There will be a quartet of traditional college basketball powers gathering next weekend in New Orleans for the men’s Final Four.
North Carolina and Kansas punched their tickets on Sunday in dominating fashion. The No. 8 seeded Tar Heels ended a Cinderella run by Saint Peter’s with a 65-42 thumping. They’ll face archrival Duke in one national semifinal next Saturday.
In the first half of the women’s Elite Eight, Dawn Staley’s No. 1 South Carolina Gamecocks dismissed No. 10 seed Creighton 80-50.
And in the final game of the night, top-seeded and defending national champion Stanford pulled away from No. 2 seed Texas 59-50. The remaining two spots in the women’s Final Four will be determined on Monday night.
ELITE EIGHT: Winners and losers from Sunday’s men’s games
STORYBOOK ENDINGS: 10 most surprising Cinderellas of NCAA Tournament include Saint Peter’s
SPOKANE — Behind a stellar defensive performance from sophomore Cameron Brink (six blocks, one steal) and some late-game heroics from the hometown Hull sisters, defending champion Stanford beat Texas 59-50 to qualify for its second consecutive Final Four.
Stanford advances to play the winner of UConn-NC State, which will be played Monday evening.
After a drive and finish from senior guard Lexie Hull that put the Cardinal up 52-48, Stanford hit seven of nine free throws over the final 2:29 to ice the win.
Hull led all players with 20 points on 7-of-14 shooting, and Haley Jones chipped in 18 points and 12 rebounds. Brink finished with 10 points and six rebounds to go along with her shot-altering game.
Joanne Allen-Taylor led Texas with 15 points, but fouled out. Superstar rookie Rori Harmon, the Big 12 Freshman of the Year, finished with 14 points, but it took her 18 shots to get there and she was bothered much of the night by Stanford’s length defensively. She also grabbed seven rebounds and handed out six assists.
The key stretch for Stanford came midway through the third quarter, when Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer switched to a zone. Stanford — and Brink specifically — flustered the Longhorns, as Brink blocked a shot, guard Hannah Jump blocked a shot, Brink blocked two more and then grabbed a steal.
This will be the 14th Final Four appearance for VanDerveer, who has won three national titles.
— Lindsay Schnell
Bill Self couldn’t help but smile after Kansas basketball’s dominating win over Miami in the Elite Eight on Sunday.
Down by six points at the break, the Jayhawks put on a defensive clinic in the second half, limiting the Hurricanes to just 15 points en route to a 76-50 win.
After the game, Self took a moment to speak with CBS sideline reporter Dana Jacobson to give his thoughts on the team’s victory and trip to the Final Four.
At one point, Jacobson brought up one of the mottos of Self’s father, Bill Self Sr., who died in January at age 82.
“It’s a special year for me and my family, obviously, with my dad passing, and that was his motto: ‘Don’t worry about the mules, just load the wagon,'” Self said. “The guys didn’t really worry about the distractions of what was going on in the first half, they just played in the second half.”
— Adam Hensley, Topeka Capital-Journal
In a nip-and-tuck first half befitting of the top two seeds in the Spokane region, No. 1 Stanford leads No. 2 Texas 30-27 at halftime. Neither team has led by more than four points through the first 20 minutes.
As she has throughout the women’s tournament, Lexie Hull of the Cardinal leads all scorers with 12 points. Teammate Haley Jones has chipped in nine points and a game-high nine rebounds.
Only four players have scored for Texas, with Joanne Allen-Taylor leading the way with nine.
When North Carolina ruined his big goodbye to Cameron Indoor Stadium, Mike Krzyzewski stomped to the microphone and told the crowd it was “unacceptable.”
That was three weeks ago, when Krzyzewski losing his final game in college basketball’s most storied rivalry was going to be a big part of the story of his final season, no matter how it ultimately ended.
When the NCAA Tournament brackets came out on Selection Sunday, the notion of Duke and North Carolina playing one more time was never even mentioned. Given the seeds and the opponents and the distance to get there, it seemed so far off as to be an alternate galaxy.
But maybe we should have had more faith in this sport, which somehow figures out how to deliver the most ridiculous drama. Because on Saturday night in New Orleans, the 98th and most definitely final Duke-North Carolina meeting in the Krzyzewski era will happen with a berth in the national championship game on the line.
For it to finally happen in Krzyzewski’s last season, as his team surges to the finish line and celebrates a return to the Final Four after a seven-year drought, is the kind of plot line that Hollywood would reject for being too corny and unrealistic.
— Dan Wolken
GREENSBORO, N.C. – The year-long lasting image for South Carolina and last season has been the pain and emotion on Aliyah Boston’s face after her putback attempt against Stanford came up just short in the Final Four.
In a recent interview with SLAM Magazine, Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley said this year, she wanted to turn Boston’s frown upside down.
No. 1 USC (33-2) moved another step closer to accomplishing that Sunday night, dominating 10-seed Creighton, 80-50, in the Elite Eight matchup inside the Greensboro Coliseum to advance back to the Final Four.
