Arkansas vs UConn: What Should Bother Huskies’ Deadly Sharpshooters

Arkansas basketball, UConn basketball, Arkansas vs UConn, Sweet 16, NCAA Tournament
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics / UConn Athletics

LIVE UPDATES – Arkansas vs UConn

Pregame Tidbits

The Razorbacks are using the same starting lineup they used in the first two games of the NCAA Tournament.

10:05, 1H – UConn 25, Arkansas 17

Davonte Davis picked up two fouls less than two minutes in, forcing him to check out at the 18:18 mark. He checked back in about six minutes later.

UConn is living on offensive rebounds early on, with a couple of them directly leading to layups.

On the other end, the Razorbacks have done a decent job of driving to the basket and getting to the free throw line.

Nick Smith Jr., who has struggled quite a bit recently, knocked down a 3-pointer and also pushed the pace after grabbing a rebound and made an and-1 layup. He completed the three-point play with a free throw.

UConn is 10 of 16 (62.5%) from the floor, compared to Arkansas being 6 of 14 (42.9%). The Huskies started 1 of 5 from deep, but have now made their last two.

HALF – UConn 46, Arkansas 29

The UConn run reached 14-0 before Eric Musselman called a rare timeout at the 7:41 mark. Out of the timeout, Makhi Mitchell drove to the basket and got an easy layup. That ended a scoreless drought of 4 minutes and 41 seconds.

The Huskies have been dominating Arkansas in the paint, so Musselman switched to a two-big lineup after starting out with four guards. However, it didn’t seem to help much.

UConn continued to get easy buckets the rest of the half. It finished with 24 points in the paint and shot 17 of 28 (60.7%) from the floor, including 4 of 9 (44.4%) from beyond the arc.

The Razorbacks had a couple of opportunities to cut into the deficit, but wasted a blocked shot by Council and turnover forced by Black. On the latter, Smith tried to push it, but panicked after getting in the air against the 7-foot-2 Clingan and threw it away.

HALFTIME STATS – Arkansas vs UConn

11:26, 2H – UConn 71, Arkansas 46

It took the Razorbacks more than six minutes before they finally made a shot in the second half, when Anthony Black knocked down a corner 3. They turned up the pressure, forced several turnovers in a row and drew a technical foul, but even after all of that, it was still a 19-point margin.

UConn answered with back-to-back 3s. The Huskies are 8 of 12 from the floor, including 5 of 7 from beyond the arc.

FINAL – UConn 88, Arkansas 65

UConn led by 20-plus the rest of the way.

FINAL STATS – Arkansas vs UConn

Starting Lineups

UConn BasketballArkansas Basketball
#2 – G Tristen Newton#0 – G Anthony Black
#23 – G Jordan Hawkins#3 – G Nick Smith Jr.
#44 – G Andre Jackson#4 – G Davonte Davis
#11 – F Alex Karaban#1 – G Ricky Council IV
#21 – F Adama Sanogo#20 – F Kamani Johnson

Arkansas vs UConn Preview

In a season full of frustrating losses and disappointing injuries, Arkansas basketball put together an incredibly gutsy performance against one of the best teams in the nation to secure a spot in the Sweet 16.

After trailing by as many as 12 early in the second half, the Razorbacks roared back to take down 1 seed, and defending national champion, Kansas 72-71 in the Round of 32. The win sends them to Las Vegas and gives Eric Musselman a third straight appearance on the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

Everyone played his part to near perfection down the stretch, highlighted by Davonte Davis scoring 21 of his 25 points after halftime and Ricky Council IV knocking down some clutch free throws in the closing seconds.

It was such a dramatic victory that Davis couldn’t contain the rush of emotion and pride for his team that had been struggling to put it all together, resulting in what will almost certainly go down as one of the most memorable postgame interviews in UA history:

Fortunately, the Razorbacks had an extra couple of days to let the win sink in before turning its attention to 4 seed UConn, which stands between them and a third straight Elite Eight. Tipoff between the Hogs and Huskies is set for 6:15 p.m. CT Thursday at T-Mobile Arena and it will be televised on CBS.

