It will be a big night for the United States women’s hockey team as they take on Canada, trying to secure their second consecutive Olympic gold medal.
(Looking for a recap of Wednesday’s events? We have you covered here.)
The Americans lost to Canada in the preliminary round in the 2022 Beijing Olympics, but will look to reach the top of the podium again to cement their place among the world powers. Team USA also lost to Canada in the preliminary rounds of the 2018 Games before avenging the loss in the gold-medal game in Pyeongchang.
The U.S. women’s hockey team has been through some adversity in the past year with ex-coach Bob Corkum resigning, a loss to Canada at the World Championships and having their trip to Ireland to play Russia in a three-game series of exhibitions canceled due to the pandemic. They also had five players and a staff member test positive for COVID-19 with a week in January.
The U.S. and Canada are meeting in the gold-medal game for the sixth time in seven tournaments since women’s hockey debuted at the 1998 Olympics.
Then Mikaela Shiffrin returns to slopes in Alpine skiing for one last chance to leave Beijing with a medal. Shiffrin will race the combined, which is one run of downhill and one run of slalom. Shiffrin won the silver medal in this event at the 2018 Games and is the reigning world champion.
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Hilary Knight gives US women’s hockey team hope
BEIJING — It’s looking like silver for the USA in women’s hockey.
Canada leads 3-1 after two periods. Marie-Philip Poulin netted her second goal of the game, knocking a rebound off Alex Cavallini’s right pad. But Hilary Knight at least gave the U.S. life with three minutes to go in the period with a shorthanded goal to bring the deficit back to two.
According to NBC Sports, the three-goal deficit during the second period was the largest in a Games since the teams first met at an Olympics in 1998.
In no surprise, the U.S. leads in shots, 24-17.
— Chris Bumbaca
IOC news conference gets political
BEIJING — A Beijing 2022 spokesperson made several overtly political statements Thursday at a joint news conference with the International Olympic Committee — which has for years stressed the importance of keeping politics out of the Games.
In a particularly notable exchange, a reporter asked IOC spokesperson Mark Adams about the organization’s relationship with Anta, a sporting goods manufacturer that sources cotton from China’s Xinjiang region. The U.S. government has determined that forced-labor camps in the region are used as part of the cotton supply chain.
When Adams finished answering the question, Beijing 2022 spokesperson Yan Jiarong jumped in.
“I feel obliged to make a very quick comment,” she said in English, before continuing in Chinese. “I think the so-called forced labor in Xinjiang is lies made up by deliberate groups, and the relevant organizations have provided a large amount of facts to dispute that. And we are against the politicizing of sports. Thank you.”
Then, a few moments later, Adams was asked to provide the IOC’s position on forced labor camps in Xinjiang.
“I don’t think it’s particularly relevant to this press conference. It’s certainly not relevant to the IOC,” he said in part. “We are very, very concerned about protecting human rights within our sphere, which is within the Olympic Games, within the staging of the Olympic Games.”
Yan then reiterated her stance.
“I think these questions are very much based on lies,” she said through an interpreter.
Yan had also interjected earlier in the news conference, after Adams fielded a question involving the Olympic delegation from Taiwan — which, for political reasons, competes as “Chinese Taipei.”
“What I want to say is that there is only one China in the world,” she said. “Taiwan is an undividable part of China. This is a well-recognized international principle, and we are recognized in the international community.”
These were hardly the first questions about hot-button issues that have been asked of the IOC and Beijing 2022 organizers since the start of the Games — though spokespeople had, until Thursday, largely gone to great lengths to avoid answering them directly.
When asked about Yan’s political statements, in the wake of the IOC’s long-standing stance that the Games must be apolitical, Adams demurred.
“There are many views on all sorts of things, around the world,” he said. “But our job is to make sure that the Games take place, and the magic of the Games can happen, and that we can improve the world through sport.”
— Tom Schad
Sofia Goggia leaves her skis for Mikaela Shiffrin
BEIJING — It’s gotta be the skis.
Mikaela Shiffrin put herself in position for a medal in the Alpine combined Thursday, skiing the fifth-best time in the downhill portion on Sofia Goggia’s skis. The Italian, the world’s best downhill skier, had left the skis for Shiffrin along with a note that said, “Fly Mika, you can.”
“I almost started crying,” Shiffrin said after the run, which left her 0.56 seconds off the lead. “I’m thankful I was able to get a feeling on those and, yeah, just tried to fly as best as I could.”
The combined is a run each of downhill and slalom, with final results based on overall time.
Though Shiffrin races downhill sparingly – she’s only done four races in the past two years – she only needs to be competitive in order to give herself a chance going into slalom, her specialty. Of the medal contenders, she had the best downhill time.
