Who’s sorry now about UA season?
Whether it’s Richard Nixon on prime-time TV or an Arkansas sports writer rapping in print a team loved by his readers, admitting a public mea culpa is no joy.
You might think after more than 40 years on this job, I could spot a trend. That while basketball fans author NCAA brackets both sublime and ridiculous, anything can happen in what’s called March Madness, when 68 teams with a common goal start with the ambition of hearing “One Shining Moment” after the final game on a Monday night in April.
That said, let me down gently for having no better insight on Arkansas 72, Kansas 71, a surprising outcome Saturday if not necessarily of the Lyle Lovett weds Julia Roberts variety.
The sports columnist and lead sports writer at the statewide newspaper stopped short of calling it an upset, even though it involved a second top seed in two days bounced from the tournament.
To call this a fluke would be to undermine Arkansas’ effort, to disrespect a team that pulled off one of the greatest feats in program history.
A team that I suggested in print only days earlier did not belong in the NCAA tournament, that the 68-team field was surely too large, is one victory from a third consecutive appearance in the Elite Eight. A No. 10 seed in the Southeastern Conference tournament, after which they were gone in two games, the Razorbacks again proved a live longshot in the season’s most desperate moments. Legacy time again was good for an excited Eric Musselman and his youthful team.
As against Gonzaga last season, Arkansas defeated one of the four top seeds. This one goes in history then with another one-point Arkansas victory over the defending national champion, U.S. Reed shooting down Louisville in the second round in 1981. In the pantheon of Razorback heroes, inscribe Devonte Davis’ name for what one longtime UA observer called possibly the best second half by any UA player. Scoring four points in Arkansas’ getaway, the Hogs trailing 35-27 and destined to go down 42-31 almost three minutes after the break, Davis totaled 21 points on 7 of 9 from the field and 6 of 7 free throws in the second half.
Kamani Johnson, whose own moment of glory came with a tip-in that put Arkansas ahead 67-65 in the final minute, went on and on about Davis, the one they call Devo and about whom Razorback fans sometimes file a missing-in-person report.
“I’m going to say this about Devo because people talk about him or whatever,” Johnson said. “Devo Davis is a pro. He’s a god. He’s going to win. He’s a winner.
“He’s stamped. Arkansas legend, for sure.”
Arkansas has fired coaches for letting in-state players bolt the state, only to come back to wreck the Razorbacks. Honorable and loyal though he is, Mike Anderson could not survive after letting Archie Goodwin, Malik Monk and KeVaughn Allen get away, two to Kentucky and all three inside the SEC.
Davis openly cried on camera after one of the showpiece games in the tournament’s opening weekend. His numbers invoked comparison with such UA all-timers Sidney Moncrief, Joe Kleine, Todd Day and Corliss Williamson. And they came on a day that Arkansas certainly would have crashed without them.
That Musselman’s team would beat Kansas with a combined four points from Nick Smith Jr. and Anthony Black was unthinkable. Smith, who with Black is seen as a one-anddone prospect, did not score. Then consider that the Hogs had three players foul out and two finish with four fouls. They might have been down to student-managers if it had gone to overtime.
Instead, they are off to Las Vegas for the West Region semifinals Thursday night, playing their best basketball of the season when it most matters. In beating Kansas, a blueblood national program for decades, the Razorbacks made one forget they lost at LSU and Vanderbilt.
Arkansas got its due in the national press. So did Kansas, which was not at tops physically with coach Bill Self sidelined. Any self-respecting Razorback fan should be lifting Self’s name up in prayer. The team in white had “Kansas” stitched across the front of its jerseys, and that is all one needs to know.
The only sticking point here is that Arkansas fans — its coach included — can’t accept such a victory with more aplomb. Kansas doesn’t storm the court after winning in Allen Fieldhouse, and an Arkansas coach shouldn’t go bare-chested in public after a game. That said, viva Las Vegas, and keep it going, guys!