With its dismantling of the No. 11 seed Xavier 83-59, the No. 1 seed Gonzaga Bulldogs earned their trip to its first Final Four in program history. Against an underrated Musketeers (24-14, 9-9 Big East) team that upset three ranked teams, the Bulldogs held an offensive clinic, scoring 83 points in just 71 possessions.
Gonzaga (39-1, 17-1 WCC) shot 12-of-24 three-point attempts, spearheaded by All-American junior guard Nigel Williams-Goss’ 4-of-7 performance from beyond the arc. Sophomore Josh Perkins went 3-of-7 from distance as well, and junior Johnathan Williams was could not be stopped with the ball on his way to 19 points.
It was an outstanding team effort by the Zags and a remarkable display of the other side of their 36-1 record this season, proving that there is nothing this team cannot do on either end of the floor. However, although they have avenged their past tournament losses, including two losses in the Elite 8 in 2015 and 1999, Mark Few’s squad still has two more games to win.
Gonzaga’s next matchup will be against the No. 7 seed South Carolina (26-10, 12-6 SEC), this tournament’s Cinderella story, that is playing as well as any team in the country. Gonzaga should be favored in that matchup, and a championship win would tie the record for most wins in a single season in Division I basketball.
Ducks Keep Quacking
Despite legitimate concerns about tournament prospects after senior defensive anchor and leading shot-blocker Chris Boucher tore his ACL days before the tournament began, the No. 3 seed Oregon (33-5, 16-2 PAC 12) erased all doubts about its ability to contend with a 74-60 win over No. 1 seed Kansas (31-5, 16-2 Big 12). This is the Ducks’ first trip to the Final Four since 1939, breaking the longest current drought between Final Four appearances in Division I basketball.
Junior forward Jordan Bell nearly had a triple double, finishing with 11 points, 13 rebounds and an absurd eight blocks, establishing a stronghold in the paint from tipoff and ensuring Kansas got no easy looks at the basket. This, along with a mix of zone and man-to-man defense utilized by Oregon, resulted in the Jayhawks shooting 35 percent from the field and scoring 20 points below its tournament average. Bell has maintained the Ducks’ status of having the top shot-blocking percentage in the nation in Boucher’s absence and played himself into NBA Draft consideration, should he choose to declare. The Ducks will now take on the No. 1 seed North Carolina (31-7, 14-4 ACC) in what should be a game for the ages.
In shocking fashion, the North Carolina Tar Heels prevailed over the No. 2 seed Kentucky Wildcats 75-73, booking its spot in the program’s 20th Final Four. The victory was fueled by walk-on sophomore forward Luke Maye, who scored a career-high 17 points and sunk the game-winning jump shot from just inside the arc with 0.3 seconds left to play.
Just 48 hours after setting his previous career-high 16 points against Butler (25-6, 12-6 Big East) in the Sweet 16, Maye was everywhere for Carolina, becoming the unexpected hero it desperately needed against a hungry Kentucky (32-6, 16-2 SEC) team. Unfortunately, John Calipari’s team fell victim to the power of March Madness that turns unknowns into legends in just one play.
The Other Carolina
Until this March, No. 7 seed South Carolina had recorded zero NCAA Tournament wins since 1973, but it turns out it was just waiting to buy them in bulk. The Gamecocks continued their improbable run Sunday, topping No. 4 Florida (27-9, 14-4 SEC) 77-70 to earn a national semifinal date with Gonzaga on April 1.
Backed by a cultish following of fans from Columbia who brought their Southern charm and snarl to Madison Square Garden, the Gamecocks did to the Gators what they’ve done to every opponent they’ve faced thus far in the tournament — wear them down. SEC Player of the Year, senior guard Sindarius Thornwell, who was little-known outside of his league three weeks ago, continued his Shabazz Napier-like run as a budding tournament star, scoring 26 points to take his home-state school to a pinnacle that nobody envisioned them reaching.
Long known as one of the “other teams” in the SEC — besides Kentucky of course — the Gamecocks were picked to reach the Final Four in just 0.6 percent of NCAA Tournament brackets and have proven all of America wrong by becoming this year’s Cinderella story. They are currently 6.5-point underdogs in their next game against the Bulldogs, but we have absolutely no reason to doubt the Gamecocks.
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