In & around SEC basketball

March 30, 2017 chris
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By Cole Frederick/Staff Correspondent

NCAA Tournament Weekend 2 Review
The Southeastern Conference wasn’t mentioned among the best conferences in college basketball throughout the season, but the league arguably had the best performance of any conference during the NCAA Tournament. The SEC earned five bids, and three of those teams advanced to the second weekend of the tournament.
Kentucky was the highest-seeded team from the SEC, so the Wildcats’ appearance during the second weekend was expected. Florida, a fourth seed, also cruised into the Sweet 16. South Carolina lost six of nine games down the stretch of the regular season and limped into the tournament as a No. 7 seed that wasn’t expected to win more than one game.
The Gamecocks won their first game over Marquette and then did the unthinkable in upsetting Duke in the second round. In the Sweet 16, South Carolina pummeled No. 3 seed Baylor, 70-50, to advance to the first Elite Eight in school history. Frank Martin’s team had one game standing between them and the Final Four, awaiting the winner of Florida and Wisconsin.
The Gators and Badgers provided one of the best games of the tournament. The two teams exchanged leads throughout the game until Florida started to pull away late in the second half. But the Badgers quickly closed the gap to three points and had the ball with only a few second remaining when guard Zak Showalter hit an off-balanced three to send the game into overtime.
The Badgers pulled ahead in OT but the Gators rallied late and tied the game. However, Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes drew a foul and buried two free throws to give the Badgers a two-point lead with four seconds remaining. Florida guard Chris Chiozza received the inbounds pass, dashed up the floor with Wisconsin defenders surrounding him, and buried a 3-pointer off one leg to send the Gators to the Elite Eight.
The Gators’ win set up an all-SEC Elite Eight at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The two teams split in the regular season, with the Gators winning the last matchup. After back-and-forth action throughout the first half, Florida pulled away slightly for a 40-33 halftime lead. The Gamecocks stormed back in the second half, however, and their defense stiffened in only allowing 30 points to Florida over the game’s last 20 minutes. SEC Player of the Year Sindarius Thornwell led South Carolina in the second half, and the Gamecocks pulled out a 77-70 win to secure their first Final Four appearance in school history.
On the other side of the bracket, Kentucky stormed past UCLA, 86-75, in a heavyweight battle between two of the premier programs in college basketball. Freshman point guard De’Aaron Fox scored 39 points in the win, which sent the Wildcats to an Elite Eight showdown with another college basketball power – the North Carolina Tar Heels. This matchup lived up to the hype, and the two teams traded buckets back-and-forth all game. North Carolina seemingly pulled away late, but the Wildcats stormed back behind two 3-pointers from freshman Malik Monk in the last minute of the game, the second of which tied the game at 73. On the ensuing possession, North Carolina forward Luke Maye hit a long jump shot with less than one second remaining to secure a Final Four berth for the Tar Heels.
Final Four Predictions
First semifinal: South Carolina vs. Gonzaga
Second semifinal: North Carolina vs. Oregon
Championship game: North Carolina over Gonzaga
Women’s NCAA Tournament recap
Seven SEC team’s made the NCAA women’s tournament, including South Carolina, Mississippi State, LSU, Tennessee, Missouri, Texas A&M and Auburn. LSU and Auburn were the only teams to suffer first round exits, while Tennessee, Texas A&M and Missouri were bounced in the second round.
South Carolina was one of four No. 1 seeds in the tournament, and the Lady Gamecocks cruised through the opening round game against UNC-Asheville. The Lady Gamecocks survived a scare from Arizona State in Round 2, and then dominated Quinnipiac in the Sweet 16. In the Elite Eight, South Carolina took on Florida State, and defeating FSU, 71-64, to advance to the Final Four for the second time in the last three seasons.
On the other side of the bracket, No. 2 seed Mississippi State dominated Troy and DePaul in the first two rounds in the tournament. The Lady Bulldogs knocked off Washington in the Sweet 16 to advance to the Elite Eight for the second straight season and squared off against No. 1 seed Baylor. The game headed into overtime where Mississippi State edged out the Lady Bears, 94-85, to advance to the first Final Four in school history.
Final Four Predictions
First semifinal: UConn over Mississippi State
Second semifinal: South Carolina over Stanford
Championship game: UConn over South Carolina