It takes talent and some luck to make it to the Final Four. Butler, Connecticut, Virginia Commonwealth and Kentucky all punched their ticket to Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas, the site that will determine this season’s best college basketball team.
Last Sunday, Kentucky outlasted North Carolina in the East Regional Final, and pulled out a 76-69 victory, while Virginia Commonwealth, a club many questioned when the field of 68 was announced, stunned Kansas, 71-61, in the Southwest Regional title clash.
Saturday’s finals were taut as Butler edged Florida in overtime, 74-71, in the Southeast Regional, and Connecticut escaped with a 65-63 triumph over Arizona in the West Regional.
The No. 4-seeded Wildcats (29-8), seeking their eighth banner, second to UCLA’s 11, clinched it when De Andre Liggins (12 points) launched a three-pointer with a one-point lead and 35.6 seconds left.
Point guard Brandon Knight had eight points at the half, but led Kentucky with 22 points.
The Wildcats took an 18-13 lead with 11:27 left, and were coasting 25-18 with 6:39 showing.
The No. 2-seeded Tar Heels (29-8) traded hoops and got within 33-27 with 3:49 left, but trailed 38-30 at the half.
North Carolina came alive in the second half, getting within 59-55 and 7:43 left as center Tyler Zeller (team-high 21 points) was key down the stretch.
VCU forward Jamie Skeen was nearly unstoppable for the No. 11-seeded Rams, scoring a game-best 26 points and collecting 10 rebounds.
VCU (28-11) loves taking three-pointers, and dropped nine of 17 in the opening half. The Rams tailed off in the second half, hitting three of eight.
Kansas (35-3) couldn’t find the range from the floor, making 22 of 62 (35.5 percent), and two of 21 from three-point distance.
VCU led 17-10 with 12:49 left, and 28-17 with 7:26 remaining. When the Rams pushed the lead to 31-17, they had made seven of 12 three-pointers.
Over the next 6:22, VCU and No. 1-seeded Kansas played even, but the Rams were ahead 41-27 at the half.
The Jayhawks scrambled to get within 43-36 and 15:43 left, and 50-44 about four minutes later. With 8:47 showing, it was 57-47.
Kansas forward Marcus Morris had 20 points with 16 rebounds, and forward Markieff Morris, his twin brother, added 13 points and 12 caroms.
Arizona power forward Derrick Williams (20 points along with five rebounds) had a three-pointer fail late, and Jamelle Horne’s long-range jumper missed as the Huskies (30-9) survived.
Connecticut point guard Kemba Walker tallied 20 points with seven assists and four rebounds, while shooting guard Jeremy Lamb had 19 points and four boards.
The No. 5-seeded Wildcats (30-8) raced to an 11-5 lead after five minutes had elapsed, and were in front 16-10 and 11:05 left on the clock.
The No. 3-seeded Huskies went on a 17-6 spurt and led 27-22 with 3:37 left, and were ahead 32-25 at the half.
The No. 2-seeded Gators (29-8) enjoyed a 33-32 edge at the intermission, and were led by center Vernon Macklin’s 25 points, but the No. 8-seeded Bulldogs (27-9) outscored Florida, 14-11, in overtime and were paced by guard Shelvin Mack’s 27 points.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for www.diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for www.socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.