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Elite 8 Games were Exciting, UCLA Upset a Highlight

Yes, I included a Bangles’ reference in the headline. Monday may typically be a rough day for many due to it resembling the start of another week, but not when there are some Elite 8 games! As of today, half of the Final Four is set with two top-ranked teams ready to battle for a spot in the Championship game.

Elite 8 Games were Exciting with UCLA as Headliner

By now, bracket pools and races are either tight like mine or simply non-existent. When playing bracket challenges, it is essential to bank on the No. 1 seeds with several Cinderella teams and sleepers. However, we’re in the Elite 8 now, meaning you have to go with your gut and pick the Final Four teams.

Approximately 49 percent of brackets picked Baylor to win it all, so while that number is not as high compared to Gonzaga, the Bears are still looking to be a smart choice thus far. Meanwhile, Houston has been a favorite across brackets and achieved a historic moment. This year’s Elite 8 games were exciting and even surprising at the end, with UCLA’s major upset.

(2) Houston 67, (12) Oregon State 61

For a majority of the game, the Cougars appeared to seal an easy victory. Despite shooting 29 percent in the second half 32 percent on the night, Houston sealing the victory showed their grit and defensive mentality. As for the Beavers, they showed why the name March Madness exists: coming from behind 17 points to tye the game (courtesy of a Gianni Hunt jumper), including a 14-3 run in the last 4:25 of the game.

What contributed to Oregon State’s run? Primarily their 1-3-1 matchup zone defense. In basketball, the most common zone defense is the classic 2-3, where the wing and top guard players close out on each ball handler. In a 1-3-1 matchup zone, this disguises a man-to-man defense with the traditional zone, confusing the Cougars’ offense.

As for Houston, their defensive-minded team stopped the Beavers’ leading scorer Ethan Thompsonwho was named the most outstanding player of the Midwest Region. He finished with 11 points off 3-for-12 shooting. Offensively, Houston ended the Beavers’ momentum with a three-pointer from Quentin Grimes to break the 55-55 tie. Since then, the Cougars held Oregon State to zero baskets and made enough free throws to advance to the Final Four for the first time since 1984’s “Phi Slama Jama” era. Marcus Sasser led in scoring with 20 points, while Grimes finished with 18. Maurice Calloo scored 13 points for Oregon State. However, DeJon Jarreau was the game’s standout player due to shutting down Thompson, along with scoring 10 points.

(1) Baylor 81, (2) Arkansas 72

The historic night did not end with Houston moving on. Baylor was up next with what seemed to be an easy victory in the first half against the Razorbacks. The Bears’ story is an inspiring one, with head coach Scott Drew leading a massive rebuild in Waco, Texas since taking over in 20o3. However, Baylor’s last Elite 8 appearance was in 2012, when they lost to Kentucky in an 82-70 battle. This time, the Bears cut the net to advance to the Final Four.

Baylor started hot, scoring the first seven points and even led as many as 18 points. However, Arkansas bounced back and entered halftime with an eight-point deficit. The Bears remained hot (finished the game shooting 48.4 percent and 53.3 percent behind the arc), but the Razorbacks twice cut the lead to four points. Moses Moody was responsible for leading his team both times with a layup at 9:34 and sinking two free throws at 7:34 in the second half. That was the closest Arkansas got to Baylor.

The Bears struggled from the field in the second half, but the Razorbacks got cold and did not score for six minutes. Baylor took advantage in the final five minutes when MaCio Teague sealed the victory with back-to-back dagger three-pointers. He finished with a game-high 22 points, while leader Jared Butler had 14 points and five assists on the night. Davion Mitchell was arguably the game’s most crucial player. Despite early foul issues, he held Moody, one of the best freshman scorers in college basketball, to 2-for-10 shooting.

The Bears officially sealed the victory with a monstrous put-back dunk from Mark Vital, who said goodnight to the Razorbacks and Elite 8.

Davonte Davis and JD Notae each scored 14 points to lead Arkansas in scoring, while Jalen Tate added 13 with Moody’s 11 points.

(1) Gonzaga 85, (6) USC 66

Who can actually stop the Zags at this point? This was the most one-sided matchup between all four Elite 8 games. With the crushing victory over USC, Gonzaga is now 30-0 on the season heading into the Final Four. Within two minutes of the game, the Zags got off to a quick 7-0 lead and never looked back as their biggest lead was 24 and the Trojans only cut their deficit to 16 points. That was as far as the Trojans caught up to the Zags (or Bulldogs if you want to be technical). While this was a clear blowout and they are typically slow and boring, it was not your average one. The Bulldogs showed off their stacked roster as they constantly threw fancy bounce passes through traffic, reverse layups, a post-basket flex from Drew Timmeand a power-dunk from Joel Ayayiwho finished with nine points.

What is more impressive about this victory is that Gonzaga crushed USC’s fourth-ranked defense and was not slowed down by brothers Evan Mobley and Isaiah Mobley. USC’s average height is 6-foot-7, making them one of the tallest teams in the country. However, that was no challenge for the Bulldogs. While the Mobley brothers played well (Isaiah finished with 19 points and seven rebounds, while Evan had 17 and 5), this was Gonzaga’s night.

Timme finished with 23 points, five rebounds, and a slicked handlebar mustache, while teammate Jalen Suggs had 18 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists. All-American Corey Kispert had 18 points and eight rebounds on an “off” night, going 6-for-19 from the floor. The Bulldogs are the third team to advance to the Final Four undefeated since the bracket expanded to 64 teams in 1985. The last team to finish a season undefeated was Indiana in 1976. Now, Gonzaga will look to advance to the Championship game against a red-hot UCLA squad.

(11) UCLA 51, (1) Michigan 49

Out of all four Elite 8 games, this matchup was arguably the most intriguing simply due to UCLA forcing top-seeded Michigan to fight tooth and nail until the clock hit zero. With the upset over the Wolverines, the Bruins became the first team to advance from the First Four to the Final Four since VCU in 2011. UCLA’s defense was crucial against a big Michigan team, featuring center Hunter DickinsonMick Cronin rotated Kenneth Nwuba and Cody Riley to help limit the seven-footer down low. This forced the Wolverines to run their offense in isolation scenarios. While Michigan did take a seven-point lead in the second half and even took a one-point lead on two other occasions, UCLA bounced back, despite Johnny Juzang’s ankle injury. Juzang finished with 28 points despite the injury and single-handedly saved the Bruins’ Championship hopes.

The most exciting moment of the Elite 8 came down within the last minute of the game. Jaime Jaquez Jr. missed a three-pointer and Juzang went 1-for-2 from the free-throw line. This gave Michigan some room with six seconds remaining. At the 11-second mark, Franz Wagner air-balled the go-ahead three-point attempt. The anticipation built up on both sides after Juzang missed his second free throw. Mike Smith’s three-point attempt went in-and-out, but the Wolverines got the ball back and went back to Wagner, who missed a desperation three at the buzzer.

UCLA’s journey to the Final Four is a special one. After losing Chris Smith and Jalen Hillthere were many doubts against the Bruins. UCLA  started the NCAA tournament down by 13 points against Michigan State. However, the Bruins bounced back to beat the Spartans in overtime. The Bruins followed up with back-to-back double-digit victories over BYU and Abilene Christian, then knocked off No.2 Alabama in overtime to advance to the Elite 8. Now they will look to pull one of the biggest upsets in history against an undefeated Gonzaga team.

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