The two-time Olympic champion has had a rough go in Beijing, skiing off the course after the fifth gate in the first run of both the giant slalom and slalom, her two best events. Goggia had her own challenges just getting to Beijing – the Olympic downhill champion in 2018 shredded her knee in a Jan. 23 crash — and had expressed sympathy for Shiffrin.
After winning a silver medal in Tuesday’s downhill race, Goggia went a step further, leaving her skis for Shiffrin.
“They’re a pair of the skis she is currently training and competing on,” Shiffrin said. “She didn’t need them because she wasn’t competing (in the combined) here, so I was able to try them yesterday.”
Shiffrin had the fastest time in the downhill training Wednesday.
— Nancy Armour
Canada takes 2-0 lead on US in women’s hockey gold-medal game
BEIJING — The U.S. is going to have to climb out of a two-goal hole to give themselves a chance at gold.
This was always going to be about the U.S. making the most of its chances on Canada goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens. Hannah Brandt missed a big one early, hitting the left post on an open net. Abby Roque couldn’t make anything on another chance later in the period.
A smart offsides challenge kept the game scoreless about seven minutes into the game, but Canada scored less than a minute later anyway to make it 1-0 anyway. Canada’s Sarah Nurse has now tied Hayley Wickenheiser for most points in an Olympic tournament with 17 (five goals, 12 assists).
With five minutes left in the period, familiar foe Marie-Philip Poulin struck again in the big moment. The Canadian captain has scored in four consecutive gold-medal games against the U.S., and her goal made it 2-0 after she swiped the puck from Kelly Pannek and put it past Alex Cavallini, who needs to step up and give her team a chance against a high-powered Canadian attack.
— Chris Bumbaca
Birthday girl Devin Logan fails to advance, but three US women make freeski halfpipe final
ZHANGJIAKOU, China — Devin Logan was hoping for more from her last Olympics, wanting her birthday to have more reason to celebrate.
But the three-time Olympian failed to advance through women’s freeski halfpipe qualifying at the Beijing Games on Thursday, finishing in 13th and one spot outside the final field.
Logan, who turns 29 today, has decided these are her last Game. While she has focused on halfpipe here, she long competed in that event and slopestyle and won a silver medal in slopestyle’s debut in Sochi in 2014.
“Definitely wanted more for myself. Being one out is always very difficult,” Logan said. “But this is my third Olympics, and I can say I even got here, which is a great achievement in my eyes. Of course I wanted more, wanted to showcase my skiing in the finals but you’ll be hearing me tomorrow cheering on the rest of the ladies.”
Logan’s American teammates all made the final behind China’s Eileen Gu, who was the top qualifier. Brita Sigourney, a bronze medalist four years ago, qualified eighth. Olympic newcomers Hanna Faulhaber and Carly Margulies qualified ninth and 10th, respectively.
Logan didn’t rule out a return to competition next season, but she does not plan to compete for another Games.
“Injuries, age, my body hurts. I’m all on Aleve right now and shoulder’s taped up,” she said. “You see the next generation pushing and it’s like, ‘OK, I think I left my mark and I think it’s going to be OK.’”
— Rachel Axon
US reaches men’s curling semifinals, seeking second straight gold
BEIJING – The U.S. men’s curling team will have a chance to defend its gold medal after all.
With a 7-5 win over Denmark on Thursday morning, the Americans clinched the fourth and final spot in the medal round and will face top seed Great Britain in the semifinals. The game will start at 8 p.m. Thursday in Beijing or 7 a.m. ET in the U.S.
The Americans, led by skipper John Shuster, finished 5-4 in the round robin tournament but needed the final win to get into the semifinals. After a slow start, things turned in the third end when Shuster drew for two to tie the game. Then in the fourth, Shuster was able to set up the board for a potential steal and Denmark skipper Mikkel Krause missed everything with the hammer, giving the U.S. three points.
The Americans played smartly with the lead and never allowed Denmark a chance to put together a big end. The U.S. gave up two in the ninth end but still had the lead with the hammer going into the final frame and successfully knocked away every Denmark stone to close out the win.
Team Shuster shockingly won the gold medal in Pyeongchang four years ago, making the medal round with the same 5-4 record before upsetting Canada and Sweden to make history for the U.S.
— Dan Wolken
Rivalry resumes as US plays Canada for women’s hockey gold
BEJING — It all comes down to this for the U.S. women’s hockey team in their quest to repeat as Olympic champions.
Standing in the way is rival Canada, for the fourth consecutive time in a gold-medal game. The 2018 gold marked the first for the U.S. since 1998, and if victorious on Thursday, it will be the first time the Americans repeat.
The United States outshot Canada 53-27 in a 4-2 preliminary-round loss nine days ago. Canada goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens stopped 51 shots and has been stellar all tournament. Meanwhile, Canada’s offense has been historic; the Canadians’ 54 goals scored in six games are an Olympic record. The U.S. is second in team scoring in Beijing with 28 goals here.
