The Most Amazing Moments from the Elite Eight

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistMarch 31, 2014

The Most Amazing Moments from the Elite Eight

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    Florida's Scottie Wilbekin has his team on a 30-game winning streak.
    Florida's Scottie Wilbekin has his team on a 30-game winning streak.John Bazemore

    The Final Four is set and the NCAA will have an eclectic mix in North Texas to decide the national championship.

    Florida, with its 30-game winning streak and its top overall seed, is the favorite to cut down the nets in North Texas. But based on the performances of second-seeded Wisconsin, seventh-seeded Connecticut and the remarkable freshman class of eighth-seeded Kentucky in their Elite Eight games, the Final Four should be highly competitive.

    There were several remarkable performances over the weekend, and we look at the best moments from the Elite Eight.

Kaminsky Carries Wisconsin on His Shoulders

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    Jae C. Hong

    Wisconsin and Arizona put on a remarkable show Saturday night in Anaheim. The game was not decided until the final seconds in overtime when the Wildcats' Nick Johnson actually dribbled out the clock before launching an errant three-point shot that would not have counted had it gone in. That play gave the 
    Badgers a 64-63 victory and punched their ticket to the Final Four.

    There was a certain never-say-die attitude the Badgers brought with them in their confrontation with top-seeded Arizona, and it was best exemplified by 7'0" junior forward Frank Kaminsky and his remarkable effort.

    Kaminsky has a been a good-but-not-great player all season. He is averaging 14.1 points per game and 6.4 rebounds per game in 27 minutes of action per night. But Kaminsky rose far above his regular season averages against the Wildcats. He scored 28 points and he pulled down 11 rebounds, seven of which came off the offensive glass.

    But the numbers don't tell the full story of the way Kaminsky played. He dominated when he went inside with an array of silky smooth moves. He was a star when he fired from beyond the arc, making 3-of-5 three-point attempts.

    He set screens, he went to the glass, he defended and he went to the floor when he needed to come up with a loose ball. He did everything head coach Bo Ryan asked for and more. 

    On the final play, Kaminsky came over to help guard Johnson, and his presence was a big part of the reason the Arizona star took one more dribble than was needed. Kaminsky carried the Badgers to victory in the Elite Eight, and he will try to do it against Kentucky in the Final Four.

Late First-Half Run Propels Top-Seeded Florida Past Upstart Dayton

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    Mark Humphrey

    Dayton had already beaten Ohio State, Syracuse and Stanford. The 11th-seeded Flyers knew they had an even bigger task at hand against Florida, but it was clear head coach Archie Miller's team was not intimidated.

    The Gators may have been the more talented team with Scottie Wilbekin, Patrick Young and Michael Frazier II leading the way, but the Flyers were able to come at all opponents in waves because Miller regularly uses an 11-man rotations.

    That's just how the South regional final was playing out. In the closing minutes of the first half, the score was tied at 23-23 and the game looked as even as it was on the scoreboard. Florida appeared to be in a fight for survival.

    But the Gators decided they were going to hit the Flyers with a full-on assault in the 4:39 of the opening half. Florida's speed, talent, poise and killer instinct were fully on display as they went on a 15-1 run and took a 38-24 lead into the locker room at halftime.

    Scottie Wilbekin scored nine points in that run, including an exclamation point of a three-pointer from the top of the key just before the halftime buzzer. That was the play that told the story of this game.

    Dayton, of course, would not quit and mounted a couple of second-half surges, but this game belonged to Florida as Wilbekin had 23 points, three assists and three steals, while center Patric Young had 12 points, six rebounds and four blocked shots in Florida's 62-52 victory.

    Nothing is assured for the Gators when they get to Dallas despite their No. 1 overall seed and 30-game winning streak. They still have to go out and prove they are the best team. However, it is going to take a remarkable effort to keep Florida from claiming its third national championship in the Billy Donovan era.

Ultra-Quick Napier Leads UConn Past Michigan State

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    Seth Wenig

    The UConn Huskies appeared to be up against it when they met streaking Michigan State in the East Regional Finals at New York City's Madison Square Garden.

