The first night of the Elite Eight was full of ups and downs. With two teams returning from last year’s final eight and the legendary run of a hall of fame coach, this tournament continues to live up to its moniker. With the first half of the Final Four Locked in, let’s take a look at how those two tickets were punched.
Elite Eight Day One Recap
Villanova vs. Houston
The Elite Eight kicked off with the battle of the cats as the two-seed Villanova Wildcats took on the fifth-seed Houston Cougars. Both teams boast talented lineups and feature star players with heartwarming backstories. Houston’s Taze Moore recovered from a major leg injury in 2017 to finally return to the court. He has not wasted his second chance, averaging 10.3 points and 4.7 rebounds per game for the Cougars. He has also earned high praise from head coach Kelvin Sampson, who has allegedly claimed Moore to be the most athletic player that he has ever coached. An incredible claim considering Sampsom’s long coaching history.
Villanova’s feel-good story comes in the form of two-time Big East Player of the Year Collin Gillespie. The senior missed last year’s tournament with a season-ending knee injury. Gillespie healed in time for this season and went on to lead the Wildcats in scoring with 15.9 points per game.
On the Court
This game was a low-scoring, grind-it-out affair, exactly as advertised. Houston had an astonishingly off game from the three-point line. The Cougars hit only one of their 20 attempts from beyond the arc, a 5% mark that is almost unheard of. Moore led the way for Houston, scoring 15 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Sampson turned to Moore in isolation calls down the stretch when the Cougars needed a bucket. Guards Kyler Edwards and Jamal Shead could not get into a rhythm on offense. The duo shot a combined 5-25 from the floor.
Villanova didn’t fare much better on the offensive end. The Wildcats shot 5-21 from three and only Jermaine Samuels and Caleb Daniels scored in double figures with 16 and 12 points respectively. Gillespie couldn’t find his range last night either, scoring only six points on a 1-6 night from the floor.
The Wildcats took a 27-20 lead into halftime. Moore and the Cougars clawed back in the second half, but their inability to knock down any open jumpers kept them from closing the gap. Houston scored primarily on second-chance opportunities, quite literally willing their way to a close finish.
The Wildcats win this one 50-44. Villanova, unfortunately, lost guard Justin Moore late in the game to a leg injury. Early signs point to the Wildcats having to play their Final Four game without him.
Duke vs. Arkansas
The Duke Blue Devil’s story likely needs no introduction so let’s keep it brief. Mike Krzyzewski, Paolo Banchero, and the boys are on an improbable run to end the coach’s hall of fame career. After disappointing losses in their homecourt and ACC finales, Duke has made up for all of that with this run.
Arkansas came into this game ready to assert themselves as the better team. To many, the Razorbacks were here to play spoiler, but this touch SEC team is no pushover. Led by NBA prospect JD Notae and tournament hero Jaylin Williams, the Razorbacks were eager to earn their trip to the Final Four.
On the Court
The first half was tightly contested first half until the final two minutes. Duke was dominant on the offensive glass and shot over 50% from the floor in the first half. The Blue Devils entered the locker room with a 45-33 lead after ending the half on an 8-0 scoring run. Offensively, Duke’s attack was dangerously balanced. No one in their starting lineup had fewer than six points in the first half. Mark Williams was particularly impressive with 10 points and eight rebounds. Arkansas was led by Notae and Williams, who combined for 15 first-half points. Williams got into some foul trouble late into the half, which may have contributed to Arkansas’s scoreless end to the half.
The start of the second half saw the pendulum swing back and forth. After an Arkansas run cut the lead to five, Duke’s offense began to heat up. The Blue Devils pushed the lead to a game-high 16 near the six-minute mark. Arkansas struggled to adjust to the defensive zone that Duke applied in the second half. Notae would unfortunately foul out late in the game. Jaylin Williams worked hard to keep the Razorbacks in it on his way to his fourth double-double of the tournament, an amazing accomplishment in its own right. It wouldn’t be enough, however, as the Duke offense was just too much for the vaunted Arkansas defense.
Wendell Moore Jr. and AJ Griffin were big for Duke in this one, scoring 14 and 18 points respectively. With this win, Coach K sets yet another record, eclipsing John Wooden for most Final Fours in NCAA history. He and the Blue Devils hope that the number 13 will be lucky for them this time around.
Duke and Villanova have locked up the first two spots in the Final Four. The Elite Eight continues tomorrow evening and promises to be equally exciting. Miami takes on Kansas in a game that will end in history regardless of the winner. Follow this up with St. Peter’s vs. North Carolina for the spot against Duke and the stage is set for yet another great night of NCAA basketball.
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