ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA – Not even a game-high 22 points from Rui Hachimura could save No. 1-ranked Gonzaga’s season as it was eliminated from the NCAA tournament at the elite-eight stage by Texas Tech on Saturday.
The 75-69 loss means Hachimura, who was recently named a finalist for the Naismith Player of the Year Award and already anointed the West Coast Conference Player of the Year, has likely played his last game of college basketball.
He is tipped to declare for the NBA draft and if, as is widely predicted, he is selected in the mid-first round, he will become the first Japanese player to be drafted and play in the world’s top league.
The 21-year-old junior needed 19 shots to tally his 22 points and added six rebounds. He also contributed three turnovers, an issue that proved Gonzaga’s Achilles heel in the game, with the team totaling 15 over the 40 minutes.
“We lost to a really, really good basketball team in a great basketball game,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “It went back and forth, back and forth and I was very impressed with Texas Tech, obviously with their defense but also their offense.”
“Our guys fought and we were right there … It’s a tough way to end a spectacular season and year and even an era,” Few said.
Gonzaga’s other likely first-round draft pick, 22-year-old Canadian Brandon Clarke, had another solid outing after scoring 18 points, but he was one of the primary offenders in Gonzaga’s turnover issue.
“I think I turned the ball over five times in the first half,” said Clarke, who finished with six turnovers. “It’s something I’ve never done.”
After falling behind by 7 points late, Gonzaga (33-4) chipped away and pulled within 71-69 on Zach Norvell Jr.’s putback with 11 seconds left. But Josh Perkins reached over the end line and tipped the ball out of Mooney’s hand as he was inbounding for a technical.
“I just reached at it,” Perkins said. “It was a bonehead play, something I’ll think about forever.”
David Moretti did the honors — sinking the technical free throws — and then made two more after Gonzaga fouled in desperation. The Italian scored 10 of his 12 points in the last four minutes.
Texas Tech was led by sophomore Jarrett Culver, a player who has made a big impression at the tournament and has risen up draft boards recently. He scored 19 points, but it was his team’s defense that put a dampener on Gonzaga’s high-octane offense.
“That defense is real, and (coach Chris Beard) has done a great job with it and it definitely impacted us tonight,” said Few.
Virginia 80, Purdue 75 (OT)
In Louisville, Kentucky, Virginia, the first No. 1 seed to lose to a 16 seed a year ago, survived overtime and Carsen Edwards’ staggering 3-point show Saturday night to make it to the Final Four for the first time since 1984.
The top-seeded Cavaliers needed a last-ditch buzzer beater to send the game to overtime and finally contained Edwards in the extra period to hang on for an 80-75 victory over Purdue in the South Region final.
The Cavaliers (33-3) redeemed themselves from last year’s loss to UMBC by relying on veterans, sound defense, poise, controlling the ball and a failure to be rattled even when the Boilermakers had the chance to ice the game in regulation at the foul line.
Their balance and experience allowed them to overcome a brilliant performance by Edwards, whose 10 3-pointers were one shy of the NCAA Tournament record. Edwards finished with 42 points for third-seeded Purdue (26-10) and none of his teammates scored more than seven each.
Edwards was named the Most Outstanding Player of the South regional, becoming the first player to win the honor from a losing team since Stephen Curry in 2008.
De’Andre Hunter scored four points in overtime, including the go-ahead layup with 29 seconds remaining, while Kyle Guy and Kihei Clark each added two free throws as Virginia finally broke free from Purdue.
“I was definitely flashing back to when I was on my knees last year, and I did it again,” Guy said of the celebration. “Just overflowing with joy. So happy for my teammates and my coaches and myself to be able to break through in the way that we did this year.”
Virginia got a last-gasp jumper from Mamadi Diakite as time expired to force overtime and the Cavaliers got clutch baskets from Ty Jerome and Hunter, who also had two free throws, before Guy and Clark sealed the victory.
Guy injured his ankle in the first half and his return was uncertain. But he came out from the break and hit back-to-back 3s and finished with 25 points — 21 after halftime — and 10 rebounds. Jerome had 24, Diakite 14 and Hunter 10 as the Cavaliers outlasted the high-scoring Boilermakers.
The win put coach Tony Bennett in the Final Four for the first time in a decade with the Cavaliers. His father, Dick Bennett, coached Wisconsin to the Final Four in 2000 — beating Purdue in the regional finals.
“No one knows what this team has been through,” Bennett said in a TV interview. “I do. And it’s good.”
Purdue had its chances and the momentum at times. But the Boilermakers were beat 39-31 on the boards, giving Virginia opportunities that ultimately made the difference.
“Give them credit, because when we were getting stops from them, we couldn’t secure the basketball,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “If we could have done a better job defensive rebounding, it would have really helped us.”
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5