North Carolina Upset, UConn Dominates to Advance

On Thursday, four teams advanced to the Elite Eight.

In a rematch of last year’s National Championship Game, the UConn Huskies dominated San Diego State in the second half en route to a blowout victory. With 2:08 remaining in the first half, the Aztecs cut UConn’s lead to four points. Then, the Huskies scored the final five points of the half to take a 40-31 lead into the break.

The second half was completely one-sided. Dan Hurley’s team blitzed SDSU out of the gates in the first few minutes of half number two — and quickly built its lead to 16 points in less than six minutes. UConn outscored the Aztecs 42-21 over the final 20 minutes to cruise to its second Elite Eight in a row.

In the bottom half of the East region, 2-seed Iowa State battled 3-seed Illinois. The Fighting Illini raced out to a 16-6 lead, but its poor shooting from the free throw line allowed the Cyclones to hang around. At halftime, Illinois led 36-26 but it arguably should have been up by 15+ points.

With Illinois’ star scorer Terrence Shannon Jr. in foul trouble in the second half, Iowa State made a run and closed to within two points with a little over seven minutes remaining. However, the Cyclones were never able to get over the hump and Shannon Jr. (29 points) iced the game with nine points in the final five minutes. Illinois came away with a 72-69 win and will now face UConn with a Final Four berth on the line.

In the West, the day began with a matchup between 2-seed Arizona and 6-seed Clemson. Playing in Los Angeles, the Wildcats had a ton of fans in the arena. However, it was Clemson who came out of the gates hot. With 6:49 remaining in the first half, the Tigers led Arizona 29-16. Arizona had a nice stretch to end the first half and start the second half — ultimately grabbing the lead with 14:33 to play. The underdog Tigers were more composed down the stretch and completed the upset, winning 77-72. After the game, head coach Brad Brownell summed up the evening, “Today was our day. That was a big-time game by our guys.”

To close the night, Clemson turned its attention to the high-powered showdown between 1-seed North Carolina and 4-seed Alabama. The first 20 minutes were fast-paced and electric. Neither team could generate stops and the Tar Heels took a 54-46 lead into the break. The second half was a bit of a grind early on, but both teams once again found their rhythm late. Trailing by two with five minutes remaining, Alabama’s Grant Nelson took over. Nelson scored seven consecutive points for the Tide and gave his team an 82-77 advantage. The Tar Heels reclaimed the lead with a 7-0 run — but Nelson would go on to score Alabama’s final five points of the game to secure the upset. Next, Alabama will take on Clemson for a spot in the Final Four.