South Carolina will compete among the last four teams in the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season. The 2022 Final Four starts April 1 in Minneapolis. Game times to be determined.
— Cory Diaz, Greenville (S.C.) News
The first two weekends of the NCAA men’s tournament have two tracks. There are the upsets that draw people’s attention and break brackets while generating wonderful story lines. There’s also the chase to reach the Final Four where the national champion is crowned.
This tournament has featured some of the more unlikely results of any March Madness. A No. 15 seed reached the Elite Eight for the first time. And it wasn’t just any No. 15 seed. It was Saint Peter’s, with one of the lowest enrollments in Division I.
No. 10 Miami also joined the Peacocks in the regional final, making Jim Larrañaga the first coach to take two programs to the Elite Eight as double-digit seeds. (He piloted George Mason in 2006). There were also spirited runs by Houston, Arkansas, Iowa State and Michigan and memorable upsets by New Mexico State and Richmond.
But when the dust settled, it was a quartet of the biggest names in college basketball left standing in what could be considered one of the greatest Final Four lineups.
— Erick Smith
The men’s Final Four is set, and despite all of the surprising results from this year’s NCAA Tournament, the quartet left standing represents some of the most historically successful programs in college basketball.
Sunday’s pair of regional finals featured a couple of underdogs, upstart Miami and ultimate overachiever St. Peter’s, hoping to further their list of program firsts.
But whether it was the speed of top-seeded Kansas or the size of ACC powerhouse North Carolina, the underdogs didn’t have their day in Sunday’s Elite Eight matchups.
— Eddie Timanus
Top-seeded South Carolina shot a blistering 60% from the field and raced out to a 46-25 halftime lead over No. 10 Creighton in their NCAA women’s regional final in Greensboro, N.C.
Aliyah Boston leads the way for the Gamecocks with 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field. USC outscored the Bluejays 23-9 in the second quarter to open up their comfortable margin.
The Gamecocks are looking to return to the women’s Final Four for the second consecutive season and the fourth time overall under coach Dawn Staley.
PHILADELPHIA — No. 8 North Carolina stormed out to an early lead and cruised past No. 15 Saint Peter’s 69-49, ending the most captivating run in men’s NCAA Tournament history and setting up a blueblood-only Final Four.
Any thought that the Peacocks’ unforgettable March would continue was put to the test from the opening tip. UNC took a 9-0 edge after four minutes and expanded that lead to 21-7 with 7:30 left in the first half and to 32-13 four minutes later. The Tar Heels were up 38-19 at halftime and by as many as 27 points in the second half.
UNC shot 41% from the field and scored 34 points in the paint. Junior forward Armando Bacot had 15 rebounds at halftime and finished with a whopping 22 boards, while the Tar Heels out-rebounded Saint Peter’s 49-35 overall.
After an unexpected postseason surge, UNC turns to what may be the most hyped Final Four pairing in the 64-team era.
It’ll be the Tar Heels and No. 2 Duke, which toppled No. 4 Arkansas in the Elite Eight to make one last Final Four trip under coach Mike Krzyzewski.
In addition to the game potentially being Krzyzewski’s last after more than four decades with the Blue Devils, the two longstanding rivals have never met in tournament play.
— Paul Myerberg
Villanova will be without starting guard Justin Moore for the remainder of its NCAA tournament run, the school confirmed Sunday in an expected but nevertheless disappointing announcement.
Moore went to the floor with a right leg injury late in the Wildcats’ Elite Eight win against Houston Saturday night in San Antonio. He was on crutches following the game during the team’s muted celebration. The school announced Sunday that an MRI confirmed a torn Achilles tendon that will require surgery, leaving the Wildcats without a key contributor as they prepare to take on Kansas next Saturday at the Final Four in New Orleans.
“This is a tough blow for all of us, not just because of the great player Justin is, but because of what he means to us as teammates and coaches,” said coach Jay Wright in a statement.
In addition to being considered the Wildcats’ best individual defender, Moore is also second on the team in points (14.8) and assists (2.3).
— Eddie Timanus
Saint Peter’s started slowly, the Tar Heels jumped on the Peacocks early and North Carolina doubled up its underdog opponent at the half. The Tar Heels look as if they’re set to cruise into the Final Four — and a potential showdown against fierce rival Duke — after they opened a 38-19 lead through the first 20 minutes of play.
North Carolina had two players, guard Caleb Love (12 points) and forward Brady Manek (10) hit double figures. On the glass, forward Armando Bacot was a menace, collecting 15 rebounds.
The Peacocks struggled significantly from the floor, connecting on just 22.6% (7-of-31) of their attempts. Their leading scorer, forward Hassan Drame, had just 5 points. Perhaps most concerning for Saint Peter’s is that the team is looking to rely on something it hasn’t done well since a first-round stunner against Kentucky: shoot well from three-point range. The Peacocks went just 1-of-11 (9%) from beyond the arc against North Carolina, giving them a 22.2% clip (10-45) over their last three games.
