March Madness 2023: How Arkansas’ persistence and poise led to defending champion Kansas’ demise

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

Two feet from gold

It didn’t make much sense at the time. After 20 minutes in a West Regional second-round game, no. No. 8 Arkansas faced No. 1 Kansas, the defending national champion. And the Razorbacks looked so sloppy.

The message was on the board, but practically ignored at the end of one of the biggest wins in Arkansas history. 72-71 over KU. For the second year in a row, Arkansas and its coach, Eric Musselman, knocked off the No. 1 ranking. An improbable second-half rally melted away the Jayhawks, who are at — or near — the top of college basketball.

A 13-loss Arkansas team — Musselman’s most in four seasons — was too busy celebrating to notice Smart’s message. Hawks Assistant is a big audio book guy. Although he’s only in his second year at Arkansas, Smart has known Musselman for 35 years.

They needed it Something The Jayhawks looked like they were on their way to pulling apart the hogs. Arkansas’ second-leading scorer, Nick Smith, was benched with two fouls. Big 12 Player of the Year Jalen Wilson was another heater for Kansas that appeared en route to the Sweet 16 for the fifth time in the last seven years.

Instead, for the 16th straight year, the defending national champion not only lost again, but it didn’t advance beyond the Sweet 16.

In the bowels of the Wells Fargo arena, a different news story is brewing.

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“I look for something unique every day,” Smart said.

Grabbing a smart marker, he recited a variation of the motivational book “Three Steps from Gold.” To modify a review: Never give up, you might This is Closer to one of the biggest hits of your life.

This message certainly applies to the night and the season in Arkansas.

“It’s kind of the motivation, the history, it can be spiritual,” Smart told CBS Sports. “If you give up on your dream too soon, it shows you’re not far from it.”

These Hogs are probably too young to remember Smart and his 1987 national championship game-winner for Indiana. But there’s still some sparkle from an assistant on his ninth team (most in the NBA) since becoming a coach in 1997.

The wise man is the silent counterpart of the musselman; The head coach leaves every part of himself on the court. After the upset, Musselman tore off his polo shirt and climbed into the Arkansas fan section to celebrate.

“I’d like to lie and say I felt composed,” said Musselman, whose sideline history books legend.

It’s been a strange season for the Razorbacks. Smith missed several games due to injury. The Hawks’ 3-point shooting (31.6%) is worst in the nation. On Saturday alone, they don’t look decent. There is talent all over the court, but the 8-10 SEC record ranks 10th in the 14-team conference.

“They gave up on us, bro,” rookie star Anthony Black yelled above the locker room noise. “All of them.”

Who, exactly?

“Everyone,” Black clarified.

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It has been a year.

So, it should come as no surprise that Kansas has an answer for every run Arkansas makes.

The Jayhawks went up by 12 in the second half and led by 10 with 12:35 left in the second half.

“The story about us is, ‘If you get down or come up big, if you hit them in the mouth a couple of times they’re going to quit,'” senior Kamani Johnson said.

This time, pigs hammered a second time — like digging for gold. Jordan Walsh, Mackie Mitchell and Devoe Davis, who all scored 25, lost a point.

Johnson muscled in a Ricky Council IV miss with 50 seconds left to break a 65-65 tie. Kansas went the final 3:47 without a field goal. Arkansas muffed freshman Grady Dick (nine points on 3 of 9 shooting), and even though Wilson scored 20, he disappeared for long stretches.

“People don’t understand that these are kids,” Johnson said. “I’m an adult, but these are kids, and we grew up in March.

“Not going to Kansas. I’m not going to lie: We have some dogs on our team. We can compete with anybody in the country. It’s not the best season, but it’s our season.”

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

“I kept telling them, ‘Hey man, it’s a 40-minute game. You’ve got to keep playing. Crazy things happen in this tournament,'” Musselman said. “We hung around and defended when needed.”

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We finally have an answer to the question of whether losing Phil Self will hurt the Jayhawks. It did. Not to say that Kansas would have won with Self, who He missed the fourth game After two stents were implanted near his heart last week. But the it means what? They will delay.

Monday marks the one year anniversary Norm Roberts will forget. The last time the Kansas acting coach was in charge of a show was 13 years ago. St. John’s fired him on March 19, 2010, averaging a six-year stay and finishing 81–101. Roberts went 7-2 in the past two weeks as the acting coach.

On Saturday, Roberts couldn’t get around foul trouble for Kansas’ big men. It was a barrier to internal initiative. A continued Arkansas effort put KU up 36-29.

“I’ve been coaching a long time,” Musselman said. “It’s as big a success as I’ve ever been a part of.”

More gold is waiting to be mined in a suitable place: Las Vegas. It is the site of the Western Region. After that?

“I try to help them get there,” Smart said.

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