Upsets continue as Final Four is confirmed
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The college basketball world was blessed with a plethora of great March Madness games this weekend.
The Elite Eight kicked off Saturday night March 25 when the No. 1 seeded Gonzaga University stacked up against the No. 11 seeded Xavier University.
Gonzaga was the first team to punch their ticket to the Final Four with an 83-59 victory. They were able to pull away in the second half behind 23 points from junior guard Nigel Williams-Goss.
Hoops continued Saturday night when the No. 1 seeded University of Kansas faced off against the No. 3 seeded Oregon State University. The Jayhawks came into this matchup with spiked confidence following a 32-point victory over Purdue University in the Sweet 16. On the other side, the Oregon Ducks squeezed into the Elite 8 after a one point victory over University of Michigan.
The Ducks were able to jump out to an 11 point lead in the first half, and never looked back. Tough defense and missed shots from the Jayhawks down the stretch gave Oregon a 74-60 win. The team is heading to their first Final Four appearance in almost 80 years.
Less than 18 hours later the madness continued when the No. 4 seeded University of Florida squared off against the No. 7 seeded University of South Carolina.
Florida’s senior forward Justin Leon helped the Gators capture a seven point halftime lead, but the South Carolina Gamecocks stormed back in the second half behind senior guard Sindarius Thornwell.
The Gamecocks were able to score 44 points in the second half and punch their first ever ticket to the Final Four with a convincing 77-70 victory.
The final Elite 8 game of the tournament featured a highly anticipated matchup between the No. 1 seeded University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the No. 2 seeded University of Kentucky.
Both teams were looking forward to this matchup following their epic showdown in mid December. That time, the Kentucky Wildcats were able to pull off a 103-100 win after first-year guard Malik Monk hit a corner 3 pointer with only a few seconds left.
Since then, both teams have drastically improved on both ends of the court. The Wildcats established an identity behind their elite first-year backcourt composed of De’Aaron Fox and Monk.
The Tar heels found success from their veteran core. Junior guard Joel Berry II, junior forward Justin Jackson and senior forward Kennedy Meeks are the leaders of this Carolina team.
The game was close throughout, with neither team jumping out a to significant lead. However, the Tar heels strung together 12 straight points over the last five minutes to gain control.
It seemed North Carolina was in full control until Monk hit two consecutive, extremely difficult 3-pointers to keep the Wildcats in the game. Seconds later, UNC sophomore forward Luke Maye made the biggest shot of his life, to give the Tar Heels a two-point lead with .3 seconds left on the clock. UNC punched its ticket to the final four with a 75-73 win.
The Final Four is set for April 1. The first game will tip off at 6:09 p.m. between the No. 1 seeded Gonzaga and the No. 7 seeded South Carolina.
Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss and Jonathan Williams will be looking to fill up the stat sheet. Sindarius Thornwell leads the Gamecocks in points and rebounds.
The second Final Four game will get under way at 8:49 p.m. as the No. 1 seeded North Carolina will battle the No. 3 seeded Oregon.
The Tar Heels will look to their veteran core to set the pace of the game come Saturday night.
Dillon Brooks has been a leader all year on this resilient Ducks team. Watch for Brooks and the team’s leading rebounder, junior forward Jordan Bell to lead the way.