March Madness 2023: How Arkansas’ fortitude led to the death of defending champion Kansas

DES MOINES, Iowa – In the middle of what would eventually become the cheery Arkansas locker room, Keith Smart wrote a cryptic message on the dry-erase board at halftime.

Two feet of gold

It just didn’t make sense at the time. 20 minutes into the second-round game in the West Regional, No. 8 seed Arkansas fell in eighth place to No. 1 seed Kansas, the defending national champion. And the Razorbacks were looking rather sloppy.

The message remained on the board but was practically ignored at the end of one of the biggest wins in Arkansas history, 72-71 on Kuwait University. For the second year in a row, Arkansas and its coach, Eric Musselman, beat the top seed. An improbable rally in the second half melted the Jayhawks where they stood and who remains at — or near — the pinnacle of college basketball.

Arkansas’ 13 losses—the most in Musselman’s four seasons—was too busy celebrating to notice Smart’s message. The Hogs’ assistant turns out to be a big audio book guy. Even though he’s in his sophomore year with Arkansas, Smart has known Musselman for 35 years.

they needed something The Jayhawks also looked as if they were going to dissect pigs. Nick Smith, Arkansas’ second leading scorer, was benched after two fouls. Jalen Wilson, Big 12 Player of the Year, was another heater at Kansas, who made his way to the Sweet 16 for the fifth time in the past seven years.

Instead, for the 16th straight year, the defending national champion has not only failed to repeat, but hasn’t advanced past the Sweet 16.

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In the bowels of Wells Fargo Arena, a different message has been forged.

“Every day I’m always looking for something unique,” said Smart.

Smart grabbed a pen and leaned on a different version of a motivational book, “Three Feet of Gold.” To paraphrase a review: Never give up, you can do it this Close to one of the greatest successes of your life.

The message certainly fits the night and season of Arkansas.

“It’s kind of motivating, it’s history, and it can be spiritual,” Smart told CBS Sports. “It shows, if you give up on your dream too soon, you are not far from it.”

These Hogs may be too young to remember Smart and his 1987 National Championship Game winner for Indiana. But there is still some brilliance from the assistant on his ninth team (mostly in the NBA) since becoming coach in 1997.

Smart is a quieter counterpart to Musselman. The coach lets every part of himself off the field. After the upset, Musselman ripped his polo shirt and ran up to the Arkansas fan section to celebrate.

“I like to lie and say I felt done,” said Musselman, whose theatrical sideshow is a legend.

It’s been a strange season for the Razorbacks. Smith missed several games due to the injury. The Hogs’ 3-point shooting (31.6%) was among the worst in the country. Judging by the Sabbath alone, they didn’t seem so disciplined. There’s talent all over the court, but the 8-10 SEC record was a mediocre 10th-best in the 14-team conference.

Newcomer Anthony Black yelled over the din of the dressing room, “They gave up on us, bro.” “every one of them”.

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Who exactly?

“Everyone,” Black explained.

It’s been this kind of year.

So, it wasn’t surprising that Kansas had an answer in every run Arkansas made.

The Jayhawks led by as much as 12 in the second half and took a lead by 10 with 12:35 left in the game.

“The narrative on us was, ‘If I go down or get up too hard, they’ll only stop if I hit them in the mouth a few times,'” said Kamani Johnson, a senior official.

This time, pigs ring in a second—a kind of gold-digging. Three players fouled down the stretch: Jordan Walsh, Machi Mitchell and Daveaux Davis, who fell one point short of his career high of 25.

Johnson basketed a Ricky Council 4 miss with 50 seconds left to break the tie 65-65. Kansas went into the final 3:47 with no field goal. Arkansas silenced freshman Grady Dick (nine points on 3-of-9 shooting), and although Wilson scored 20, he was gone for long stretches.

“People don’t understand that these are children,” Johnson said. “I am an adult, but these are children. We grew up in March.

“Kansas isn’t going away. I’m not going to lie: We’ve got some dogs on our team. We can compete with anyone in the nation. It wasn’t the best season, but it was our season.”

The Musselman legend continues to grow. The Razorbacks are rolling toward their third straight Sweet 16 and possibly their third straight Elite Eight. Musselman was busy after the match exchanging texts with golfer John Daly. There are priorities, you know.

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“I kept telling them, ‘Man, it’s a 40-minute game,'” Musselman said. You just have to keep playing. Crazy things happen in this tournament.” “We drove around and defended when we had to.”

We finally get an answer to the question of whether the loss of Bill Self will hurt the Jayhawks. I did. Not to say Kansas would have won with self, who He missed his fourth game Since inserting two stents near his heart last week. But the what if? I will linger.

Monday marks an anniversary that Norm Roberts would rather forget. It was 13 years ago, another Kansas acting coach was in charge of a program. Saint John fired him on March 19, 2010, after averaging a six-year stay and finishing at 81-101. As acting coach for the past two weeks, Roberts has gone 7-2.

On Saturday, Roberts couldn’t maneuver around a foul trouble for the top Kansas men. That hindered the inner effort. KU was beaten 36-29 by a sustained Arkansas effort.

“I’ve been training for a long time,” Musselman said. “This is as great a win as I’ve ever been a part of.”

More gold is waiting to be mined in a suitable place: Las Vegas. This is the Western Regional District website. after that?

“I’m trying to help them get there,” Smart said.

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