NCAA Tournament Elite Eight, Day 1: Cardinals, Buckeyes Advance
No. 4-seeded Louisville did not have its best game, but a lockdown defensive effort in the second half lifted the Cardinals to a 72-68 West Regional final win over Florida. In Saturday's second contest, No. 2-seeded Ohio State toppled No. 1-seeded Syracuse, 77-70, to come out of the East region. Here is a synopsis of the first day of Elite Eight action.
West Regional Final: Gators chomped down
Florida was the better team for much of the contest, but head coach Billy Donovan's squad will regret not being able to build on a hot-shooting first half to put away a Louisville team that was plagued by foul trouble to starters Peyton Siva, Chane Behanan and Kyle Kuric.
Louisville escaped with the win after finishing the game on a 25-10 run. The Gators cooling off from three-point range was crucial in allowing Louisville to climb back into the contest. Florida shot a scorching 8-for-11 from behind the arc in the first half, but then the Cardinals switched from zone to man-to-man defense and the adjustment paid off. The Gators misfired on all nine long-distance attempts in the second half.
Florida did not make the most of its chances and Louisville did. The Cardinals scored 15 points off 13 Gator turnovers, while Florida netted none from Louisville's six giveaways.
Game MVP: Russ Smith (Louisville guard)
Speaking of seizing opportunity, Smith, a reserve guard, played a big hand in sparking the Cardinals' comeback after Siva was hampered by foul trouble down the stretch. The 6-foot sophomore accounted for 12 of Louisville's final 25 points to finish the game with 19.
Difference maker: Chane Behanan (Louisville, forward)
The freshman finished with 17 points to with seven rebounds on 7-of-10 shooting. His jumper to put Louisville up, 69-68, with a little over one minute remaining gave his team its first lead since the midway point of the first half and the Cardinals never looked back since.
What the result means
The Cardinals will now make their ninth Final Four appearance in program history and first since 2005.
Louisville's win gave head coach Rick Pitino his sixth Final Four appearance, allowing him to join Dean Smith and Mike Krzyzewski as the only coaches to lead a team into the Final Four in four different decades.
The Big East tournament champs' Battle for the Bluegrass rivalry with Kentucky could find its way onto the Final Four stage, assuming the Wildcats can take care of business against No. 3-seeded Baylor in Sunday's South Regional final.
The Louisville win also means Donovan is now 0-7 against his mentor Pitino, whom he played for at Providence.
East Regional Final: Not so 'Fab' without 'Melo'
Syracuse center Fab Melo's suspension before the start of the NCAA tournament due to eligibility issues probably had fans scrambling to make last-second changes to their brackets to meet the submission deadline.
If you initially had Syracuse winning it all before having them out in the Elite Eight because of the Melo suspension, it was probably a heads-up move that paid off.
The Orange lacked the inside presence to keep Ohio State away from the glass as they conceded the rebounding battle by a 37-22 margin.
Syracuse shot an efficient 20-for-25 from the free throw line, but head coach Jim Boeheim's squad did not get to the charity stripe enough to keep pace with the Buckeyes. The Big Ten regular season champion Buckeyes' 31 made free throws in 42 attempts led to four or more fouls on five Syracuse players.
The Orange's guard trio of Dion Waiters, Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche combined to shoot just 11-for-30 from the field.
Game MVP: Jared Sullinger (Ohio State, forward)
The 6-foot-9, 265-pound sophomore bullied his way to 19 points and seven rebounds. Sullinger also sank 9-of-12 from the free throw line and had his way with the overmatched Orange defenders.
The Buckeye Bunch
Sullinger did not do it alone, however. Three other Ohio State players finished with at least 13 points, including Lenzelle Smith Jr. who had 18. Deshaun Thomas and William Buford chipped in 14 and 13, respectively.
What the result means
With the win, Ohio State punched its first ticket to the Final Four since 2007 and will make its 11th trip overall. The Thad Matta-led Buckeyes' previous appearance resulted in an 84-75 loss to Florida in the national title game.