Ouch! Just a spurt, one of those runs Gonzaga’s offense has been able to generate all year long. Bolton flying through the key and laying it in, Holmgren going coast-to-coast, Strawther hitting a three. That’s all it would take to right the ship and put the Zags ahead. Didn’t happen. Whether you blame the refs, the outstanding Arkansas defense or just the basketball gods, the bottom line was a winnable game for the Zags they just didn’t win.
1. The play possibly encapsulating the entire game occurred after less than 90 seconds of action. Gonzaga jumped out to a 5-0 lead and was about to make it 7-0 as Nembhard hit a streaking Bolton with a sweet pass across a crowded key for what looked like a sure lay-up. Just after Bolton released the ball, JD Notae flew in from behind and slapped it off the glass. Jaylin Williams recovered, Notae led a break the other way and Williams scored in transition.
2. Credit Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman for successfully slowing down Andrew Nembhard, who’s been incredible, thus the Gonzaga offense. Musselman had 6’6” senior Au’Diese Toney check Nembhard early in the Gonzaga possessions and not allow him to operate freely. In a post-game interview, Nembhard stated: “I think his length was a factor, he did a great job, just kept pressuring me the whole game.”
3. Yes Nembhard had only 3 assists, but it sure felt like that number could have doubled or more if Gonzaga only could hit some shots. Gonzaga shot an anemic 37.5% from the field and 23.8% from three. Give credit to Arkansas for a good defensive performance but Gonzaga’s offense spent the entire year as one of, if not the most efficient in the nation. To put it simply, players missed a lot of shots they normally make.
4. The officiating. I don’t remember another game where the announcing team along with their in-studio official pointed out so many mistakes. A good synopsis is this article: https://sports.yahoo.com/arkansas-gonzaga-upset-march-madness-refs-chet-holmgren-015358920.html Again, credit Musselman for having his players go straight into Holmgren, but Chet’s last three fouls were egregiously horrible. Possibly worse, Nembhard being grabbed from behind by the neck and shoulders with 1:27 left to play. Not only was the basket waived off, it was called a common foul consistent with a normal basketball play.
5. Here’s an illustration of the Zags offensive struggles and the value of Holmgren on defense. Mark Few sat Holmgren at the 8:02 mark in the first half after picking up his second foul. At the 6:30 mark, Nembhard threw a 50-foot pass to Bolton for a lay-up to give Gonzaga a 27-19 lead. Arkansas then went on a 13-2 run. Gonzaga’s next 11 possessions consisted of four turnovers and 1 for 6 shooting with the lone make being a 13-foot jumper from Timme. On the other hand, Arkansas’s 13 points came on 3 lay-ups, a tip-in, a Williams dunk, and a Williams three-pointer.
6. Gonzaga’s bench, that had looked so promising at the start of WCC play, really struggled in March. Hunter Sallis was the lone bright spot last night in his eight minutes of play, drawing a charge as soon as he entered the game, making a steal, then an interior score in the second half. Looking at the +/-, Watson’s was -10 (see the 13-2 run above) and Hickman and Sallis were both at -5. For comparison, Arkansas’s Davonte Davis was +10 in 26 minutes played. It would have been interesting to see how bench minutes would have been distributed if Dom Harris and Kaden Perry could have stayed healthy.
7. Arkansas, as expected, was far from an offensive juggernaut last night. They shot 40% from the field and 28% from deep, both a couple of percentage points below their season averages. Notae, their leading scorer with 21 points, was 9 for 29 from the field including 2 for 12 from deep. Arkansas just made plays. 10 points off turnovers, athletic blocks at the rim and hitting the key shots. If you would have told me before the game Gonzaga would outrebound Arkansas and shoot more free throws making a higher percentage, I’d have predicted an easy win. The Razorbacks did what they needed to do when they needed to do it.
8. The blueprint. Slipper Still Fits readers know after almost every loss or close game someone talks about the opposition finding the blueprint for beating Gonzaga. For the second time in the past six games, an opponent (with a great coach) has found a way to stifle to Gonzaga offense and win the game. Against St Mary’s on 26 Feb, Gonzaga scored 57 points, shot 36% from the field and had 14 turnovers against 4 assists. Last night, Gonzaga scored 68 points, shot .375% and had 14 turnovers against 9 assists. In a Spokesman-Review article, Arkansas Coach Musselman talked about watching films of his games against Nembhard at Florida when he coached Nevada and his first year at Arkansas. I think he may have spent more time watching the loss to St. Mary’s.
9. Let’s take a moment to appreciate just how good Andrew Nembhard and Rasir Bolton were this past season. Gonzaga lost three NBA caliber guards and super-sub Aaron Cook from last year. Between them, they accounted for almost 50 points and 11 assists per game. Add the season-ending to Dom Harris and you really need to appreciate how spectacular Nembhard and Bolton have been this year. Even last night, when a loss seemed inevitable and having one of his worst games of the season, Nembhard hit two free throws and a miracle three-pointer in the game’s last 90 seconds to give the Zags a glimmer of hope. If, as expected, this was Nembhard and Bolton’s last game in a Zag uniform, it’s unfortunate to see them go out this way but boy was it great to watch them play this season.
10. We Gonzaga fans are and have been incredibly fortunate. Go Zags!