Nembhard’s 25 carry Creighton past Arkansas in Maui thriller

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LAHAINA, Hawaii – Ryan Nembhard drove the lane for an authoritative dunk in the closing minutes and scored a career-high 25 points for No. 10 Creighton, which survived a tense second half to beat No. 9 Arkansas 90-87 on Tuesday and advance to the championship game of the Maui Invitational.

Trey Alexander made two free throws with 1.9 seconds left for Creighton, which will play for the title Wednesday against either No. 14 Arizona or No. 17 San Diego State.

The Bluejays (6-0) and Razorbacks (4-1) played an electrifying second half worthy of a March Madness matchup. Arkansas has reached the Elite Eight in consecutive seasons and Creighton got to the second round last year after advancing to the Sweet 16 in 2021.

Ryan Kalkbrenner scored 21 points, Baylor Scheierman 20 and Alexander 12 for the Bluejays, who had a 12-point lead late in the first half.

Anthony Black scored 26 points, Ricky Council IV 24 and Trevon Brazile 17 for the Razorbacks.

There were 10 lead changes and the game was tied 10 times in the second half.

Nembhard made two free throws after the Arkansas bench was whistled for a technical foul with 13:57 to go for a 53-53 tie. Creighton was in the double bonus for the final 13 minutes.

Nembhard, the shortest player on the floor at 6 feet, drove for a dunk and a 79-76 lead with 2:34 to go. Brazile answered with a 3-pointer the next time down the floor to tie it at 79.

Kalkbrenner made a reverse jam with 1:20 left to give the Bluejays the lead for good at 83-81.

After Scheierman made two free throws for an 87-84 lead with 16 seconds left, Council missed a corner 3 and Nembhard rebounded and was fouled. He made one of two free throws and Black came down the floor and drained a straight-on 3 to pull Arkansas within one. Alexander then made his two insurance free throws.

Creighton ran to a 12-point lead with 1:43 to go in the first half before the Razorbacks closed with a 6-0 run, capped by Trevon Brazile’s thunderous dunk on an alley-oop pass from Anthony Black.

BIG PICTURE

Creighton: The Bluejays’ free-flowing offense produced three players in double digits by halftime: Nembhard with 13 points, Scheierman 11 and Kalkbrenner 10.

Arkansas: This was a big step up in competition for the Razorbacks. They opened the season with easy home wins against North Dakota State, Fordham and South Dakota State, and then beat winless Louisville by 26 points in their Maui opener.

UP NEXT

Creighton will face either the Wildcats or Aztecs in what should be another March Madness-worthy game for the title.

Arkansas will face the SDSU-Arizona loser for third place.

Arkansas aiming for Final Four in Eric Musselman’s fourth year

Gary Cosby Jr./USA TODAY NETWORK
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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — With two consecutive Elite Eight appearances in tow, Arkansas’ hopes for the Final Four aren’t just a pipe dream.

Coach Eric Musselman, heading into his fourth season in charge of the Razorbacks, has two returning players from last year’s rotation, only one of which is a starter in guard Devo Davis.

But he pulled in the No. 2 class in the nation, headlined by projected lottery pick and first-team preseason All-SEC guard Nick Smith Jr. He also picked up five players via the transfer portal to complete the reload.

Expectations aren’t just high locally, either. Arkansas was tabbed No. 10 in the AP Top 25. Musselman knew he would have to have that conversation with his team about being the hunted.

“We already have a target on our back,” he said. “I would love to say that whatever the polls say, making two Elite Eights back to back, that’s something we haven’t talked to our team much about, but it’s something we will start to.”

Musselman’s biggest project, at least early, is determining how best to distribute minutes among a roster filled with talented youngsters and experienced veterans. He had to do something similar last year, too, as Arkansas dropped five of six games at one point from mid-December to early January before the team won 14 of its next 15 and earned a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

HITTING THE LOTTERY

Arkansas isn’t short on next-level talent. Smith is a projected top-10 pick in nearly every 2023 NBA Draft board. Freshman guard Anthony Black is predicted to be a first-rounder. And swingman Jordan Walsh is currently listed as a borderline first-round choice next spring.