What to Expect from UConn

UConn cruised to an 87-63 win over 13 seed Iona in the first round before handling 5 seed Saint Mary’s 70-55 to clinch its spot in the Sweet 16. In the first two rounds, the Huskies averaged 78.5 points on 51% shooting from the field, including 45% from long range, and 86% from the charity stripe.

They’ve been an above-average shooting team all season, posting 46% / 36% / 76% shooting splits – each of which ranks in the top 75 nationally. They rank No. 14 in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency ratings. By comparison, Arkansas ranks only No. 51 in the same metric.

On the season, five different Huskies are shooting better than 37% from long range, including dominant big man Adama Sanogo – though his efficient shooting has come on relatively low volume. The 6-foot-9 junior currently leads the tournament in total points scored at 52 through two rounds. In the first round, he put up an impressive 28 points and 13 rebounds – including 6 offensive boards without recording a single offensive foul.

“He’s a super active big,” Arkansas forward Kamani Johnson said. “He’s kind of Oscar (Tshiebwe)-like with his motor in how he crashes the glass and how aggressive and physical he is. He’s super skilled in the post, too. We’ve been watching film on him, and we’re game-planning for it. We’ll be fine.”

Johnson has earned the start in each of the Razorbacks’ NCAA Tournament games, though he’s averaging only 16.0 minutes. Makhi Mitchell has still been the primary center for the Hogs in terms of total minutes, but Johnson has proven his worth through energy, effort and hustle plays – including a crucial offensive rebound and putback in the final minute of the win over Kansas.

Containing Sanogo will likely be at the top of the team scouting report for the Razorbacks. At only 6-foot-9, the Razorbacks actually match up relatively well against the talented big man. Johnson stands at only 6-foot-7, but he plays much bigger and stronger than his listed height – and often gets under the skin of his opponents. Both Mitchell twins stand closer to 6-foot-10 and have shown tremendous flashes on defense throughout the season. The Hogs need a big game from all of their bigs to successfully slow down Sanogo.

On the perimeter, 6-foot-5 guard Jordan Hawkins leads the offensive attack. He averages 15.7 points and 3.8 rebounds while shooting 38% from 3-point range on the season. In his first two tournament games, the sophomore is shooting a blistering 58% from long range on 12 total attempts. Hawkins will likely be the next victim of Arkansas’ star defensive stopper, Devo Davis – though it’s feasible to think Jordan Walsh could get a turn considering his recent defensive performances in the tournament.

“One of the best pure shooters in college basketball,” Musselman said on Wednesday. “He’s got a quick release. He’s got a competent release. Doesn’t need a bunch of dribbles. Can catch and shoot. Can also create a little off the bounce. You can’t let him have separation. You’ve got to ID him as early as possible and try to not let him get any catch-and-shoot-right-away shots.”

“Coach Hurley does a great job of running multiple things for him off baseline, out-of-bound triple screens, staggered wheel action stuff. And the thing is he does a great job of constant moving.”

Andre Jackson sets the offense in motion for the Huskies, averaging 4.4 assists on the season to go along with 6.6 points and 6.3 rebounds. As the month of March does with many players, it has seemingly brought out the best version of Jackson as well – the 6-foot-6 guard is averaging 8.0 points, 7.0 assists and 5.5 rebounds on 47% shooting over his first two tournament games. If Walsh or Anthony Black are ever matched up with Hawkins, this will likely be Davis’ matchup. Otherwise, expect the competitive fire of Nick Smith Jr to be assigned to the lead guard.

Every single player in UConn’s starting five stands between 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-9, making it a near mirror-matchup for the Razorbacks. Oftentimes, the Hogs look for mismatches offensively based on size or quickness for one of their guards, but UConn could prove troublesome for the four playmakers of Smith, Black, Davis, and Council.

