March Madness: UConn dominates Arkansas in Sweet 16, looks like a legitimate national title contender

Watch out top seeds. UConn looks like a threat to win the national title.

The No. 4 seed Huskies cruised Thursday night to an 88-65 win over No. 8 seed Arkansas to advance to the Elite Eight. A Razorbacks team featuring two projected NBA lottery picks didn't stand a chance. UConn dominated in almost every facet of the game as it posted its third double-digit NCAA tournament win in three games.

UConn blows things open with 14-0, 9-0 runs

The Razorbacks kept things interesting in the game's opening minutes. They made 6 of 12 from the field to start the game as the Huskies opened up a 20-17 lead. From there it was all UConn, which blew the game open with a 14-0 run to extend its lead to 34-17. It took a 46-29 edge into the second half, and extended its lead to 62-33 courtesy of a 9-0 run. Arkansas' first field goal after halftime arrived with 13:52 left on the clock.

The Razorbacks responded with full-court pressure to fluster the Huskies en route to a 10-0 run to cut their deficit to 19. But it was too little entirely too late. UConn responded with 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to reassert its will. Arkansas never threatened.

Mar 23, 2023; Las Vegas, NV, USA; UConn Huskies forward Alex Karaban (11) reacts after a play against the Arkansas Razorbacks during the first half at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Alex Karaban and the Huskies are a win away from the Final Four. (Joe Camporeale/Reuters)

Statistics suggest that Huskies are title contenders

This is a Huskies team that entered the tournament as a No. 4 seed, having finished in fourth place in the Big East courtesy of a 13-7 conference record. Multiple statistical measures suggested that UConn was stronger than its seeding, a prediction that has played out on the court through three tournament games.

The Huskies entered Thursday ranked fourth in the nation in KenPom rankings, an advanced analytical formula that ranks teams on various data points. They're strong on both sides of the floor, ranking third in KenPom's adjusted offensive efficiency and 14th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency. They're third in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage.

These strengths were all on display against Arkansas. UConn controlled both sides of the court in the paint and beyond the 3-point arc. The Huskies shot 57.4% from the floor and 45% (9 of 20) from 3-point distance. They moved the ball effectively against a hapless Arkansas defense while assisting on 21 of 31 made field goals.

On defense, they gave the Razorbacks no room to operate inside while holding Arkansas to 31.7% shooting from the field. An Arkansas team that shot poorly from distance all season (31.3%) found no solace from behind the arc in a 5-of-16 effort that matched its season-long percentage.

UConn dominated the glass while winning the rebounding battle, 43-31. When it missed, it gave itself repeated second chances while securing 11 offensive rebounds on 23 missed shots.

Hawkins, Sangono feast on Arkansas

Four Huskies scored in double figures, led by sophomore guard Jordan Hawkins, who posted 24 points and three assists while hitting all nine of his free-throw attempts.

Junior forward Adama Sanogo is fasting during Ramadan, abstaining from food and drink from sunup to sundown. He showed no signs of fatigue Thursday while controlling the paint en route to 18 points, eight rebounds and two blocks. He connected on 9 of 11 field-goal attempts, most of them close to the basket. Freshman forward Alex Karaban added 11 points and seven rebounds.

NBA-bound freshman guard Anthony Black was Arkansas' best player Thursday. He posted 20 points, four rebounds and five steals in what's very likely his last game as a Razorback. Fellow freshman and future pro Nick Smith Jr. added 11 points, two rebounds and two assists.

The Huskies shut down junior forward Davonte Davis, the hero of last week's upset win over No. 1 seed Kansas. After tallying 25 points and eight rebounds against the Jayhawks, Davis shot 1-of-10 against the Huskies while tallying three points and four rebounds.

The last time UConn made the Elite Eight, it did so as a No. 7 seed in 2014. It went on to win the national championship. The 2023 Huskies are back in the regional final armed with the profile of a contender.

They'll face a stiff test on Saturday against a Gonzaga team that beat UCLA in a thriller Thursday night. The winner goes to the Final Four.