NEW-LOOK VETS

The Arkansas strength during the preseason was at guard and wing as the frontcourt remained a work in progress.

Forward Jalen Graham transferred from Arizona State where he was an All-Pac-12 selection. He’s joined by former Missouri forward Trevon Brazile, twin centers Makhi and Makhel Mitchell from Rhode Island and reigning American Athletic Conference Sixth Man of the Year Ricky Council IV from Wichita State on the wing.

BEST SINCE

An NCAA Tournament appearance in 2022-23 would be the third in four years for Musselman. The Razorbacks were on the bubble in the 2019-20 season, Musselman’s first year at the helm, before the postseason was canceled because of COVID-19. Arkansas hasn’t made three straight NCAA tournaments since 2005-08.

OLD GUYS

Davis and forward Kamani Johnson are the only two regulars returning for Arkansas. Davis, a junior, has spent much of his career as the team’s starting point guard. He averaged 8.3 points and was second on the team with 104 assists last year, starting about half the team’s games.

Johnson is in his second year with the Razorbacks after transferring from Little Rock two seasons ago. He averaged just eight minutes ago in 26 games, but Musselman is expecting Johnson’s aggression to carry over in likely more minutes.

“His offensive rebound rate is incredible,” Musselman said. “His free throws attempted per touch and offensive rebounding rate are at a really, really high level.”

SCHEDULE

Arkansas opens the regular season Nov. 7 at home against North Dakota State while nonconference foes include Oklahoma, Baylor, Louisville and either Texas Tech or Creighton. SEC play begins Dec. 28 at LSU.

Arkansas to open against Louisville in Maui Invitational

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
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LAHAINA, Hawaii — Arkansas will face Louisville in the opening round of a loaded 2022 Maui Invitational bracket.

The eight-team bracket announced for the November event will include six teams that went to the 2022 NCAA Tournament, including three that reached the Sweet 16.

Arizona faces Cincinnati in the opening round after reaching the Sweet 16 in coach Tommy Lloyd’s first season. Texas Tech, another Sweet 16 team last season, plays Creighton and San Diego State faces Ohio State in the tournament’s return to the Lahaina Civic Center on Nov. 21-23.

The 2020 tournament was held in Asheville, North Carolina, and last year’s was played in Las Vegas.

Arkansas has reached the Elite Eight the past two seasons under coach Eric Musselman.

Coach K makes 13th Final Four, Duke beats Arkansas 78-69

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
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SAN FRANCISCO – Mike Krzyzewski slowly climbed up the ladder, bowed to the adoring Duke fans and then pointed to his players to give them the credit before cutting the final string of the net.

Coach K’s farewell tour will end at his record-setting 13th Final Four.

The Blue Devils delivered their most complete performance of this NCAA Tournament run to extend the career of their Hall of Fame coach for one more weekend after beating Arkansas 78-69 on Saturday night in the West Region final.

“To see the joy, I can’t explain it, because, you know, I’m a grandfather, I’ve lived through my daughters, I’m living through my grandchildren but now I’m living through these guys,” Krzyzewski said on the court before cutting down the net. “Holy mackerel!”

A.J. Griffin scored 18 points, West Region MVP Paolo Banchero added 16 and and second-seeded Duke (32-6) frustrated fourth-seeded Arkansas (28-9) on the offensive end to get back to the Final Four for the first time since Krzyzewski won his fifth championship in 2015.

Coach K will try to follow the path of the only coach to win more NCAA men’s titles as John Wooden won his 10th championship in his final season at UCLA in 1975. Krzyzewski broke the tie he had with Wooden for most Final Four appearances with the commanding win over the Razorbacks.

“It’s an honor. Coach Wooden, if he kept coaching, would probably have 24,” Krzyzewski said. “But it’s a heck of a thing. We’ve won a lot in the tournament, and we’ve won a lot of games, but Final Fours are big, obviously, then national championships. That’s what you put banners up for.”