    The Spartans had won the Big Ten title in impressive fashion after an ordinary regular season, and had continued to climb the ladder in their first three NCAA tournament games. As Tom Izzo contemplated getting his team back to the Final Four, it seemed like seventh-seeded UConn was just one more hurdle to leap over.

    The Huskies were talented, quick, athletic and resourceful, but did Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels really have a chance against the explosiveness and depth of the Big Ten-tested Spartans?

    While most figured that Michigan State was good enough to survive, UConn coach Kevn Ollie was undeterred. He knew that his trio of stars would push Michigan State to the limit, and the Spartans just might have a very difficult time coming up with an answer for the quicksilver Napier.

    That's just how it played out. Napier saved his best for the second half as the Huskies ralled back from a 32-23 second-half deficit and recorded a 60-54 victory. Napier scored 25 points in the game, and 17 of them came in the second half. He was also perfect from the free-throw line, making all nine of his attempts.

    Napier's quickness and ball-handling ability are his most notable assets, but his toughness may have been the key factor in this game. With the score tied at 32-32 in the second half, Napier took a shot in the nose from Michigan State's Gary Harris, and he left the court bleeding heavily. Napier was back on the court a minute later, and he was pushing his team to the lead with a new level of aggressiveness.

    "When coach looks at me a certain way, I just know I've got to be more aggressive," Napier told the media (h/t CBS Sports) after the game.

    Napier followed his coach's non-verbal instructions perfectly, and that allowed the Huskies to survive and advance.

Aaron Harrison Plays Hero as Kentucky Eliminates Michigan

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    David J. Phillip

    Aaron Harrison had been suffering through one of the worst games of his freshman season through the first 31:55 of Kentucky's Midwest regional final against Michigan. He had missed all four of the shots he had taken and it appeared that his dry spell might allow the Wolverines to survive this matchup and earn a trip to the Final Four.

    But Harrison did not doubt himself and head coach John Calipari still believed in him. Harris would hit four dramatic three-point shots in the game's final minutes, including the game-winner with 2.3 seconds left that allowed Kentucky to pull out a remarkable 75-72 victory.

    Harrison faced a huge challenge on his game-winning shot. He was guarded by Michigan's long-limbed Caris LeVert, and the angular Wolverines defender was right in Harrison's face as he rose up to take the shot. Somehow, he got the ball off and it landed safely in the netting.

    "I've been around guys who make these kind of plays," Calipari said at the postgame media press conference (h/t CBS Sports). "I've always said, 'You cannot be afraid to miss.' He's not afraid to miss. That's the whole thing about making those kind of plays. And if he does miss, he's going to shoot it again."

    Harrison got quite a bit of help from power forward Julius Randle, who led the Wildcats with 16 points and 11 rebounds. However, it was Harrison's remarkable finishing ability that propelled Kentucky and its all-freshman starting team to the Final Four.

    Fab Five, indeed.

Bo Ryan Makes His First Final Four

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    Jae C. Hong

    Wisconsin basketball head coach Bo Ryan had a title that he was desperately longing to retire: Best coach never to appear in a Final Four.

    Ryan has been one of the most successful coaches in the nation. While the Badgers had some good years under former coach Dick Bennett prior to Ryan's arrival in 2001-02, they were not the consistent winners they have become since then.

    Bennett preached defense, defense and more defense when he was at the helm of Wisconsin's basketball program. Ryan also demands top-level defensive play, but the Badgers have become a solid all-around team that can push the pace and run offensive plays as well as any team in the Big Ten.

    As good as Ryan's teams have been—he has a 321-120 record at Wisconsin for a .728 win percentage—his teams had never made it past the regional final. That changed Saturday night when Wisconsin survived in overtime against top-seeded Arizona and made it out of the West regional.

    Ryan gets his Final Four appearance. While his Badgers will have much to overcome if they are going to bring home the national championship—starting with a matchup against Kentucky—the monkey is off Ryan's back and he can relish his team's memorable accomplishment.