Arizona, Dayton punch tickets to NCAA 'Elite Eight'

Thursday night, the Florida Gators, Arizona Wildcats, Dayton Flyers and Wisconsin Badgers secured regional final slots in the 2014 NCAA men's basketball tournament. Saturday's games will be broadcast on TBS.

Spruce Derden, USA TODAY Sports/REUTERS
Dayton Flyers forward Devin Oliver (5) rebounds against Stanford Cardinal guard Chasson Randle (5) during the second half of the semifinals in the south regional of the 2014 NCAA Mens Basketball Championship tournament at FedExForum, Mar. 27, 2014.

#11 Dayton glides past #10 Stanford in South Region semis

Last night, the 11th seeded Dayton Flyers literally ran circles around the foul-plagued Stanford Cardinal en route to a convincing 82-72 victory at Memphis’s FedEx Forum. Dayton now advances to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1984. Jordan Sibert towered over the competition, scoring 18 points and leading a group of four players who reached double figures. But the most glaring statistic was the huge production by Dayton’s bench, which outscored Stanford’s reserves 34-2 on the night. Dayton’s coach Archie Miller skillfully distributed his 11-player roster in numerous waves that effectively wore out Stanford’s 6-player rotation.

Dayton didn’t change their game plan one bit from last week’s meeting with Syracuse and when Stanford went into their own 2-3 zone, the Flyers responded by hitting 6 three-pointers in the first half. Dayton was also very effective at getting Stanford’s starters into foul trouble – the most critical being Cardinal center Stefan Nastic who, though he had 15 points for the game, fouled out with five minutes remaining. This weekend, the “Cinderella” Flyers meet #1 overall seed Florida with a trip to the Final Four on the line.

#2 Wisconsin dismantles #6 Baylor to gain Elite Eight in West Region

Controlling the tempo was always the key to this game; Baylor’s athleticism and speed against Wisconsin’s steady, methodical and relentless defense. Wisconsin won the battle, neutralizing Baylor’s 2-2-1 “box” zone on the way to defeating the Bears, 69-52, Thursday night at Anaheim’s Honda Center. Starting guard Ben Brust scored 14 points, including 3 three-point shots and center Frank Kaminsky hit for 19 points - along with six blocked shots - to spearhead the Badgers' hard-hitting effort.

Baylor only hit 2 of 15 three-pointers, which was a big contrast from the barrage they applied to Creighton last week, while making only a total of 20 shots from the floor. On the other side, Wisconsin sank 6 shots from beyond the arc. The Badgers were also superior on the boards – grabbing 31 defensive rebounds to Baylor’s 22. Additionally, Wisconsin was skillful at denying Baylor from scoring points in transition. But Wisconsin also got more out of its reserves, who outscored Baylor’s, 18-7. The Badgers now meet the Arizona Wildcats.

#1 Arizona slips past #4 San Diego State to reach West Region final

Arizona was spinning its wheels for three-quarters of Thursday night’s West Region semifinal against the San Diego State Aztecs. But as is typically the case, the final result relies on what happens in the second half. The Wildcats’ star and Pac 12 player of the year Nick Johnson, who had been 0-10 from the floor for the game's first 30 minutes, scored 15 in the remaining time to help hold off the Aztecs, 70-64, at Anaheim’s Honda Center. Arizona is now in the Elite Eight for the first time since 2011 and will face Wisconsin this weekend.

Arizona came into the contest with the express intent of shutting down San Diego State’s offensive juggernaut, Xavier Thames, but gave up 25 points to the senior guard. In fact, Thames was largely the only offense that San Diego State had in the last five minutes as Johnson escaped his doldrums and got to work. He was joined in Arizona’s scoring attack by forward Aaron Gordon’s 15 points, and guard T.J. McConnell’s 11. And though the Aztecs outrebounded the Wildcats during the last five minutes of the game, San Diego State appeared fatigued with Arizona grabbing offensive rebounds seemingly at will – earning them two and sometimes three clock-resets per possession.

#1 Florida once again defeats #4 U.C.L.A. to gain Elite Eight

The Florida Gators continued their dominance in recent years over U.C.L.A. with an easy 79-68 victory in their South Region semifinal over the Bruins Thursday night at Memphis’s FedEx Forum. The more experienced Gators squad succeeded in neutralizing U.C.L.A.’s best player, Kyle Anderson, by getting him in early foul trouble. That’s when Florida’s tandem of outstanding guards, Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier II, got to work. They scored a combined 32 points on the night, including seven 3-pointers to pace the Gators. Additionally, Florida’s reserves outpaced U.C.L.A.’s by a 23-11 scoring margin.

Against Florida’s experienced front court, U.C.L.A.’s long-range shooting was stymied – they only hit 3 of 18 shots from beyond the arc, and only 40% of their two-pointers. And the Gators’ Wilbekin, though he had missed 10 of his first 12 shots, managed to hit three huge ones in the waning minutes, demonstrating his ability to score in the clutch and giving the Gators a comfortable 70-63 with 35 seconds to play.

In reaching their fourth consecutive regional final, the Gators now own a gaudy 4-0 record over the Bruins in the NCAA tournament. 

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