NCAA Tournament: Elite 8 recap

North Carolina’s Luke Maye releasing the winning jump shot in the South Regional final against Kentucky on Sunday. PHOTO: Justin Ford/USA Today Sports, via Reuters.

As promised, there was sure some madness still to come, and it delivered this weekend.  With the Final Four looming, each team played their hardest in order to reach the pinnacle in Phoenix.

1 Gonzaga took on 11 Xavier in a game where one of the two would go on to their first ever Final Four.  That team would be the Zags as they trounced Xavier 83-59.  While Przemek Karnowski was limited, other players stepped up for Gonzaga including Nigel Williams Goss who had 23 pts. and Johnathan Williams who had 19 pts. of his own.  Mark Few and his Bulldogs are off to Phoenix and are still dancing.

3 Oregon defeated 1 Kansas in an upset many didn’t see coming.  The Ducks easily handled the Jayhawks 74-60, and led almost the whole way.  Veteran leadership proved to be pivotal as senior guard Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey both had double figures, 17 for Brooks and 27 for Dorsey.  Jordan Bell had a double double with 11 pts. and 13 rebounds.  While senior point guard for Kansas Frank Mason III had 21 pts., it wasn’t enough to lift his tea to the Final Four.  Kansas unfortunately has lost in either the Sweet 16 or Elite 8 in each of the last 4 years.  But, onward go the Oregon Ducks.

7 South Carolina stunned 4 Florida 77-70.  Nobody expected the Gamecocks to advance this far as they have eliminated the Gators, Baylor, and Duke in the process.  Sindarius Thornwell led S. Carolina with 26 pts. and the Gamecocks are now in their first ever Final Four as well.  The scene was perfect when Chris Chiozza of Florida missed his free throw, and all South Carolina had to do was inbound the ball.  The jubilation and accomplished was worn by every player’s face, truly capturing the magic of March.  When asked by a reporter after the game about their magically unforgettable run, South Carolina head coach Frank Martin stated with joy, “Adversity, we’ve handled that.  Now we’re here!”

The final game of the weekend was the marquee match up we all wanted to witness.  2 Kentucky and 1 North Carolina.  The game was a nail biter through the entire first half.  Early in the second half, Kentucky grabbed its first lead and held on to it for several minutes.  Both teams made key free throes down the stretch.  The score was 64-59 UK, until Carolina went on 12-0 run.  Now up 71-64, Kentucky needed its players to step up, and did they ever.  Freshman phenom DeAaron Fox buried a corner 3 giving the Wildcats a chance.  Both teams then went to the line and made their foul shots until the score was 73-70 UNC.  After UNC guard Justin Jackson missed a huge free throw the Wildcats went up the floor with 10 seconds remaining.  Freshman guard and top future NBA pick Malik Monk tied the game with a unbelievable contested 3 over three N. Carolina defenders.  Carolina had 6 seconds and Theo Pinson dribbled the ball up the court and passed it to walk on Luke Maye.  Maye shot a step back jumper and hit the shot at the buzzer.  UNC won the game 75-73 and advanced to their second straight Final Four, this time, looking for redemption from last year.  Kennedy Meeks finished with 17 boards and Luke Maye was a valuble contributon of the bench with 17 pts., while Justin Jackson led the team with 19.

The Final Four should be exhilarating, and let the March Madness commence!

The games on Saturday:

7 South Carolina vs. 1 Gonzaga

3 Oregon vs. 1 North Carolina




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