Here’s a look at other notable players in UConn’s nine-man rotation and their averages through two rounds of the NCAA Tournament:

  • Tristen Newton: 6-foot-5 | Sr. | 25.5 MPG, 8.5 PPG, 5.5 APG, 50% 3PT
  • Alex Karaban: 6-foot-8 | Fr. | 31.5 MPG 4.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 43% 3PT
  • Nahiem Alleyne: 6-foot-4 | Sr. | 18.5 MPG, 5.5 PPG, 50% 3PT
  • Donovan Clingan: 7-foot-2 | Fr. | 13.0 MPG, 8.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 78% FG
  • Joey Calcaterra: 6-foot-3 | Sr. | 14.5 MPG, 5.5 PPG, 43% 3PT

What to Expect from Arkansas

Devo Davis put together an all-time great performance to lead Arkansas basketball to victory in the last round, but that’s nothing new for the junior guard. Perhaps the scoring outburst over such a short period of time was unusual, but Eric Musselman has repeatedly emphasized how well Davis fills any role the team needs in a given game.

Against the Jayhawks, that role was scoring and energy. Davis delivered both. His 25 points were one shy of his career high set against Oklahoma in December 2021. While the run he put together was wildly entertaining, it’s safe to assume Musselman and the Razorbacks would like to have a few other players balancing out the scoring load and not to have to rely on such heroics from Davis in the next game.

Nick Smith Jr in particular had one of his most disappointing games as a Razorback. He went scoreless on 0 of 4 shooting in only 16 minutes of play. However, with just under two minutes remaining, Davis fouled out with the Hogs still trailing by one point.

Fortunately, Ricky Council IV took over the scoring load without Davis on the court with a flurry of drawn fouls and made free throws, but Smith’s quiet contribution in this stretch should not go unnoticed. The freshman guard re-entered the game after sitting most of the second half and immediately picked up the Jayhawks’ point guard with inspired defense, playing a big role in deterring Kansas’ final few possessions.

He also willingly played a spot-up role on offense while Council and Black handled the majority of ball-handling duties. Being able and willing to affect the game in different ways when the shots aren’t falling is a prominent trait in good, mature players. That being said, the Hogs will certainly be hoping for a better offensive outing from Smith in the Sweet 16 – though it will be no easy task against the taller UConn guards who undoubtedly have Smith highlighted on their scouting report.

Jordan Walsh put together his second consecutive masterful performance. Neither box score from the last two games fully reflects Walsh’s performance, but his team-high plus/minus in the first two rounds paints part of the picture. The Razorbacks have outscored their first two opponents by 33 points in the 61 minutes Walsh was on the court, while being outscored by 21 in the 19 minutes he was on the bench.

It’s hard to argue with those numbers, and the eye-test only further supports his case for being irreplaceable in this tournament run. After holding Illinois’ Matthew Mayer to 0-of-6 shooting from the field, Walsh was vital in limiting Kansas’ first-team AP All-American Jalen Wilson in the closing minutes, single-handedly forcing two turnovers on the veteran forward in the final stretch of a close game before tipping a game-changing offensive rebound back to Council, helping create a three-point lead instead of a one-point lead with mere seconds to play.

Walsh will almost certainly be matched up with one of the Huskies’ better 3-point shooters – such as Karaban or Newton – but he’ll also be vital in keeping Sanogo off of the offensive glass while playing alongside Johnson or either Mitchell twin. Rebounding will be more important than ever in this game.

“The game plan for us, Muss always says to get extra possessions,” Johnson said. “Especially in March, the games come down to a couple of possessions, as you guys see. So just try to get extra possessions for the team. That’s kind of been Muss’ theme and game plan ever since I’ve been here.”

Whichever combination of big men that Musselman fields on Thursday will have the most important assignment of their career in slowing down Sanogo – and his 7-foot-2 backup. Even if they’re able to slow down his scoring, they can’t afford to let him draw too many fouls or grab too many offensive rebounds.