Duke’s upcoming matchup in New Orleans next Saturday will be historic either way – either its first NCAA Tournament meeting with archrival North Carolina or an unfathomable tangle in the national semifinals with 15th-seeded Saint Peter’s.

“It’s going to be an honor for us to go against whoever is the regional champion of that region,” Krzyzewski said. “There’s no greater day in college basketball than when those four regional champions, four champions, get in one arena and play. It’s the greatest day for college basketball, and we’re honored to be a part of it.”

The Blue Devils were in control for most of the second half, using a 10-0 run after Arkansas had cut the deficit to five points early in the half to open up a big cushion. The spurt came following a timeout when Krzyzewski once again switched his team to an uncharacteristic zone after having success doing that in the Sweet 16 against Texas Tech.

“I think going zone helped,” said defensive anchor Mark Williams, who had 12 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks. “I think it gave them a different look, slowed them up a little bit.”

Jaylin Williams ended that run with an emphatic dunk over Banchero for a three-point play but it wasn’t nearly enough for the Razorbacks, who didn’t cut the deficit into single digits until the final minute of the game.

Williams led Arkansas with 19 points and 10 rebounds and JD Notae had 14 points before fouling out. The Razorbacks shot 41.9% for the game but felt proud after turning their season around following an 0-3 start in the Southeastern Conference.

“We all wanted to get further in this, but the fight this team has showed all year has been incredible,” Williams said. “For the way that we started off conference, nobody would have expected us to get this far. So I just think that this team just kept fighting the whole year, the whole year, but, of course, we didn’t get where we wanted.”

Duke closed the first half on an 8-0 run to take a 45-33 lead at the break with Banchero hitting a 3-pointer to start the spurt. Trevor Keels hit another 3 from long range just before the buzzer.

BIG PICTURE

Arkansas: For the second straight season, coach Eric Musselman’s Razorbacks fell short against a more talented team in the Elite Eight. They lost to eventual champion Baylor last year. Arkansas is still seeking its first Final Four appearance since losing the title game in 1995 to UCLA. The Razorbacks won their only national championship the previous season against Duke.

“Last year we lost to Baylor, and they were national champions,” Musselman said. “I’ll be shocked if Duke is not national champions in a week or week and a half.”

Duke: After losing the regular-season finale to North Carolina in Coach K’s final game at Cameron Indoor Stadium and in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament final to Virginia Tech the following week, the Blue Devils used late rallies to beat Michigan State and Texas Tech the previous two rounds but played a much more complete game against Arkansas. That bodes well for their chances in New Orleans.

“We never doubted as a team, a young team too,” Griffin said. “We knew what we were capable of, and we just wanted to show the world.”

LOOSE BALL

A cheerleading team was once again called upon to recover a ball that lodged at the top of the basket following a missed shot by the Razorbacks early in the second half. The Arkansas cheer team leaped into action with Kaiden Thraikill boosting Bella Shelley up to knock the ball loose, generating a big roar from the crowd.

UP NEXT

No. 8 seed North Carolina faces tournament darling Saint Peter’s on Sunday, with the winner booking a dance in New Orleans with the Blue Devils.

Last hurrah: Coach K on Final Four doorstep as Duke meets Arkansas

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
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Arkansas just took down the No. 1 overall seed of the NCAA Tournament in style and now faces a more daunting assignment.

End the coaching career of Duke legend Mike Krzyzewski.

Coach K is three wins away from retiring as a six-time national champion, and the fourth-seeded Razorbacks will look to again be spoilers when they battle the second-seeded Blue Devils in the West Region final on Saturday night in San Francisco.

Arkansas (28-8) is in the Elite Eight for the second straight season after toppling high-powered Gonzaga 74-68 in Thursday’s Sweet 16. Another upset will elevate the Hogs to their first Final Four since 1995.

The Blue Devils (31-6) advanced with a 78-73 win over third-seeded Texas Tech to send Krzyzewski to the Elite Eight for the 17th time. The victory was the 100th in NCAA Tournament competition for Krzyzewski, and was achieved despite his team trailing for more than 26 minutes.

