Sunday, March 25
Arizona 87, Illinois 81: It was a heavyweight battle 'til the final bell. In the end, Arizona was still standing.
It has been a tough season for the Wildcats. They have dealt with the death of Lute Olson's wife, Bobbi, suspensions to Loren Woods and Richard Jefferson, and a sluggish start.
Olson's Wildcats hung on despite a furious charge by Bill Self's Illini. It was backcourt play early and the defense of Woods late that led Arizona to another Final Four.
Gilbert Arenas got off to a great start with 16 early points. Jason Gardner stepped up and hit a couple of big trifectas in the second half, plus a key free throw to lock up the game. Then Woods took over with blocked shots and clutch free throw shooting.
Arizona's defense did a great job shutting down Big Ten Player of the Year Frank Williams. Richard Jefferson was given the early defensive assignment and he set the tone.
Give Illinois credit for fighting 'til the very end. Robert Archibald had the game of his life, scoring 25 points before fouling out. Arizona couldn't find a way to stop Archibald inside.
The Wildcats were able to lock the game up on the foul line, shooting over 50 times from the line.
All three Illinois-Arizona games this season were thrillers. In the end, the 'Cats celebrated a six-point win.
Michigan State 69, Temple 62: Tom Izzo knew Temple would provide a tough test in the South regional final. What he didn't know was the player he would count on to come through big time.
David Thomas, who saw a lot of playing time last season when Mateen Cleaves was injured, was the big surprise. He had a career-high 19 points and he set the tone with three big jumpers early. Thomas was the mystery man, though he has made several quality performances throughout the year.
He was brilliant, scoring and grabbing seven rebounds. Michigan State's defense controlled and contained Quincy Wadley for the entire game, holding him to four points. Charlie Bell did a good job stopping Lynn Greer in the first half.
Greer warmed up late to finish with 22 points. The combination of Greer and Kevin Lyde kept Temple in the game, though in the end, it was not enough. The Spartans also dominated the glass, as has been the case all season long.
The Owls had led at halftime of its first three NCAA games by an average of 19 points. On Sunday, it was come-from-behind time and Temple fell short against a deeper team.
Give John Chaney credit for doing a great job. His Owls basically had only seven players in their rotation and were 4-7 at one point. Temple had a seven-game losing streak, most coming with Wadley sidelined.
Oh, did that team regroup. The Owls played well, but having to chase Michigan State, which jumped out of the gate 6-0, is difficult indeed.
Michigan State makes it to the Final Four for a third straight year. Here's a salute to Tom Izzo for doing a super job.