Saturday’s Elite 8 Recap: Half of Final Four set as Texas Tech makes its first trip while Virginia tops Purdue in a classic

Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
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PLAYER OF THE DAY: Carsen Edwards, Purdue

There will be a team crowned in Minneapolis in just over a week, but the player this tournament belongs to won’t be there. Carsen Edwards was an absolute terror through four of some of the most impressive performances the NCAA tournament has even seen, including Saturday’s 80-75 loss to Virginia in the Elite 8.  The junior guard scored 42 points, matching a career high, on 14 of 25 shooting (8 of 13 in the second half) as the only Boilermaker to score more than seven points. It was a phenomenal performance only matched by the tremendous tournament Edwards put together.

Edwards’ 139 points were the most in four tourney games since 2000, passing Steph Curry’s record. His 28 made 3s are the most in tournament history and he’s the only player to ever have two games with nine or more made 3s in the Dance. He averaged 34.8 points. It was a historic and legendary performance. Purdue won’t be cutting down nets in a week, but the 2019 tournament is Edwards’.

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

TEAM OF THE DAY: Virginia Cavaliers

Virginia had to withstand an all-time great performance from Edwards and get a a buzzer-beater (see below), but they’re going to the Final Four for the first time under Tony Bennett and the first time overall since 1984.

The Cavs have had amazing regular-season success under Bennett, and have had disappointment after disappointment in the tournament, so finally reaching the sport’s pinnacle gets them this spot. Getting to the Final Four a year removed from becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose to a 16, that’s just a great story.

One worth a cheers and a toast.

ONIONS OF THE DAY: Mamadi Diakite, Virginia

You send an Elite 8 game into overtime, where eventually your team earns its way to the Final Four, you get this headline. So congrats to Mamadi Diakite on that. The onions here, though, probably belong to Kihei Clark, who corralled the rebound in the backcourt and instead of hoisting a prayer to win it from halfcourt, trusted in his own sense of time and his teammates’ ability to fire the ball up to Diakite as time wound down. That’s no small feat.

WTF OF THE DAY: Gonzaga’s offense

This isn’t a WTF so much as it is the Alonzo Mourning GIF:

The Zags have the country’s best offense, but Texas Tech has its best defense. I don’t know which was the unstoppable force and which was the immovable object, but Texas Tech was the victor.

Chris Beard has built something special in Lubbock, and the key to it all is that defense, which has put the Red Raiders in the Final Four after losing four of its top five scorers from last year’s Elite 8 team and being picked by the Big 12’s coaches to finish seventh in the league.

Gonzaga shot 42.4 percent from the field and 26.9 percent from 3. The Bulldogs made just 12 of 33 shots overall and 3 of 15 from deep in the second half. That’s the best offense in the nation turned not pedestrian but actually bad. That’ll make you shake your head in disbelief until you remember it was Texas Tech’s defense doing, and that’ll have you nodding in respect.

FINAL THOUGHT

Take all your “Boring Tournament” takes and throw them into the ocean. What a beautiful, glorious, thrilling, awesome and wonderful night of basketball.

Sure, this tournament has been bereft of true Cinderellas, but that means you get heavyweight fights in the Elite 8, like we saw Saturday. These were two great games played by four great teams and programs.

You had Virginia, as consistently excellent as a program comes looking to get to Bennett’s first Final Four while exorcising UMBC. Then there’s Gonzaga, a premier program trying to win its first national title. Purdue has Edwards. Texas Tech has Beard and Jarrett Culver.

What a lineup. What a night. What great basketball.

Sunday will have a lot to live up to, but with Auburn/Kentucky and Michigan State/Duke, there’s a decent chance it does. Hell, it might even surpass it. Maybe it’s fine Cinderella didn’t get invited to the dance. Everyone’s having a good time without her. Glass slippers are impractical, anyway.

(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)