A win over Arkansas would send Coach K to his 13th Final Four in his 42 seasons at Duke. But he downplayed the personal milestones in play after the win over Texas Tech and deflected the praise toward his players.

“What a great group, these kids,” Krzyzewski said. “They’ve grown up so much in the last 12 days. It’s such a joy. It’s an amazing thing.”

The Blue Devils stepped up their play in the second half against the Red Raiders by shooting a torrid 70.8 percent from the field and making their final eight shots.

Freshman star Paolo Banchero scored 22 points and nailed the go-ahead 3-pointer with 2:55 remaining to lead the late-game charge that netted Duke its 12th win in the past 14 games.

“I would say all year in the biggest moments we’ve always stepped up, and there’s no bigger moment than this,” Banchero said after the win. “I don’t know about these guys, but I’ve never played in a basketball game like that.”

While the Blue Devils are motivated to send Krzyzewski out with a title, the Razorbacks are provoked by perceived snubs.

After Thursday’s victory, Arkansas coach Eric Musselman thanked everyone who said the Razorbacks had no chance to defeat Gonzaga. The tide won’t be as stern this time, but Arkansas is again an underdog despite winning 18 of its past 21 games.

Razorbacks forward Jaylin Williams sees the situation as a recurring theme.

“I think we’re being disrespected the whole year, so it’s just another thing for us,” he said. “They gave (Gonzaga) an 86 percent chance to win. We saw that and everything they were saying. We felt like they were dancing before the game. That was disrespect to us.

“We came into the game playing hard and had a chip on our shoulder. Every game we do, and we played hard for 40 minutes, so that’s just what we do now.”

The Razorbacks will need a more efficient shooting performance from star guard JD Notae against Duke.

He had a stellar stat line against Gonzaga with 21 points, six rebounds, six assists and three steals but was just 9-of-29 shooting from the field. Notae is shooting just 30.2 percent (19 of 63) while averaging 18.7 points during Arkansas’ three NCAA Tournament wins.

Musselman wasn’t even mildly concerned that Notae missed 20 shots against the Bulldogs.

“We trust him. I’m going to roll with the guys that have done it all year,” Musselman said of Notae. “He could have missed 10 more shots, and I probably would have still called his number because I had that belief that the next one is going in. So do his teammates.”

The Razorbacks and Blue Devils have met twice previously in NCAA Tournament play. The 1994 clash is memorable for Arkansas as it defeated Duke 76-72 in the title game for its lone national championship. Scotty Thurman buried the memorable go-ahead 3-pointer with 50.7 seconds left for Arkansas.

Duke defeated the Razorbacks 97-83 in the 1990 Final Four. The Christian Laettner-led squad dismantled UNLV 103-73 in the title game two nights later.

Notae, Arkansas muscle top overall seed Gonzaga out of NCAAs

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
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SAN FRANCISCO — For 40 frenzied minutes, JD Notae, Jaylin Williams and Arkansas played a maddening, muscular style on both ends that took Gonzaga out of its game – and right out of the NCAA Tournament far earlier than these Zags expected.

Notae scored 21 points despite missing 20 shots and the determined, fourth-seeded Razorbacks dashed the No. 1 overall seed Bulldogs’ title hopes with a 74-68 win in the Sweet 16 on Thursday night.

“We’ve been disrespected the whole year, so it’s just another thing for us,” Williams said. “We saw everything they were saying, we felt like they were dancing before the game. That was disrespect for us. We just came into the game playing hard and we had a chip on our shoulder. Every game we do.”

When the buzzer sounded, Notae tossed the game ball into the air in triumph, while Williams flexed and roared near midcourt. Coach Eric Musselman made his way into the stands to find his mother, Kris, for a celebratory embrace as she watched her well-traveled son coaching the Razorbacks in person for the first time.

After a throwback performance from the program that once promised “40 Minutes of Hell,” it was pure bliss for these Hogs.

