SAN FRANCISCO — Gonzaga’s dream of winning a national championship will have to wait at least another year.
The top-seeded Zags, in their seventh straight trip to the Sweet 16, were sent home by an Arkansas team whose speed and aggression added up to a 74-68 victory at the Chase Center on Thursday evening.
The Zags (28-4) reached the national championship game in 2017 and again last year, only to be turned away. The Razorbacks (28-8) took the lead 3 minutes into the second half and never gave it back.
The loss is the second in a month in the Bay Area for the Zags, who fell 67-57 at Saint Mary’s in the regular-season finale on Feb. 26.
The Hogs, who advance to the Elite 8 for the second straight season under former Warriors coach Eric Musselman, will play Saturday night against Duke, which beat Texas Tech in Thursday night’s late game.
“This is what we dreamed about, this is what we came here to do,” said Arkansas star guard JD Notae, embracing the underdog role. “Before we left Fayetteville, coach said if you don’t want to win, don’t get on the plane.”
It was a great homecoming for Musselman, whose mother flew up from San Diego to watch him coach the Razorbacks for the first time.
Musselman, who played college ball at San Diego in the West Coast Conference, was convinced his Southeastern Conference squad would cause the Zags problems.
“The physicality and the speed that we can play with is just really different,” Musselman said. “It’s been a long time in conference play since they faced a team like us. I thought it was as good as we could play against a really, really good team that is well-coached.”
The Hogs held Gonzaga — the nation’s highest-scoring team — to 38-percent shooting and forced 15 turnovers.
“I think they got a little frustrated,” Notae said.
Down nine points with less than 7 minutes left, Gonzaga battled back but got no closer than three points the rest of the way.
Gonzaga coach Mark Few said it will take his players time to gain perspective on a season he dubbed “spectacular.” Falling short of a trip to New Orleans for the ‘Final Four doesn’t throw cold water on the entire season, Few said.
“Sometimes the outside people label it national championship or bust,” he said. “Obviously, we wanted to take this thing all the way to the end and win it. But we understand how hard that is.”
WCC Player of the Year Drew Timme, who scored 25 points for the Zags, gathered his teammates at midcourt afterward and consoled them.
“I just said I was proud of us. It was a hell of a ride,” he said. “It didn’t end up the way we wanted but we came to play hard. It was just their night. They won the game fair and square.”
Andrew Nembhard, championed by Few as the nation’s top point guard, was harassed all night by Arkansas guard Au’Diese Toney. Nembhard made just one of his first nine shots before dropping a running 3-pointer with 16.5 seconds left.
“His length was a factor. He’s athletic he did a great job, pressing me the whole game,” Nembhard said.
Freshman 7-footer Chet Holmgren, expected to be a top-3 pick in the NBA, had 11 points and 14 rebounds but often was a step slow on defense and fouled out with 3:29 to play.
“It was a big aspect tonight,” Few conceded. “We’re so different when he’s in there with his rim protection.”
Notae needed 29 shots to score 21 points, but he was everywhere for the Razorbacks. He added six rebounds, six assists and three steals. Forward Jaylin Williams contributed 15 points and 12 rebounds and Trey Wade also scored 15.
The back-and-forth continued early in the second half but the Zags developed the first serious foul issue when Holmgren was whistled for his third with 15:56 left.
Few left him in the game and Holmgren avoided further trouble until bumping Toney, who converted a layup and free throw for a 52-46 Hogs’ lead with 8:36 left.
For the third straight game the Zags found themselves in a first-half battle, trailing 32-29. They were up just 35-33 against Georgia State before winning 93-72 and they trailed Memphis 41-31, ultimately winning 82-78.