The NCAA Tournament was one of the most entertaining in a long time. On the Women’s side, you had an opening round matchup in which heavily favorited UCONN defeated a team by 88 points. Yes, 88 points! It was incredible to watch two eleven seeds in Central Michigan and Buffalo make it to the Sweet 16. On the Men’s side, it was the first time a sixteen seed beat a number one seed. The number one overall seed, Virginia Cavaliers, lost to the University of Maryland Baltimore County or affectionately known as the Retrievers. Everybody’s bracket was busted by the first Friday for the Men’s. Even the beloved Sister Jean’s bracket was busted by the end of the first weekend. Sister Jean became an international sensation, as the 98-year-old Chaplain for eleven seed Loyola-Chicago. No one will forget that teams’ historic run to the Final Four, winning close game after close game. After the dust had settled, they joined Kansas, Michigan, and Villanova in San Antonio to decide a champion. In Columbus, Ohio, the Women’s Final Four featured all number one seeds, Louisville, Mississippi State, Notre Dame, and UCONN.
The first game for the women was amazing. Mississippi State hit a three-pointer with five seconds left to tie the game. Louisville had two chances to win at the end but it was not to be. In overtime, State prevailed 73-63. They headed back to the championship game. The next game of Notre Dame and UCONN felt like a forgone conclusion that the Huskies would destroy the Fighting Irish and reach yet another championship game. The Irish had the game, considering they were up by five with 21 seconds to go in the game. That’s when the Huskies proved why they were 36-0. They got a three-pointer, forced a turnover, then scored a layup to tie the game and send it into overtime. UCONN battled back again, in overtime, and had a two-point lead with 14 seconds on the clock. That’s when Arike Ogunbowale made a name for herself in the tournament. She hit a game winning shot with one second left to send the Irish to the championship game, 91-89. It was the second straight time that an undefeated UCONN would lose in the Final Four on a last second shot in overtime.
The championship game figured to be a redemption game for State. They knew how much it takes out of you in beating a UCONN team and then having to quickly turn around and prepare for a championship game. They were clearly the favorites over the Irish. They came out the gate proving it with a 13-point halftime lead. They even had a 15-point lead in the third quarter and 5-point lead with under two minutes left in the game. Ogunbowale was already a star, but she made herself a superstar with 0.1 seconds to go in the game. She shot an off balance three-pointer with a hand in the face to win the championship 61-58!
The “Cinderella” Chicago team and Sister Jean had won America’s heart but Michigan didn’t care. The Ramblers had a 29-22 halftime lead. They were doing what they had done all tournament, keep the game close and pull out a victory at the end. Michigan decided it was time for the clock to hit midnight on “Cinderella”. They outscored the Ramblers 47-28 in the second half to cruise to a 12-point lead and punch their ticket to the championship game. Michigan continued their 14 game winning streak while snapping the Ramblers 14 game winning streak. The second Final Four game featured two number one seeded teams in Kansas and Villanova. Both teams were ranked number one for a few weeks during the season. This was going to be Goliath verse Goliath. What ended up happening was Villanova was the only Goliath on the court. They shot early and often from three. They had a commanding 15-point halftime lead thanks to an all-time great shooting night from deep. They made 13 three-pointers to tie an NCAA record in the first half. They cruised to a 95-79 win and sent Dorothy and Toto back to Kansas faster than you can say Munchkins.
Villanova was poised to win their second national championship in three years. Michigan was in the championship game five years ago but came up short. They last won it in 1989. Who would enjoy the confetti showering down on them as they watched the infamous “One Shining Moment”? Nova started the game a lot slower than they did against Kansas. Thanks to Donte DiVincenzo’s 18 points in the first half, the team went on a 23-7 run to end the half leading 37-28. Coach Jay Wright had Nova prepared in the second half, as he had all tournament. They won the game going away, 79-62. It was the first time since the North Carolina Tarheels in 2009, that a team won every game of the tournament by more than 10 points. This game belonged to DiVincenzo though. His 31 points in a championship game are the most since 1989. It was the most off the bench in a championship game ever. He also had two momentous blocks that energized his team. It just goes to show you, that when your number is called you have to be ready and step up.
This year was one of the best tournaments yet. It was one of the hardest because it’s not easy to pronounce the Most Outstanding Players of the Final Four in Arike Ogunbowale and Donte DiVincenzo. I’d love to hear how you are pronouncing their names by the way. Congratulations again to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Villanova Wildcats on having the best NCAA basketball teams for 2018.