The last chance for a double-digit-seeded underdog to clinch a berth to the men’s Final Four rests on the Cinderella darlings of the tournament, No. 15 Saint Peter’s. The Peacocks’ game against No. 8 North Carolina is underway, and the Tar Heels raced out to a 7-0 lead less than three minutes into the game.
Saint Peter’s opened the game 0-of-3 from the floor with questionable shot selections, leading to an uncharacteristic early timeout from Peacocks coach Shaheen Holloway.
The seven-point deficit for Saint Peter’s, by the way, is the largest it has faced in the tournament.
CHICAGO — Kansas is headed back to the Final Four, finding another gear in the second half to embarrass No. 10-seeded Miami (Fla.) 76-50 Sunday in the Elite Eight to claim the Midwest Regional title.
It wasn’t easy for the final No. 1 seed in the men’s NCAA Tournament, as the Hurricanes came out firing on all cylinders with hopes of pulling off the upset as a double-digit seed. Kansas didn’t do itself any favors by playing poorly in the first half – trailing 35-29, going 0-for-5 from beyond the arc and 3-for-9 from the free-throw line.
But four minutes into the second half, veteran Christian Braun (12 points) helped spark the Jayhawks (32-6) with a thundering dunk and three-pointer to give Kansas a decisive lead that it wouldn’t relinquish. Big man David McCormack (15 points) was a steadying force for Kansas throughout the contest, while reserve guard Remy Martin (nine points) – having scored 43 points in the past two games – cooled off in this round.
— Scott Gleeson
Give the Jayhawks credit.
After a sluggish first half, they came out with energy and pace and exploited Miami in transition to open up a lead that’s approaching double digits midway through the second half, up 49-42 with a little more than 11 to play.
One big issue for the Hurricanes that led to those Kansas fast breaks was poor ball handling that led to turnovers. Kansas had battled back to knot the game at 38 with 16:55 to play. After a Miami bucket, the Jayhawks ripped off an 8-0 run to build their lead.
Forward David McCormack has been instrumental in Kansas’ turnaround and now has 15 points and 4 rebounds. Two other Jayhawks have reached double figures, with guards Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun each chipping in 10.
Don’t look now, but after spurts of shaky play throughout the tournament, No. 1 Kansas may be on upset alert. And that’s in large part because of Miami guard Kameron McGusty, who was the team’s lone player in double figures with 14 points.
The Hurricanes went into the locker room with a 35-29 lead at the half after ending it on a 9-2 run.
McGusty flashed confidence in his jump shot and knocked down five of 10 attempts in the half. Guard Isaiah Wong added eight points, and between the two of them, they combined for 62.9% of Miami’s offense.
One area where the Jayhawks could make up significant ground in the second half, however, is beyond the arc. Kansas tied for 74th in the country this season in 3-point shooting percentage, and that showed against the Hurricanes. The Jayhawks failed to convert any of their five attempts from 3-point range.
Forward David McCormack led all Kansas scorers with seven points, while guards Ochai Agbaji and Remy Martin each chipped in six.
The first game of the day is officially live as No. 10 Miami takes on the top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks. The Hurricanes are the first of two double-digit seeds to play Sunday in the Elite Eight in the men’s bracket, with the No. 15 Saint Peter’s team being the other.
The good thing Miami has going is that its head coach already has underdog experience.
Jim Larrañaga became an instant celebrity when he piloted a lovable George Mason team to the Final Four and stayed for five seasons afterwards before leaving for his current job in 2011. But the last decade never fueled similar success at a more competitive level.
The 72-year-old coach took the Hurricanes to the Sweet 16 in 2013 and 2016 but he didn’t achieve the same type of breakthrough, as Miami suffered three consecutive losing seasons before reaching this NCAA Tournament as an at-large team that played its way off the bubble. It’s the deepest March Madness run in the history of the football-rich school.
“I think my guys realize, this is not something that happens every day,” Larrañaga said. “For Kansas it does, but not for Miami.”
— Scott Gleeson
The Peacocks will be the underdog once again come Sunday, when they’ll match against a deeper and more talented opponent with decades of history to more than overshadow the Peacocks’ three-game run.
But beating another college basketball giant will simply take what we already know the Peacocks can bring to the table: Saint Peter’s reached the Elite Eight with energy, aggressiveness and composure, following the model set by unflappable coach Shaheen Holloway, and that same combination will give the Peacocks a chance at etching themselves into an even more permanent place in NCAA Tournament history.
“We’re happy but don’t mistake, we’re not satisfied, we’re not satisfied at all,” said guard Doug Edert. “The job is not finished. We feel like we belong and the more games we win the more confidence we build.”
— Paul Myerberg
Before the men’s Final Four can be set, there are two more tickets to New Orleans that must be handed out in Sunday’s Elite Eight matchups.
No. 10 Miami against No. 1 Kansas … and … No. 15 Saint Peter’s against No. 8 UNC. Who ya got?
The Blue Devils’ fans want a sixth national championship for legendary Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski before his farewell tour ends.
“I’ll be shocked if Duke is not national champions,’’ Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said after watching the Blue Devils dismantle his team at the Chase Center in the Elite Eight at the West Regional.
— Josh Peter
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism