By MAURICIO RICH and ELENA DE ALFREDO
The 2017 NCAA Division I men’s basketball Final Four is set as Gonzaga, Oregon, North Carolina and South Carolina will battle for a spot in the final starting on April 1 in Glendale, Arizona.
The first semifinal matchup will feature No. 1 seed Gonzaga (31-1) and No. 7 South Carolina (33-5). This will be the first appearance for both programs in a NCAA tournament semifinal in their respective school’s history.
Prior to this game, Gonzaga beat No. 7 Xavier in the first Elite Eight game where the two squads had not been in a Final Four appearance since 1999. The Bulldogs out-shot the Musketeers beyond the three-point arc with a 12 from 24 threes, compared to a two from 16 for eleventh-seeded Xavier.
Red-shirt junior guard Nigel Williams-Goss lead the way for the Bulldogs with 27 points (4-7 from the three line) for a final score of 83-59. Also, Gonzaga red-shirt junior Johnathan Williams recorder 19 points, eight rebounds and two assists. Gonzaga becomes the first West Coast Conference team to make the Final Four since 1967.
On the other side, South Carolina upset Florida in the first Elite Eight battle with two teams from the Southeastern Conference since 1986. The Gamecocks, known by their powerful defense, out-rebounded the Gators 31-24, and earned the victory in a very intense game with a final score of 77-70.
South Carolina’s senior guard Sindarius Thornwell put up a 26-point and seven-rebound performance to help his team to get into the Final Four. Since 1973, the Gamecocks haven’t won a tournament game and now they have won four so far.
The second semifinal will be featured by No. 1 seed North Carolina (31-7) and No. 3 seed Oregon (26-10). This would be North Carolina’s 20th final four appearance, most in all-time NCAA history. In Oregon’s side, this would be their second presence in a Final Four since 1939, where they also earned their first and only national title.
Top-seeded North Carolina and second-seeded Kentucky showcased for the second time this season in this Elite Eight game. The first time would be Dec. 17, 2016, where the Wildcats put up a 103-100 victory over the Tar Heels.
In this breath-taking Elite Eight game, North Carolina took revenge on Kentucky’s last win, as North Carolina’s sophomore forward Luke Maye hit the buzzer-beater for a 75-73 final score.
Maye went 6 out of 9 from the field with three total three-pointers for a career-high 17 points. He also recorded three rebounds, two assists and one steal in just 20 minutes of playing time. Along with Maye, North Carolina’s forward Justin Jackson led all the scorers with 19 points.
For North Carolina, this is the second consecutive time they make it to the Final Four. The Tar Heels went into the final game last year where they fell short in a close game against Villanova.
Likewise, Oregon performed the second upset of the Elite Eight games beating top-seeded Kansas 74-60. The ducks held the Jayhawks to 60 points, 23 points less than their 83 points per game average as a team. Also, Kansas finished 5-of-25 from beyond the arc and shot 35 percent from the field.
Oregon junior forward Jordan Bell was the player of the game, as he put up a double-double performance with 11 points and game-high 13 rebounds, while also dishing four assists and blocking eight shots.
Alongside, Oregon sophomore guard Tyler Dorsey recorder six of the 11 three-pointers of the team’s totals, finishing with a game-high 27 points.
The winners of the respective head-to-head semifinal games will advance to the Championship game on April 3 at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.