Congratulations to UCLA!
The Bruins punched a ticket to the Final Four with a 51-49 win against Michigan assisted by the Wolverines’ offensive swoon in the game’s final three minutes.
UCLA has returned to the brightest stage in men’s college basketball in coach Mick Cronin’s second season, allowing Cronin to answer the critics, doubters and naysayers who questioned the hiring of a coach who had failed to get out of the first weekend of the men’s NCAA Tournament in his previous seven appearances.
In fact, getting to the Final Four is such an incredible feat that anything achieved from this point forward is gravy, especially given the Bruins’ lack of preseason hype — not to mention their status as one of the teams in this year’s First Four.
Despite owning the most national championships of any team in college basketball, the Bruins are a success story worthy of being celebrated and commended for the next three days.
Of course, Gonzaga is going to beat UCLA like a drum.
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The Final Four field is set: UCLA and Gonzaga will meet in one game, Baylor and Houston in the other. Is it too soon to skip ahead to the final two?
Baylor and Gonzaga have been on a collision course for months in a cross-country rivalry pitting the unquestioned best teams in college basketball.
After dismantling overmatched Southern California in the Elite Eight, Gonzaga is two wins from becoming the first team since Indiana in 1976 to go unbeaten, potentially doing so with enough style points to stake a claim for being placed in the pantheon of the greatest teams in the history of the sport. Once unbeaten before being temporarily derailed by COVID-19, Baylor has rolled through tournament play, where the Bears’ tremendous backcourt has paced a series of impressive wins.
For two weeks, the Bulldogs and Bears have inched toward each other from across two regions, picking apart lesser competition and making it abundantly clear the national championship will belong to one or the other, but no one else.
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UCLA is the fifth No. 11 seed to make the Final Four, joining Loyola Chicago, George Mason, VCU and LSU. The Bruins limped into the tournament having lost their last four games of the regular season and reached the semifinals only after surviving an overtime game against Michigan State, another overtime game against Alabama and Tuesday’s narrow win in regulation against the Wolverines.
Houston has been building toward a deep tournament run under coach Kelvin Sampson but has looked average against the easiest run of opponents for any Final Four team in history: the Cougars have defeated No. 15 Cleveland State, No. 10 Rutgers, No. 11 Syracuse and No. 12 Oregon State, becoming the first to reach the semifinals with four wins against double-digit seeds.
These are the teams that will derail Gonzaga and Baylor? With one game separating the inevitable, the Bulldogs and Bears are getting closer to the matchup college basketball’s been expecting all season.
Follow colleges reporter Paul Myerberg on Twitter @PaulMyerberg