Lace up those dancing shoes. The Sweet 16 has arrived.
And what a night it was!
Arkansas upended No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga, 74-68, to reach the Elite Eight for the second consecutive season. Villanova prevailed again over Michigan as the second-seeded Wildcats won it, 63-55. Duke won a thriller vs. Texas Tech to move into the Elite Eight in Mike Krzyzewski’s final season. And in the nightcap, No. 5 Houston sent No. 1 Arizona home in a game they controlled from the jump.
SAN ANTONIO — For the Houston Cougars, it doesn’t matter if they’re playing a bottom-rung team in the American Athletic Conference or one of the favorites to win the national title. They’re going to bring it every second of every possession and make it absolutely miserable to try and beat them.
Arizona may have seen it on film coming into the South Regional, but they couldn’t have actually known what it meant until the ball was tipped Thursday. And it was even more unpleasant in person than they could have imagined as they became the third No. 1 seed to fall in the NCAA Tournament.
Houston’s defensive pressure, aggressiveness on the glass and willingness to go all-out for every contested ball turned one of the best teams all season into dust, grinding away everything the Wildcats wanted to do in a 72-60 victory that may have been an upset by seeding but was not according to the analytics.
In fact, the Cougars came into the Sweet 16 as the No. 2 team in the country according to the Ken Pomeroy efficiency metrics — Arizona was No. 3 — and looked every bit the part in a game they controlled from the opening tip until the final minute.
The Cougars, seeded No. 5 in the South, will face No. 2 seed Villanova on Saturday in hopes of making their second consecutive Final Four.
The Cougars bottled up Bennedict Mathurin, Arizona’s best player, holding him to 15 points on 4-for-14 from the field. But even that doesn’t tell the full story of how they pretty much just erased Mathurin for most of the game, challenging every catch, every shot and eventually just forcing him into poor decisions when he tried to fuel a last-minute comeback.
Without Mathurin facilitating offense, Arizona struggled to generate good looks, shooting 33.3% from the field and turning it over 14 times.
After a first half struggle that left them fortunate to trail just 34-28, the Wildcats cut the deficit to one possession a couple times early in the second with some crisper ball movement. But Houston never gave up the lead and got timely shooting from Kyler Edwards, who made four threes in the second half — the last one with 1:20 left that put the game away after Arizona had crawled back within six.
Houston also beat Arizona up on the glass with 19 second-chance points and 24 points off turnovers. As brilliant as Arizona was for most of this season in going 33-3 with the Pac-12 title, Houston was simply the tougher and better team.
— Dan Wolken
SAN FRANCISCO – Mike Krzyzewski’s coaching career continues for at least one more game, and so does the possibility of ending his legendary tenure at Duke with a sixth national championship.
After looking overwhelmed by Texas Tech’s suffocating defense at times, the Blue Devils responded with an inspired second half behind star freshman Paolo Banchero and 7-1 center Mark Williams to power Duke to a 78-73 victory Thursday in the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament’s West Regional.
Blanchero and Williams combined for 38 points, imposing their size against a Red Raiders team that had allowed an opponent as many as 70 points only twice this season.
Duke was fortunate to trail only 33-29 at intermission after leading only once, when it went up 24-22 on a Jeremy Roach jumper at the 7:47 mark. The Red Raiders promptly launched a 7-0 run from that point but failed to capitalize on holding the Blue Devils to 2-for-12 shooting the rest of the half.
A renewed emphasis on taking advantage of their superior size, especially the combination of Blanchero and Williams, fueled the comeback victory.
— Jorge L. Ortiz
Houston took a 34-28 lead into halftime vs. Arizona in their South regional semifinal.
The Cougars’ standout defense limited the Wildcats to just 28% shooting (7-for-25) in the first half. Arizona star Bennedict Mathurin, who had 30 points in the Wildcats’ round of 32 overtime victory against TCU, managed just five points in the first half vs. Houston on 1-for-7 shooting.
— Jace Evans
Texas Tech’s tenacious defense was on full display in the first half of the Red Raiders’ Sweet 16 game against Duke.
The Red Raiders sprinted out of the gate, taking a quick 10-2 lead on Duke before the Blue Devils stabilized. Mike Krzyzewski’s team fought back to eventually take the lead at 24-22 with 7:48 to go, but the Blue Devils then hit another extended cold spell that allowed Texas Tech to push the lead to 33-26.
Duke got a three-point play from Paolo Banchero with 13 seconds left and went into halftime trailing 33-29. The Blue Devils shot just 36.7% from the field in the first half and hit just three of their 11 3-point attempts.
