Arkansas uses big second-half comeback to shock No. 1-seeded Kansas

Another No. 1 seed was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament, and this time it was the defending national champion.

Kansas, the West Region’s top seed, lost a 12-point second-half lead and was shocked by Arkansas, 72-71, in a second-round game in Des Moines, Iowa. The Jayhawks, who were still without head coach Bill Self due to health reasons, were sent to the second round a year after winning it all and became the second No. 1 seed to fall in that tournament, joining Purdue. Meanwhile, the Razorbacks will move to the Sweet 16 for the third consecutive season.

The No. 8 seeded Razorbacks in the West used an 11-0 run in the second half to get back into the game. After leading 46-34 with 15:21 remaining, a Jordan Walsh 3-pointer at 8:55 gave Arkansas its first lead in the opening minutes. While Walsh’s shot was important, it was Davonte Davis who carried the Razorbacks down the stretch.

Davis, hampered by four fouls for much of the half, scored 21 of his 25 points in the second half, blow for blow with the playmakers on the Kansas side. But when Davis fouled with 1:56 to play, his teammates intervened.

First, Ricky Council IV tied the game at 65 with a jumper, then Kamani Johnson gave the go-ahead with an offensive rebound, his sixth of the game. And after Kansas tied it, the Board put Arkansas in the lead for good.

Arkansas' Davonte Davis passes by Kansas' Kevin McCullar Jr. during the second round of the NCAA Tournament on March 18, 2023 in Des Moines, Iowa.  (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Arkansas’ Davonte Davis driven by Kansas’ Kevin McCullar Jr. during the second round of the NCAA Tournament on March 18, 2023 in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

The board attacked the basket and was fouled with 24 seconds left. He made the first free throw, giving his team the lead, 68-67. He missed the second, but Jordan Walsh came forward and got his hands on the loose ball to deflect it towards the Council. Once the ball was back in his hands, the Council saw an opening to the basket and attacked. He was again the victim of a fault. This time he did both, extending the Razorbacks’ lead to 70-67 with 21 seconds to go.

On the ensuing possession, Kansas cut the lead to 70-69 with two free throws from Jalen Wilson. At that point, there were less than 10 seconds left. This put Kansas in foul mode. The board was up to the challenge and quietly sank two more free throws to make it 72-69.

Down to three, Arkansas fouled Kansas on the next possession to prevent any chance of a 3-point tie. The strategy worked. Wilson sank the first and second even as he intentionally tried to miss.

From there, it only took one pass for the Razorbacks to run the remaining time off the clock and seal a big upset.

While Davis led the way with 25 points, Council threw 21 of his own in an effort that included 10 of his 11 free throws. Walsh’s effort off the bench was huge to spark the comeback. He was Arkansas’ third double-digit player with 10 points. Anthony Black and Nick Smith Jr., Arkansas’ two star freshmen, combined for just four points on 1-of-10 shooting. But that wouldn’t matter. The Razorbacks veterans led the team to victory.

It’s been a turbulent season for Arkansas after reaching the Elite Eight in 2021 and 2022. The Razorbacks have struggled with injuries and inconsistent play, but it looks like they’re peaking at the right time and will face either the No. #4 seed UConn or #5 Saint Mary’s in the Sweet 16 in Las Vegas.

On the other side, Kansas becomes the second No. 1 seed to fall in the early rounds of the NCAA Tournament. The Jayhawks won the Big 12 and secured a No. 1 seed despite playing a very different roster than the one that won the national championship last year. This year, however, the Jayhawks crumbled after building a double-digit second-half lead. And without the self-directed sideline traffic, Kansas wasn’t able to make the winning plays down the straight and keep their dream of repeating as champions alive.

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