Winning ugly is still winning. Arkansas doesn’t mind appearing unpleasant, on offense anyway. As long as the Razorbacks play defense like they did on Saturday night they’ll be in any game, and more importantly it won’t take a herculean effort on offense to keep dancing, especially if they can stay hot from the free-throw line.

That was the formula for a 53-48 victory over New Mexico State on Saturday and it’s been the MO that has the Razorbacks advancing to the Sweet 16 on Thursday to face West Region No. 1 seed Gonzaga. Arkansas faced a No. 1 seed last year at the NCAA Tournament, falling to Baylor in the Elite 8.

It will be the Razorbacks’ 2nd consecutive Sweet 16 appearance. That hasn’t happened since Nolan Richardson’s 40 Minutes of Hell propelled them to 4 straight Sweet 16 games (1993-96). That run, of course, included a national title.

Some might call it “ugly” while others might be completely turned off by the smothering, low-scoring style of play. But with their triumph over New Mexico State on Saturday, the Razorbacks remain 1 of only 2 teams left from the SEC still alive in the NCAA Tournament, pending Auburn’s Sunday night game against Miami.

The offense was abysmal, again. The Hogs made a grand total of 14 field goals. Not for the half, for the game. That’s 27.5% from the floor (14-for-51). One has to wonder how in the world do you win any game shooting that poorly.

With those types of numbers, one would also have to wonder just how much time head coach Eric Musselman is spending on the Arkansas offense these days. Well, he addressed that very subject after the win on Saturday. From the victory on Thursday over Vermont to Saturday, Musselman said he spent zero time concerning himself with offense.

That much was apparent by his team’s performance, but it’s now been confirmed by the man himself, Arkansas will live and die with its defense.

But when you play defense like Arkansas does, you can afford to let the chips fall where they may on the other end of the court. How good was the defense on Saturday? It was the least points scored on Arkansas at halftime of an NCAA Tournament game in program history. That’s not too shabby.

The Hogs led 26-17 at the break and for the most part had things well in hand. They limited the Aggies to just 24% shooting through the first half, including a 2-for-15 showing from 3-point range.

But like with Vermont on Thursday, they allowed the opposition to get back in it and had to regroup at the end to finish the job. That’s a little disconcerting.

However, defense saved the day. And more specifically, Au’Diese Toney probably saved the day, holding Aggies’ leading scorer Teddy Allen to just 12 points on a 5-for-16 shooting night after he scorched UConn with 37 points. Allen, who came in averaging 19.6 points a game, did not shoot a free throw.

Toney held the Aggies’ top scorer to just 2 points at halftime. And if Jaylin Williams can hit the boards like he did on Saturday, hauling in 15 rebounds, a school record for an NCAA Tournament game, the Hogs should be in good shape. But that will be easier said than done against the tall trees from Gonzaga.

Another must-have for Thursday is continued sharp shooting from the line. The Hogs converted on 13-of-15 from the stripe, including a 7-for-8 night from JD Notae on his way to a team-leading 18 points. But Notae was most productive on defense where he came up with 8 steals, tying the school record for thefts in an NCAA Tournament game.

More of the same will be needed on Thursday if Arkansas is to derail the No. 1 seed Bulldogs, who are making their 7th consecutive Sweet 16 appearance and reached the national championship game last season.