— Jace Evans
SAN ANTONIO — It wasn’t easy for Villanova and its typically beautiful offense to get anywhere near the rim on Thursday against Michigan. But Caleb Daniels — a 6-foot-4 guard who looks like he could play linebacker if he wanted to — eventually found a way.
And when he did, the Wildcats had their path set to the Elite Eight.
No. 2 seed Villanova repelled Michigan in the South Regional, 63-55, in a game that was custom-made for a physical specimen like Daniels. On both sides, every shot was contested, every offensive cut stopped and every play at the rim rife with physical contact that usually went uncalled.
And though Daniels scored just eight points and couldn’t hit a three, the former Tulane transfer was the X-factor Villanova needed to reach coach Jay Wright’s fifth Elite Eight.
With Villanova uncharacteristically struggling to get enough easy offense to keep the No. 11-seeded Wolverines at bay, Daniels bullied his way to the basket and converted a pair of tough layups at a critical juncture of the second half while also adding nine rebounds, three assists, a huge blocked shot and a steal.
And Villanova needed every bit of it in a game in which it made just 37% of its field goals, shot 9-of-30 from three and only took 12 foul shots.
“That was a really critical point,” Wright said. “Caleb had missed a couple good (looks) and the first one, he got a ball reversal and he caught to shoot it. They flew at him and he took it to the rim and he got another one after that. We were getting shots, we just couldn’t make them and then he decided I’m going to use my shot to get to the rim and there were some really important buckets for us.”
That’s how well Juwan Howard’s team had scouted the Wildcats, and that’s how perfect the Wolverines executed to make everything miserable in the paint for Villanova.
But the reverse was true as well.
Villanova’s defense suffocated Michigan, holding the Wolverines to 34% shooting and limiting star big man Hunter Dickinson to 15 points. Much of that responsibility went to Jermaine Samuels, who was giving up six inches in height to the 7-footer but found a way to make it just tough enough at the rim for Dickinson to shoot 6-of-16.
“They have great timing offensively and Dickinson is used to getting the ball at certain spots at specific times on his cuts, and our ball pressure was taking his timing a little bit,” Wright said. “We were trying to hold our ground. You saw a couple times he backed us down and it was automatic and we were trying to hold our ground.”
Villanova led just 31-28 at the break but started to get some separation after Daniels’ flurry, which came right as Michigan sharpshooter Eli Brooks started to heat up with a pair of threes after missing his first seven shots.
The Wildcats never led by more than nine points, but Michigan cut it to 54-50 with 3:19 remaining. Villanova responded immediately as Samuels (22 points, 8-of-13 shooting) got to the rim for an exceedingly rare layup and point guard Collin Gillespie, who seemed to hurt his left knee in a scrum at the end of the first half, splashed a three. Gillespie finished with 12, scoring all of his points from the 3-point line (4-for-10).
That was just enough to hold on for Villanova, which will play the winner of the second game here between No. 1 seed Arizona and No. 5 seed Houston.
“We’re beat up,” Wright said. “We’ve got to rest up and learn a little bit by film. It’s about surviving now and come out and be intelligent against whoever we’re playing against.”
— Dan Wolken
SAN FRANCISCO – The fourth-seeded Arkansas Razorbacks upset the top-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs 74-68 Thursday at the Chase Center in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA men’s tournament.
Arkansas will face the winner of the Duke-Texas Tech Sweet 16 game in the Elite Eight on Saturday in the West Regional.
The Razorbacks (28-8) have reached the Elite Eight for the second year in a row – and spoiled Gonzaga’s hopes for winning an elusive national championship.
Arkansas’ victory represents the program’s most postseason success since legendary coach Nolan Richardson guided the Razorbacks to the national championship in 1994 and back to the title game in 1995.
— Josh Peter
On the strength of 11 points from senior forward Jermaine Samuels, second-seeded Villanova holds a 31-28 edge over No. 11 Michigan at halftime in San Antonio. Samuels connected on five of his seven field goal attempts, and hit his only free throw.
Center Hunter Dickinson leads the Wolverines with eight points, however he picked up his second foul with just under four minutes remaining in the half.
Top-seeded Gonzaga saw an early eight-point lead disappear as No. 4 seed Arkansas closed the first half on a 13-2 run to take a 32-29 advantage into the locker room at halftime of their Sweet 16 game in San Francisco.
Both teams have struggled from the field, with Arkansas shooting 37.5% and Gonzaga connecting on 35.3% of its shots.
Razorbacks senior guard JD Notae is the only player in double figures with 10 points on 5-of-14 shooting. Three Gonzaga players, including forward Drew Timme, pace the Zags with eight points. Seven-foot center Chet Holmgren was held scoreless.
