South Carolina joins Gonzaga as first time Final Four participants
At the East Regional final in New York, Florida during the first half seemed to have recaptured the magic from a decade ago during the Joakim Noah, Al Horforrd, and Corey Brewer era when the Gators were the last men’s team to go back-to-back in 2006 and 2007.
Florida buried seven treys and chomped their way to a 40-33 halftime lead. But it was the leadership displayed by the 2017 SEC Player of the Year, senior guard Sindarius Thornwell that made the difference. He scored 10 of his game-high 26 points in the final seven minutes of play as the Gamecocks will head to their first ever Final Four thanks to outscoring the Gators 44-30 in the second half. Thornwell became the eighth SEC player to score 100 points in a single NCAA Tournament, the first since Kentucky’s Tony Delk in 1996. Another key was Florida made 16 turnovers and South Carolina feasted inside the paint, scoring on all but four of their 26 made field goals inside two-point range in a 77-70 victory.
Florida missed all 14 of their three-point attempts. Another key in South Carolina’s favor was at the charity stripe: the Gamecocks finished 23-for-31 (74.2 percent), while the Gators still did pretty well going 13-for-14 (92.9 percent). P.J. Dozier was another of four Gamecocks who finished in double figures with 17 points.
Florida was led by Justin Leon with 18 points to go along with seven rebounds.
The key play came with under two minutes left, when Thornwell managed to find foward Maik Kostar with a jumper to extend South Carolina’s lead to 67-63. Five of their next six points came from the free-throw line and the explanation point came with seven seconds left on a thunderous dunk by Duane Notice.
South Carolina is the fourth school as a seventh seed to reach the Final Four. The others: Virginia in 1984, UConn in 2014, and Michigan State in 2015.
The alma mater of Playboy Playmate Miss February 2001 Lauren Michelle Hill will take on the West Regional Champions of Gonzaga at 6:09 p.m. Eastern time this Saturday, April 1 on CBS.
North Carolina edges Kentucky in dramatic finish
At the South Regional final in Memphis, North Carolina got De’Aaron Fox in early foul trouble and took advantage leading at the half 38-33. The second half proved to be both classic and fun.
Kentucky then made good fortunes out of some sloppy ball handling and several ill-advised three point attempts to give the second seeded Wildcats a 64-59 lead with 5:11 remaining in regulation time.
The rest of the way, the game turned into a see-saw affair:
After Theo Pinson and Justin Jackson made a pair of jumpers to cut UK’s lead down to one with 3:52 to go, North Carolina scored the next six out of 8 points from the free-throw line.
With 33 seconds remaining, Justin Jackson made a layup to give the Tar Heels a 73-70 lead. Then, after North Carolina called time out, Malik Monk drew a foul against Jackson. Against a very loud crowd inside the FedEx Forum, the final seconds were very dramatic.
Here is the call as it sounded from Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery, and Grant Hill on CBS:
North Carolina native, sophomore Luke Maye will be remembered all time down Tobacco Road as he etched his name as a Tournament buzzer beating hero with .3 seconds left in North Carolina’s dramatic 75-73 victory. Maye finished the game with a career-high 17 points, going 6 for 9 from the field. He nailed two of the Tar Heels’ three 3-point shots to go along with three rebounds, two assists and one steal.
Justin Jackson was the game’s high scorer with 19, while Kennedy Meeks came up huge with 17 points and four blocks.
Kentucky had five players in double figures. They were led by De’Aaron Fox and Edrice Adebayo each scoring 13 points team had five double-digit scorers. Even with nailing three of seven shots from deep, it was not enough in the end for Big Blue Nation.
But Fox made some history, as he broke Anthony Davis’ 2012 record for most points scored by a freshman in a single NCAA Tournament with 85. Davis finished with 82 points.
For North Carolina, they return not only for the second straight year but also extend their record for most appearances in the Final Four with 20 (three more than both UCLA and Kentucky).
As expected, Oregon will play North Carolina in the second national semifinal to take place sometime around 8:50 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday from the University of Phoenix Stadium, in Glendale.
Another NFL stadium plays host to the biggest college basketball event in the world
The first stadium to host a Final Four inside a dome was the old “Eighth Wonder of the World”, the Astrodome in Houston which hosted UCLA winning their fifth straight out of their record seven titles in a row in 1971.
But it would not be until CBS wrestled the contract away from NBC ending with the academic year of 1982 that things would change, and mostly change for the better.
As one of my three special blogs this week, please look in your inboxes for my special countdown list of my Top Ten Final Fours that have been played in NFL stadiums. I am sure some of you will enjoy this special trip down memory lane, as much as I remember watching these games live when they initially took place.
Later on in the week, I plan to dissect each of the four schools and what will it take in my mind for them to cut down the nets one week from now in my annual comprehensive Final Four Preview.
Finally on Thursday, it will mark as a special anniversary. I am sure the most devoted fan will know exactly what I am talking about. It was not just Indiana winning their last national championship in 1987, but it was something else that CBS Sports did a few minutes after the game that has been marked as the beginning of a national tradition.
See you all then. Please make this a great week.