From first four to final four

Cinderellas and unbeatens headline the first final four in two years


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Gonzaga’s 30-0 record is held up by the incredible play of their big three. Freshman guard Jalen Suggs, Senior forward Corey Kispert, and Sophomore center Drew Timme all combine for 52 points a game, well over half of Gonzaga’s NCAA leading 92.1 per game. The top ranked team is just two wins away from becoming the first undefeated champion in over 40 years.

Carson Fox, Staff Reporter

Just a few weeks ago, the 11th seeded UCLA Bruins trailed the Michigan State Spartans by 11 points at halftime in the First Four of the NCAA Tournament. On the brink of elimination, the Bruins outscored the Spartans by 17 points in an overtime victory. Now, the Cinderella seed is one of the last four teams remaining. They have conquered the top two seeds, Michigan and Alabama, en route to their first Final Four appearance in 13 years.

UCLA entered the tournament on a four game losing skid, securing one of the last four spots in the tournament and sending them to the game with Michigan State. They had a fairly easy route to the Sweet Sixteen, getting matchups over the lowest rated six seed, the BYU Cougars, and then the 14 seeded Abilene Christian Wildcats in the second round, who knocked off three seed Texas in the opening weekend. 

The third round matchup against Alabama provided one of the best games of the tournament, where the Crimson Tide’s Alex Reese knocked down a deep three at the buzzer to send the game into overtime. The Bruins would thoroughly outplay them in OT, setting themselves up with the top seeded Michigan. The Wolverines were missing star Isaiah Livers, but had looked fairly dominant without him. Instead of dominance, the Bruins held them to just 49 points, squeaking out a 51-49 victory to send one of the most legendary programs back to the Final Four. 

In the post game interview, UCLA head coach Mick Cronin said “Nobody picked us. Nobody believed in us. That’s how we like it.”

Their matchup is the toughest of the two games however, with the Bruins facing off against the number one team in the land, the Gonzaga Bulldogs. Gonzaga absolutely steamrolled their way through the bracket, avoiding matchups against 2 seed Iowa, 3 seed Kansas and 4 seed Virginia, all of whom lost in the first two rounds. The toughest two matchups for the Bulldogs came against 5 seed Creighton Bluejays and the 6 seed USC Trojans. They would go on to beat the two by a combined 18 points. 

The Bulldogs have one of the most stacked rosters ever. They are led by three All-Americans, guard Jalen Suggs, forward Corey Kispert, and Center Drew Timme. Joel Ayayi provides some of the best utility play for the Bulldogs, capping off a roster that has been unbeatable. Head coach Mark Few has transformed the program, and with top recruits Hunter Sallis and Chet Holmgren likely putting on Bulldog uniforms next season, Gonzaga’s transition from small mid major to dominant powerhouse is incredible.

The other side of the final four is an intriguing matchup, pitting the 1 seed Baylor Bears, who have been the consensus number two team all year behind Gonzaga, against the 2 seed Houston Cougars. Baylor’s games haven’t been as decisive as the Bulldogs’, needing a second half comeback to escape 5 seed Villanova and nearly blowing a 15 point lead to 3 seed Arkansas in the Elite Eight. The Bears are carried by their backcourt, led by one of the top players in the country in All-American Jared Butler. 

Houston’s path has been unlike any other team’s. The Cougars, holding one of the top defenses in the country, have had what most would call a “cakewalk” to the Final Four. Every round of the tournament, they were matched up against a double digit seed, the highest being 10 seed Rutgers, who collapsed late in the game allowing Houston to advance. The most impressive win for the Cougars was over 11 seed Syracuse, who was a popular upset pick over the Cougars after their hot start to the tournament. Houston held them to just 46 points in a blowout win. Baylor definitely has a tougher matchup than Gonzaga and it’ll be interesting to see if the Cougar defense can contain the Bears backcourt. 

Gonzaga is the odds on favorite to win the title, and Saturday’s games can give us the game we’ve wanted ever since it was cancelled in December, a matchup between the Bulldogs and the Bears. With only seven undefeated champions in NCAA history, Mark Few’s squad is one weekend closer to etching themselves into history.