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They call the NCAA tournament The Big Dance, but beware when you dance
The players from no. Gonzaga’s team, seeded 1, started dancing a little early Thursday night before playing at No. Arkansas 4-seeded and a 9.5-point loser at the Chase Center in San Francisco.
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And the Razorbacks (28-8) are the ones still dancing after a 74-68 win, pushing them to the NCAA West Regional championship game on Saturday (8:49 pm East, TBS) against the No. 2 Duke seeds (31-6). The Blue Devils beat No. 3 seeded Texas Tech, 78-73, Thursday night. The winner enters the Final Four at the Superdome in New Orleans, April 2-4.
“We felt like they were dancing before the game,” said Arkansas second forward Jaylin Williams. “This was a lack of respect for us. We entered the game by playing hard and had a chip on our shoulder.”
Arkansas was chosen to finish third in the SEC behind Kentucky and Alabama in October despite being the last SEC team standing after the first weekend of the 2021 NCAA tournament and reaching the Elite Eight. The Hogs lost to eventual national champion Baylor. No. 2 Kentucky seeds and n. The 6-seeded Alabama both lost in the first round of this tournament.
Some were dancing on Arkansas Grave last January when the Hogs started 0-3 in the SEC with losses to the state of Mississippi, 81-68, at home to Vanderbilt, 75-74, and Texas A&M, 86-81. . None of them made the NCAA tournament and finished 10th, 11th and 5th respectively in the league. The Razorbacks regrouped, beat No. 1 Auburn and finished fourth in the SEC with 13-5, but then lost again to the Aggies in the SEC tournament opener, 82-64.
Arkansas beat a No. 1 seeded in the NCAA tournament for the first time in its history after 10 losses since planting began in 1979 and became the first team ever to beat a No. 1 team in the regular season (Auburn) and one n. 1 team in the NCAA Tournament (Gonzaga).
“I think we weren’t respected all year,” Williams said after scoring 15 points with 12 rebounds, three assists and a blocked shot. He also broke the one-season rebound record of 349 set by Derek Hood in 1998-99 and has 354 in the season.
“They (prognosticators) gave them an 86 percent chance of winning,” Williams said. “We saw it, and everything they said.”
Duke is one of the four-point favorites to win Saturday from FanDuel, as long as the Blue Devils don’t dance before the match.
“God bless them. What a great group these guys are,” exclaimed Mike Krzyzewski after his team’s victory. He announced last summer that his 42nd season as Duke’s manager would be his last.
“They’ve grown so much in the last 12 days. It’s such a joy. It’s an amazing thing,” she said.
Arkansas last played against Duke on April 4, 1994, in the national championship game in Charlotte, NC, and won, 76-72, for their only national championship. Duke beat Arkansas, 97-83, on March 31, 1990, in the National Final Four semi-finals in Denver before falling to UNLV, 103-73, in the national title match.
Krzyzewski, 75, has won five national championships since that 1991-2015 defeat and will coach his thirteenth Final Four.
Musselman, 57, is in his second consecutive Elite Eight in his third season in Arkansas after leading Nevada to three NCAA tournaments and a Sweet 16 in 2018. He made sure his players knew that few, if any, were giving her a chance to beat a Gonzaga team and will likely do the same for Duke.
“There hasn’t been much talk of Arkansas,” Musselman said.
“Yeah, just be the underdog, man, and use that to your advantage. They never see you coming,” said Arkansas striker Trey Wade, who scored 15 points with seven rebounds and a blocked shot and steals.
“I can’t compliment these guys and the whole team enough for the way they were involved in preparing for the game,” said Musselman. “It’s probably the coolest thing I’ve ever been a part of, that they just do what we ask.”
And then they danced.
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“We took the water bottles, we went crazy,” Williams said. “We started dancing. It’s fun to win.”