Elite 8 showcases why finishing is important

Elite 8 showcases why finishing is important

By: Myles Papponi

Elite Eight action began Saturday, and with a trip to the Final Four on the line, teams have no choice but to will their way to victory. Going to the Final Four is an incredible achievement. The tournament starts with 68 teams, and after the Elite Eight, it is cut down to just four. Only four teams can feel the joy of cutting down the net and advancing. The journey is long and never quite complete. The opposing team and 40 minutes of game time in the Elite Eight is what stands between players and this joy.

The Elite Eight kicked off inside Boston’s TD Garden, where viewers expected an offensive battle between two powerhouse offenses, #1 UConn and #3 Illinois. The first half of the game did not meet this expectation, with UConn leading by just five in a low-scoring 23-28 contest. Apart from Illinois guard Marcus Domask, who had 15 points before the end of the half, and UConn center Donovan Clingan, players on both sides did not start the game strong. With the game close and UConn not playing their best, Illinois needed to take advantage and jump out to a sizeable lead. Knowing it is not likely that UConn will continue to shoot poorly, this would have put them in the best position to catch the Huskies off guard and sneak out a win. However, with 1:49 left in the first, the score was even at 23; from here, the entire game would change. Following this tie, UConn would go on a run that would continue deep into the second half and outscore Illinois 30-0. The more UConn would add to the lead, the more Illinois players would look defeated. With every shot Illinois took in the second half, viewers could see the pressure they felt for something to go through the hoop. Halfway through the second, Illinois had only made one field goal. Illinois lacked off-the-ball movement, which led to many possessions in which their teammates played 1-on-1 before shooting a quick jumper. Perhaps they hoped Larry Bird would run out of the tunnel to give them life.

Illinois can’t take all the blame because the Huskies tend to take the life out of teams with their scoring prowess and willingness to give great effort on the defensive end. UConn would score 52 points in the paint and combine for 21 assists. Donovan Clingan would lead his team the entire way with a phenomenal bounce-back game, scoring 22 points, pulling down 10 boards, and blocking 5 shots. Clingan’s 7’2” presence was felt wherever he stepped on the court with thunderous dunks, shot-altering defense, and sheer determination. Guard Cam Spencer also played a great game with 11 points and a career-high 12 rebounds. Hassan Diarra gave the Huskies a great push off the bench, adding his own 11 points. The game’s final score was 77-52, and with their near-perfect second half, UConn was the first team in this tournament to punch their ticket to the Final Four. The Huskies look to continue their dominance and become the first team since the 2007 Florida Gators to repeat as a National Champion.

Neither #6 Clemson nor #4 Alabama had made a Final Four appearance in their program’s history, so history was inevitable when they faced off during the Elite Eight Saturday evening. When history is on the line, it yields excitement. The teams would trade three-point daggers, throw down emphatic dunks, and show off their strength with And-1 bully ball. During the first half, both teams would make their own runs, giving Alabama a narrow three-point lead. Alabama struggled from three early in the game. Clemson was able to take advantage and appear to be making another great shooting, and offensive team miss shots. Clemson played an excellent game, with five players scoring double digits. Clemson’s big men; PJ Hall and Ian Schieffelin, would both have solid games with electric moves in the post and great shots late in the game. Schieffelin picked up a double-double with 18 points and 11 boards, and guard Joseph Girard III would make thrilling shots from distance to add to his 19 points and keep the game within reach for the Tigers. Clemson’s defense would force 13 turnovers but would not control the pace of the game as much as they did in their previous matches.

After their slow start, the Crimson Tide stayed true to who they were and did not let missed three-pointers discourage them from continuing to let it fly from deep. Eventually, their control from behind the arc would result in 16 converted shots, which is ultimately what would lift them past the Tigers, 82-89. Guard Marcus Sears sank seven threes of his own for a game-high 23 points, and Forward Jarid Stevenson’s smooth stroke gave his team five shots from beyond the three for 19 points in the game. The amount of threes made played a significant role in the game, but the timing of them from Alabama made them so critical to the outcome. Every time Clemson appeared to be gaining momentum or chipping away at the lead, Alabama would drill a three to end it. Alabama Forward Nick Pringle was a menace on the offensive glass and in the paint late in the contest, ending the game with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Alabama is a dangerous team because while they love to make and shoot shots when they commit to being active and energetic on defense, they are very hard to beat. Clemson had a great run in the tournament and made fantastic offensive teams look mediocre. They just could not overcome Alabama’s exceptional three-point shooting and their own missed free throws, going 8/16 from the charity stripe. The Roll Tide rolls on to the Final Four for the first time in program history, and basketball fans in Tuscaloosa hope to add a basketball National Championship to their countless football titles.

The Elite Eight continues Sunday as teams look to secure their spot in the Final Four. The day starts off with #1 Purdue trying to take down #2 Tennessee at 12:20 p.m. MDT. Following this game, two ACC conference teams face off as #11 NC State tries to continue its magical run by upsetting #4 Duke in a battle of North Carolina. Only two spots remain in the Final Four, and opportunities like this don’t come often, so each team will have to play their best basketball to advance.

The first Final Four matchup will be between the number one overall seed, the UConn Huskies, who will continue their title defense against the number four-seeded Alabama Crimson Tide. Each team will play for their own chance to accomplish something new for their program. This will give each side their own motivation and drive, giving viewers something astonishing to witness.