Notae finished with six rebounds, six assists, three steals and two blocked shots for the Razorbacks (28-8), who reached the Elite Eight for a second straight year and will face either Duke or Texas Tech in the West Region final on Saturday.

Drew Timme scored 25 points but couldn’t rally the normally high-scoring Bulldogs (28-4), who for the second straight season were favored to win that elusive national title but couldn’t match up with an athletic, scrappy foe. Gonzaga had been undefeated last year before losing to Baylor in the national title game.

“We just wanted to be physical, plain and simple,” Musselman said. “We wanted them to feel bodies. Obviously they played a really tough schedule early in the season, but it’s been a long time in conference play since they faced a team like us.”

An emotional Timme addressed his teammates afterward, then fought tears during a postgame news conference.

“It was a hell of a ride,” Timme said. “It didn’t end up the way we wanted but we came to play hard. It was their night.”

Arkansas continually challenged 7-foot freshman Chet Holmgren in the paint, and the skinny NBA prospect fouled out with 3:29 remaining. Holmgren scored all 11 of his points after halftime and had 14 rebounds in what might have been his final college game.

Notae shot 9 of 29 overall and 2 for 12 from 3-point range yet still did a little bit of everything for Arkansas. The senior guard’s 3 with 6:38 left made it 59-50, and the Razorbacks held on from there.

Au’Diese Toney’s one-handed slam with 1 second left punctuated the victory.

Toney converted a three-point play with 8:36 left by going right at Holmgren to draw his fourth foul and send him to the bench. The big man returned at the 6:46 mark but Notae drove at him three minutes later and drew the freshman’s fifth foul. Holmgren raised his arms in protest.

During one key sequence, Notae scored, then sneaked in from behind Timme for a steal as Williams held his ground on the block. Notae swatted an early shot and made a steal to get his team going. He hit the floor repeatedly to corral loose balls.

“He kept the momentum our way,” Trey Wade said.

Gonzaga trailed at the break for just the fifth time this season and never found the shooting touch that made the Zags the top scoring team in the nation at 87.8 points per game. The Zags shot 37.5% and went 5 of 21 from 3-point range. Andrew Nembhard was a non-factor with seven points on 2-of-11 shooting.

“It’s always so tough when it finally ends, especially short of the goal we all had,” coach Mark Few said. “First time we lost in this round in quite a while. All the credit goes to Arkansas. Their defense was tough to get any rhythm against. To me that was the difference in the game.”

Williams took a charge late in the first half – his 45th of the season – and drove through the lane for an emphatic dunk during a 9-0 run by Arkansas in which the Zags were 0 for 5 with three turnovers.

Williams had 15 points and 12 rebounds while Wade also scored 15.

BAY AREA MEMORY

Gonzaga’s last two visits to the Bay Area have been forgettable. The Bulldogs’ previous visit was still plenty fresh before Thursday – a 67-57 loss at rival Saint Mary’s on Feb. 26 for their first defeat since Dec. 4.

FACING NO. 1

The Hogs earned their first ever win against a No. 1 team in the NCAA Tournament.

Arkansas had been 0-5 all-time against the nation’s top-ranked team and 2-11 overall, with one of those wins coming this season. The Razorbacks beat then-No. 1 Auburn 76-73 in overtime on Feb. 8.

BIG PICTURE

Arkansas: Musselman coached both the NBA’s Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings in the 2000s, so this was a homecoming of sorts. His mother flew in from San Diego. … Hogs assistant Keith Smart also coached with both franchises. … Arkansas missed its initial four 3-point tries before Wade hit from deep at the 10:36 mark of the first half. … The Razorbacks lost to eventual champion Baylor in last year’s Elite Eight. … Arkansas improved to 8-5 in Sweet 16 games.

Gonzaga: The Zags committed 15 turnovers, resulting in 10 Arkansas points. … Gonzaga’s seven straight Sweet 16s is the longest active run to this round. … The Zags won the only previous meeting between the schools, 91-81 at the Maui Invitational in November 2013.