What to Watch in Arkansas vs UConn

Arkansas ranks No. 15 in adjusted defensive efficiency, a mark that usually earns them the label of the better defensive team on paper in most matchups. That wasn’t the case against Kansas (No. 11), and it won’t be true against UConn, either. The Huskies rank No. 14 in the metric.

During the regular season, the Hogs are only 4-7 against teams in the top-50 in defensive efficiency, including 1-5 against top-15 teams, which on the surface wouldn’t bode well for their odds in this game. In the postseason, though, the Razorbacks have played nothing but good defensive teams – even in the SEC tournament – and are 3-1 against top-50 defensive teams and 1-0 against top-15 defensive teams.

UConn, on the other hand, seemingly hasn’t been affected by elite defensive teams at all. It is 5-1 against top-15 defensive teams, including its most recent win over Saint Mary’s (No. 9) in the Round of 32.

When these two defensive-minded teams clash, there’s bound to be an abundance of contact resulting in fouls. The Huskies average 17.2 fouls, while Arkansas averages 19.0. UConn allowed 16 and 19 free throws in the first two rounds of the tournament, respectively, while the Hogs gave up 26 and 25. Arkansas had three players foul out in its win over Kansas, plus Black and Johnson finished with four fouls each.

To put it simply, foul trouble could dictate this game entirely – especially for a Razorback team that relies only on seven players for a majority of their minutes. UConn runs closer to a nine-man rotation, perhaps making it better equipped to deal with early foul trouble.

Should the Hogs get into foul trouble, their players on the fringes of the rotation have to be ready to step into their role. The most likely candidates are Jalen Graham and Makhel Mitchell backing up Johnson and Makhi Mitchell should either (or both) get into foul trouble guarding Sanogo.

Beyond the big men, both Joseph Pinion and Derrian Ford have to be ready to provide minutes in the backcourt early in the game should any of the four main guards get into foul trouble quickly. Arguably more important than any of those positions will be Jordan Walsh’s ability to stay on the court.

Since he started coming off the bench, Walsh has done a better job of staying in the game longer and not committing as many unnecessary fouls. Even against Kansas, his final foul came with only eight seconds left in the game and with the Hogs up 70-67 – in theory, this was actually a good foul that only allowed the Jayhawks an opportunity at two points instead of three.

Of course, the star players will put their impact on this game early and often, but the team whose bench is most prepared to soak up foul-trouble minutes could easily be the difference in this game.

Game Prediction

The Razorbacks are 1-1 against the Huskies since 2010, winning the most recent matchup 102-67 in the Phil Knight Invitational back in 2017. The teams have never met in the NCAA Tournament, though the Huskies defeated the Hogs for third place in the NIT back in 1997.

Arkansas has had its fair share of struggles this season, but it has proven to be much better than its 22-13 record or 8-seed designation. The Razorbacks seem to have hit their stride just in the nick of time, affording them their third deep tournament run in a row.

The length and stingy defense of Arkansas will bother the Huskies enough on the defensive side of the ball to allow the Razorback guards to keep pace offensively with UConn’s No. 3 adjusted offense – knocking down free throws will be vital for the Razorbacks that have had multiple stretches of poor free-throw shooting.

Smith bounces back with a serviceable double-digit scoring performance while Davis and Council continue their recent offensive success from all three levels of the court. The plethora of Razorback big men do enough to slow down the hottest center in the country, perhaps even forcing him into foul trouble.

Arkansas advances to its third straight Elite Eight for the first time in program history.

Arkansas, 68-64

How to Watch Arkansas vs UConn in Sweet 16

Date: Thursday, March 23

Location: T-Mobile Arena (Las Vegas, Nev.)

Tipoff Time/TV Schedule: 6:15 p.m. CT (CBS)

ESPN BPI: UConn has a 65.9% chance to win, favored by 3.5 points

Watch Kamani Johnson talk about the upcoming Arkansas vs UConn matchup in the Sweet 16:

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