March Madness Playing Field Narrows
Over the past four days, the playing field in the NCAA’s March Madness tournament narrowed from sixteen teams to the Final Four. On March 27, No. 1 seed Baylor University defeated No. 5 seed Villanova 62-51, before punching their ticket to the Final Four for the first time since 1950 with an 81-72 victory against University of Arkansas. Gonzaga University, in pursuit of an undefeated season, overpowered No. 5 seed Creighton University 83-65 before beating University of Southern California 85-66 on March 30. On March 28, the University of Michigan, the final remaining top seed, defeated Florida State University 76-58 but lost in a stunning upset to No. 11 seed UCLA 51-49 on March 30, making UCLA the fifth No. 11 seed to make the Final Four in tournament history. The fourth team to punch their ticket into the Final Four was the University of Houston, who beat No. 11 seed Syracuse University and No. 12 seed Oregon State University. The Houston Cougars now enter the Final Four having not yet played a team with a single-digit rank.
While both winning teams lost in their Elite Eight matchups, the weekend provided two major upsets: No. 11 UCLA defeated No. 2 Alabama, and No. 12 Oregon State defeated No. 8 Loyola University Chicago. The UCLA-Alabama game was what one would call a rollercoaster of emotions. There were a total of eight lead changes, 11 ties and the first buzzer-beater of the tournament. Alabama senior Alex Reese hit a 3-pointer with 0.4 seconds remaining on the clock, tying the game at 65 a piece, extending the game into overtime. Remarkably, those were Reese’s first points of the game. However, as Alabama struggled to make big free throws down the stretch (they missed 14 of 25 free throws throughout the night) and three-pointers, UCLA came out victorious. With this win, UCLA became the ninth 11-seed in history to advance to the Elite Eight. The game was also the fifth overtime of the tournament, with UCLA victorious in two of them.
The second major upset occured when Oregon State defeated Loyola Chicago. Having to win the Pac-12 Tournament just to make an appearance in the field of 68, Oregon State is now just the second No. 12 seed in history to reach the Elite Eight. Oregon State rode their defense to victory. Despite only scoring six points in the first 10 minutes and 30 seconds, the Beavers managed to stay ahead, as Loyola made only five of their 23 attempted shots from the three-point line.
In the Final Four, Houston will play Baylor on Saturday, April 3 at 5:14 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, followed by Houston versus Baylor at 8:34 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.
On the women’s side, the eight teams that qualified for the Final Four include: Stanford, Louisville, South Carolina, UConn, Baylor, Indiana and Arizona. On Saturday, March 27, No. 3 seed Arizona University defeated No. 2 seed Texas A&M, while No. 4 seed Indiana University upset North Carolina State University. In addition, University of Connecticut and Baylor University defeated their respective Big Ten opponents, Iowa and Michigan on the same day.
In the Elite Eight, Baylor faced off against UConn in perhaps the most thrilling game of the tournament. The two teams headed into the matchup with a record of 4-4 all time. While UConn is ranked as a No. 1 seed, UConn Head Coach Geno Auriemma has argued that Baylor was under-seeded in this tournament: “Explain to me how they’re a No. 2 seed. These things happen, I know, but I think they deserved to be a No. 1 seed if you look around the rest of the tournament. And how we ended up in the same region, that’s even more shocking, given how good they are.” Both Baylor and UConn were two of the best shooting teams in the United States over the season, as UConn shot 51.9 percent from the field and the Bears shot 48.7 percent.
In Monday’s match, however, UConn shot a remarkable 47 percent from three-point range while Baylor only made 22 percent of their three-pointers. The game came down to the wire. With five seconds left, Baylor guard DiJonai Carrington drove to the basket attempting to get her team the lead. While Carrington’s shot was blocked, she appeared to be fouled. But the referees didn’t blow their whistles, prompting UConn to win 69-67. Many athletes took to Twitter to voice their displeasure with the controversial no-call.
Hours later, No. 4 Indiana Hoosiers faced the No. 3 Arizona Wildcats. To advance to the Elite Eight, Indiana overcame a double-digit deficit in the first quarter to defeat No. 1 North Carolina State. On Monday, March 29, however, Indiana was in it the whole way, playing back-and-forth basketball with Arizona for three quarters, until Arizona outscored the Hoosiers 20-9 in the fourth quarter. Aari McDonald led the Arizona Wildcats to victory, scoring 33 points. On Tuesday, March 30, South Carolina destroyed No. 6 seed Texas by 28 points. The Gamecock’s defense was remarkable, limiting the Longhorns to just seven first quarter points. Finally, Stanford University became the final team to book their trip to the Final Four after beating University of Louisville by a score of 78-63.
In the Final Four, South Carolina will play Stanford on Friday, April 2, at 6:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, followed by Arizona against UConn at 9:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.