SAN FRANCISCO — Nursing a foot injury, NBA star Stephen Curry stayed back in the Bay Area this week as his Golden State Warriors traveled to road games, vacating the Chase Center for this week’s NCAA tournament games at the West Regional.

Curry went through rehabilitation work at the Warriors’ gym on Thursday, then stayed on the property to take in a Sweet 16 matchup between Gonzaga and Arkansas.

Inside a building where Curry normally gets three-pointers to fall from deep spots and difficult angles, top-seeded Gonzaga found an inopportune time to land on one of its worst shooting performances of the season, making just 5-of-21 shots from beyond the arc in a 74-68 NCAA tournament loss to fourth-seeded Arkansas. 

The final numbers may have looked worse than that, but Gonzaga point guard Andrew Nembhard somehow got an off-balanced, running, desperation three-pointer to fall inside the final minute of the second half. 

“Like I told these guys after, the only reason we’re in this position now to be in this game at this point of the season and being ranked No. 1 was because we got the ball to the right spots and the right guys, and they took the right shots, and that’s the same thing we did tonight,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “They just, unfortunately, didn’t drop and we had some good looks, but these guys have put their incredible amount of work in, and like I said, don’t really need to hang their head or second guess.

“Those were the shots we wanted. We just didn’t quite knock them down.”

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Many of Gonzaga’s offensive shortcomings were self-inflicted, but Arkansas played hard, unrelenting, handsy defense that didn’t soften up until the final buzzer sounded. In the final edition of the Gonzaga takeaways, we focus on Arkansas’ strategy, another productive NCAA tournament outing for Drew Timme and where Few’s program goes from here.

Here’s three Gonzaga takeaways a day after the loss.

Different gear

Eric Musselman is a former West Coast Conference guard who still keeps up with the league when the national television schedule, or his own schedule, allows him to. 

“I watch this conference whenever I can,” Musselman said. “If they’re ever on TV, it’s always Gonzaga. It’s not San Diego, Santa Clara. I promise you that. Gonzaga is always on playing somebody in that conference (on TV).”

The ex-University of San Diego Torero and third-year Arkansas coach has a good sense of what Gonzaga sees on a weekly basis in the WCC, which means he also knows what the Bulldogs don’t see.

While the conference is drastically improved, GU’s top challengers in the WCC — Saint Mary’s, San Francisco and BYU — can’t replicate the physicality and quickness Musselman is able to put on the floor in Fayetteville.

Gonzaga’s inconsistent shot-making may have been the top offensive deficiency on Thursday, but it wasn’t the only one. The Bulldogs had more turnovers (15) than assists (9) for just the fourth time this season, unable to control the ball against an Arkansas team that constantly sought to knock it away.

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“Inside we just wanted to be physical, plain and simple. We wanted them to feel bodies,” Musselman said. “I played in that league. I know what some of the teams are like in that league, and the physicality and the speed that we can play with is just different, and, 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.”

From a physicality standpoint, Few thought his team actually had a good warm-up in its most recent NCAA tournament game.

“We’ve been in a lot of physical battles this year,” Gonzaga’s coach said. “Heck, we just finished one against Memphis. A week or so ago. … We just weren’t quite able to convert like we always have in the past. The length and the athleticism, obviously, factored into that, and it was maybe tougher to get to them initially.”

March marvel

Arkansas locked up one of the nation’s best point guards in Nembhard. The Razorbacks mitigated the damage of a potential No. 1 NBA draft pick, limiting Chet Holmgren in a game where the freshman eventually fouled out. They never let Julian Strawther (3 of 9) or Rasir Bolton (3 of 10) settle into an offensive rhythm.

Perhaps the only thing the Razorbacks didn’t do in their Sweet 16 upset was stop the NCAA tournament wrecking ball that was Timme. Memphis, Georgia State, UCLA, USC, Oklahoma and Creighton might tell them to join the club.

Gonzaga’s all-time leading scorer in the NCAA tournament scored 25 more points, extending his school record to 204 points in nine tourney games — 55 clear of the previous record held by Adam Morrison. 

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Timme’s scored at least 25 points in five NCAA tournament games and hit that mark in each game this postseason, pouring in 32 against Georgia State, 25 against Memphis and 25 Arkansas to average 27.3 ppg. 

Of Timme’s 82 points in the 2022 NCAA tournament — the most by any player in this year’s event through three games — 60 came in the second half. Timme also ranks No. 1 in Gonzaga history when it comes to career field goals made in the NCAA tournament with 74, surpassing Morrison’s record of 58, along with free throws made, with 43.

The Texan forward also had some of his best rebounding performances in the tournament, hauling down 34 boards in three games.

“You know what, it was their night, and you got to give them credit for winning the game,” Timme said. “They won the game fair and square, and they made great plays.”

Uncertain futures

It’s possible, but not highly probable, the three players who sat on the postgame podium Thursday night will each be back in Gonzaga uniforms next season. It’s also plausible that all three — Timme, Nembhard and Bolton — will move on to the next stage of their basketball careers. Or maybe some combination of those scenarios.

A fourth Gonzaga player, Holmgren, is expected to declare for the NBA as a projected lottery pick, meaning the Bulldogs may only return one player, sophomore wing Julian Strawther, to the five-man unit that started in 31 of 32 games this season. 

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During Thursday’s postgame session, Timme, Nembhard and Bolton were asked how they’d approach their decisions in the coming weeks and months.

Few interjected before any of his players could tackle the question: “I just think it’s too raw to be dealing with stuff like that. Let’s talk game. We’ll come up with stuff like that later on. It’s just not the time for that.”

On Senior Night, Bolton and Nembhard were noncommittal when asked if they’d weighed the possibility of coming back. Both were honored in front of a capacity McCarthey Center crowd, but are eligible to return for a fifth college season using a COVID-19 waiver.

Another important date pertaining to GU’s 2022-23 roster is fast-approaching. The Bulldogs will learn Monday if another five-star prospect will be coming to Spokane next season. Texas native Anthony Black is considering Gonzaga, along with the very Arkansas program that ended the Bulldogs’ season Thursday, and the Duncanville High native is set to make his decision early next week.