For decades, Mike Krzyzewski has crafted a coaching tree with branches in nearly every conference, as programs look to capture Duke’s style and success through hiring one of his top assistants.
“It’s like getting a freaking TED talk or some kind of company seminar or retreat. You get that every day,” said first-year Austin Peay coach Nate James] “It’s just an endless amount of knowledge that’s consistently poured into you each and every day, each and every season. You try to soak up and drink up as much as you possibly can.”
Along with the record-setting win total, the national championships and the laundry list of All-America and NBA players, this coaching tree is part of Krzyzewski’s deep impact on college basketball. Including James, 11 former Duke players or assistants are currently head coaches on the college or NBA level, including Arizona State’s Bobby Hurley, Notre Dame’s Mike Brey, Pittsburgh’s Jeff Capel, Northwestern’s Chris Collins and Quin Snyder of the Utah Jazz.
The next to follow is Jon Scheyer, who will assume full control of the Blue Devils’ program as soon as Thursday evening or as late as the day after the national championship game in early April.
— Paul Myerberg
Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry met the Arkansas men’s basketball coaches prior to the Razorbacks facing Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16.
The Arkansas men’s basketball Twitter account shared a photo of Curry offering “some tips on playing in @ChaseCenter.”
The game is being played at the Warriors’ home court in San Francisco.
Curry played for current Arkansas assistant coach Keith Smart, who was the Warriors head coach during Curry’s rookie NBA season in 2010-11.
Former Arkansas men’s basketball player Moses Moody is a teammate of Curry’s on the Warriors.
— Erik Hall, Fort Smith (Ark.) Times Record
SAN DIEGO — After storming into the NCAA men’s basketball tournament as a fashionable pick to win it all, the No. 1-seeded Arizona Wildcats almost didn’t last past the opening weekend.
But here they are in the Sweet 16, getting ready to face Houston on Thursday in San Antonio.
The Wildcats could be a team that finds ways to win even when they let their guard down and play a little sloppy. Or they might be a team that has weaknesses waiting to be exploited by better teams than TCU, a physical bunch that sometimes pushed around the Wildcats (33-3) in an 85-80 nail-biter on Sunday.
Tenacious defense also tends to muck up Arizona’s balanced offensive attack, as it would for any team. The Wildcats have only lost to three teams this season: Tennessee, UCLA and Colorado. Two of those teams (Tennessee and UCLA) rank in the national top 16 in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to the advanced metrics of basketball analytics maven Ken Pomeroy.
So does TCU.
Guess who also ranks 10th, ahead of both UCLA and TCU?
— Brent Schrotenboer
SAN FRANCISCO — Mike Krzyzewski says the public nature of his farewell tour as Duke’s basketball coach has come with a price.
“It wears on you a little bit because everywhere you walk, everyone is taking a picture of you and they’re watching everything,’’ Krzyzewski said Wednesday. “Look, that gets old. You know, that gets old.’’
He says recruiting played a factor in announcing his decision prior to the season.
— Josh Peter
PORTLAND, Oregon — Typically, it’s easy to spot the father of Chet Holmgren, the freshman phenom from Gonzaga, in a sea of red and navy blue. Just look for the tall, lanky guy — where do you think Chet, who is 7 feet tall, weighs 195 pounds and has a 7-foot-6 wingspan, gets it anyway? — holding a video camera.
Yes, a video camera. Dave Holmgren, who checks in at 7 feet tall himself and played college hoops at Minnesota, is old school. He has recorded every single one of Chet’s games since childhood. As such, there is quite the library of highlights.
Some of Holmgren’s teammates were asked about their favorites.
Sophomore guard Julian Strawther: “Probably in Vegas against UCLA, coast to coast, behind-the-back, into the dunk in transition.”
Senior guard Rasir Bolton: “It was one day in practice he had came down in transition and he had tried a 360 lay-up.”
Perhaps there will be even more highlights coming when the Zags take on Arkansas tonight in San Francisco.
— Lindsay Schnell
Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman led the Golden State Warriors from 2002 to 2004 — and, as he noted, was also head coach of the Sacramento Kings from 2006 to 2007. Now his Razorbacks will be playing in the Chase Center, home of the Warriors.
“The day that I was either fired from the Kings or the Warriors, to think that I would be coaching in a Sweet 16 in the Bay Area, if anybody would have asked me that at that particular time, I would have told them there was zero chance,’’ he said. “Not 5%. Not 10%. Literally zero chance of that happening.
“I guess the world has a funny way of working itself out.’’
— Josh Peter