good consistent rhythm against it."
The Razorbacks got a herculean effort from All-SEC star JD Notae, who scored a team-high 21 points to lead the way on 29 field goal attempts, tied for the fourth-most in an NCAA Tournament game for a winning player since the 3-point era began. Backcourt mate Trey Wade and big man Jaylin Williams each accounted for 15 points each to chip in for the upset. It marked the program's second consecutive appearance in the Elite Eight after a 25-year drought and gave them their first NCAA Tournament win over a No. 1 seed.
Gonzaga star Drew Timme again showed up to try and play superhero, accounting for 25 points including 17 in the second half. However, co-star Chet Holmgren -- the frontrunner to be the No. 1 pick in this summer's NBA Draft -- was unable to make a significant impact thanks to foul trouble that plagued him and might have ultimately submarined the Zags' chances at advancing. Holmgren had zero points at halftime and finished with just 11 before fouling out after only 23 minutes of action. Gonzaga's backcourt also struggled against Arkansas' defense, with Andrew Nembhard going 2-of-11 shooting, Julian Strawther going 3-of-9 and Rasir Bolton going 3-of-10.
"I think sometimes the outside people not in our program may label [us] as national championship or bust," Few said. "Obviously we wanted to take this thing all the way to the end and win it, but we understand how hard that is. We just couldn't get it done against Arkansas tonight."