Gonzaga, Louisville, Duke, and Michigan State survive and grind their way to the Elite Eight

The key stars got it done on Friday night:

Houston Regional:

Even with those oversized black curtains and the cavernous environs inside NRG Stadium (formerly Reliant Stadium) in Houston, Gonzaga took UCLA’s best punch and two guys delivered big time for the Bulldogs.

Kevin Pangos scored 10 and the 7’1″, 288 pound center from Poland named Przemek Karnowski had the game of his life leading all scorers with 18.  Both teams shot an anemic 40 percent due to playing inside an NFL football stadium.

UCLA had 16 each from Norman Powell and Tony Parker, as the Bruins bow out in the Sweet 16 for the second straight year.  Last year was expected, but this year was quite a surprise for most of the country since yours truly and other media members did not think this Bruins squad was worthy of any NCAA Tournament consideration.

But here they were, and they fought hard to the end.

Similar case with Utah, but Duke again made the plays that they had to make in squeezing out a hard-fought 63-57 decision.  Leading the charge for the Blue Devils was Justise Winslow with 21, while Tyus Jones had 15.  Utah got 15 points from Brandon Taylor and the Utes two other guys each scoring 10 apiece–Delon Wright and Jakob Poeltl.

Although both teams shot well under 45 percent, Utah was whistled for 21 fouls during the game–Duke just 16.

The odd thing about the end of the game may have slipped a bit under the radar, but there was one foul with .7 second left.  The foul occurred before the final horn sounded.  Utah’s players suddenly left the playing floor to take the very long walk back to the locker room.

However, Duke’s bench remained on the floor waiting for the Utah players to come back.  Slowly, the Utes players walked past their cheerleaders and the final free throw were attempted and the time eventually ran out.

It will set up for a titanic regional final come Sunday afternoon.  More on that in a bit.

Syracuse Regional

Each game was nip-and-tuck, back-and-forth inside the Carrier Dome.  This will probably be the highlight of Syracuse all year (no pun intended).

Louisville and North Carolina State battled for about 28 minutes before Montrezl Harrell scored 24 and Anton Gill chipped in with 7 key points off Rick Pitino’s bench as the Cardinals shot 50 percent in a convincing 75-65 victory.

For the Cardinals, the have won seven of their last eight regional semifinal games.   Rick Pitino moved to 53-17 overall in tournament play, tying Jim Boeheim of Syracuse among active coaches in tournament wins.   Finally, this was the 21st Sweet 16 appearance as Louisville has made a school-record fourth straight trip this far in the Big Dance (includes two of the last three times they have reached the Final Four).

But the game of the night was the nightcap as Oklahoma and Michigan State played a thriller of a contest that reminded some of Loyola Marymount and Michigan way back in 1990–a basket every 7 to 8 seconds.

For Boomer Sooner, they dominated much of the first half.  Crisp passing and lots of wide open shots led to a brief 31-27 halftime lead.

The second half was all Sparty as Gang Green flexed their muscles to their fourth Elite Eight appearance since 2009 and their second straight trip to the Regional Final after a 62-58 come from behind effort over the third seeded Sooners.

Keying the comeback were the play-makers that helped the Spartans all season long:

Michigan State did not lead until 9:26 remained on the second half clock after Branden Dawson hit an 8-foot turnaround jump shot.  Both teams traded the lead four more times before Gang Green went ahead for good at the  6:42 mark.  Matt Costello scored on a putback off his own miss with a big-time dunk.

After that, Denzel Valentine it was scored 13 of his 18 points during the second half while Travis Trice chipped in with six of his 21 points in the final two minutes.  The final margin was delivered with six consecutive free throws made by the Spartans.  Early on, they missed 7 of their first 10 attempts but delivered big-time when it counted most.

Oklahoma got only 3 points off their bench, after combining to score 30 during their first two tournament games.

Michigan State made some history of a different kind on Friday night:

  • Overall record in tournament play is 62-27, which puts them in seventh place on the all-time victory list – one ahead of Syracuse.
  • The Spartans were also a No. 7 seed when they reached the Elite 8 in 2003.

This will be the third time in the last seven years that Louisville and Michigan State meet in the Big Dance, in this the fourth overall meeting in post-season play.

*************************************************************************************************************

Basketball Hall of Fame player and broadcaster passes away

Finally, on a sad note…

this blog is dedicated to Hot Rod Hundley who died of Alzheimer’s on Friday night at the age of 80.

The top overall pick out of West Virginia in the 1957 NBA Draft, Hundley only played in the league for six years.  His true calling was in the TV and radio broadcast booth as he stayed with the Jazz franchise during the first 35 years of the team’s existence (when Pistol Pete Maravich starred for the New Orleans Jazz, five years before they relocated to Salt Lake City and became the Utah Jazz).

He also was a commentator for CBS’ coverage of the NBA during the latter part of the 1970’s and also teamed up with a young Jim Nantz early in his career shortly after graduating from the University of Houston.

Here is a clip of both Nantz and Hundley interviewing future Basketball Hall of Famer John Stockton after a 1985 game at the old Chicago Stadium:

Hot Rod will forever remain a legend in West Virginia and the NBA.

He will be missed, may he RIP.

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