Alex Cavallini starts in goal again for the U.S. – she’s been between the pipes for all three playoff round games.
— Chris Bumbaca
Mikaela Shiffrin has combined medal in sight after solid downhill
BEIJING — Mikaela Shiffrin is in position for her first medal.
A clean run in the downhill portion of the Alpine combined left Shiffrin 0.56 seconds back and in fifth place behind Austria’s Christine Scheyer. But neither Scheyer nor the other skiers in front of Shiffrin are slalom specialists, giving the American a chance to make up ground Thursday afternoon.
Wendy Holdener, the bronze medalist in 2018, is 0.43 seconds behind Shiffrin while reigning Olympic champion Michelle Gisin is 0.44 seconds behind.
The combined is one run each of the downhill and slalom.
Shiffrin was in sixth place after the downhill four years ago, but had the third-fastest run in slalom as she claimed the silver medal at the Pyeongchang Olympics. Gisin was third in the downhill and fourth in slalom 2018, while Holdener was 10th in the downhill and first in slalom.
One of the best technical skiers ever, Shiffrin can afford to give up some ground in the downhill. But she has to at least be competitive and her experience in downhill has been sparse recently. She has done only four downhill races, the last coming the first week of December, and hadn’t even been on downhill skis in two months before the first training run Saturday.
“Every day that I get on this track and I’m able to take a run and just do a solid run, top to bottom, it gives me the chance to be a little more calm in my mind,” Shiffrin said after finishing 18th in the downhill Tuesday. “I tend to think way too much and that makes it hard to ski freely. But I can’t (ski freely). I have to think because I haven’t really practiced downhill in two years.”
Shiffrin was expected to contend for multiple medals in Beijing, but her best finish so far is ninth place in the super-G. She did not finish either the giant slalom or slalom, her best events, skiing off the course after the fifth gate in the first run of both races.
A medal in the combined would be Shiffrin’s fourth at the Olympics, tying her with Julia Mancuso for most by a U.S. woman. In addition to her silver from the combined, Shiffrin has golds in slalom (2014) and giant slalom (2018).
— Nancy Armour
Gold medalist David Wise overcame adversity to make it back to third Olympics
David Wise couldn’t know it as he lay atop an Austrian mountain feeling his hip move and his foot fall limply, but the broken femur wouldn’t just shape his skiing career.
The injury, the worst he’d endured, would alter how the two-time Olympic gold medalist saw himself, would change his relationships and would prepare him for the life-altering changes the coronavirus pandemic would bring months later.
Now, nearly three years later, the 31-year-old Wise takes the perspective that the adversity has given him and uses it to prepare for his third Olympics, where he will try to win his third consecutive gold in the freeski halfpipe. Qualifying is scheduled to begin at 11:30 p.m. ET.
“In some ways I felt like maybe breaking my leg kind of prepared me for the world to go crazy because I was going through so much on a personal side that I kind of developed this thankfulness to be alive, just a thankfulness for still being able to do what I wanted to do,” Wise said.
And his skiing, well, the lead-up to these Games hasn’t looked as dominant as it did in the past two quadrennia. But few would count Wise out, and his experiences in recent years have given him a new perspective.
“I’m less and less tied, in terms of identity, to a pair of skis,” Wise said. (Read the full story here.)
— Rachel Axon
Lipinski, Weir kept quiet while calling Kamila Valieva’s short program
Typically NBC’s Olympic skating analysts Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir never stop talking. Their enthusiasm for the sport they both excelled in is their calling card — each triple axle described as a miracle of science, grace and beauty.
However, when Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva competed in the short program after failing a pre-Olympics drug test, they were uncharacteristically quiet.
Lipinski and Weir simply noted Valieva’s jumps from time to time, and their silence made the event unusually tense, even for such a high-pressure forum.
When Valieva was done, she broke down in tears. Weir said, simply, “All I can feel like I can say is that was the short program of Kamila Valieva at the Olympics.”
If you’ve watched any skating in the last few years, you know what a shock that is.
Beforehand Lipinski said, “I don’t know how many times over the past year I’ve said that she is the best figure skater I’ve ever seen, and just saying that now not only makes me confused, but it makes me angry, and again, I’m disoriented by everything that I thought I knew.”
After the end of the women’s short program, her score of 82.16 landed Valieva firmly in first place, though a well-known retired Olympic and world figure skating judge, who co-wrote the criteria for the program components on which the sport’s artistry is based and judged, told USA TODAY Sports’ Christine Brennan that she should have finished third.
Afterwards Weir posted a short video on Twitter, calling it “the hardest event I’ve ever had to cover.”
The women’s free skate is set for Thursday evening in Beijing (Thursday morning in the U.S.).
— Bill Goodykoontz
Mikaela Shiffrin seeks to conquer combined again
Mikaela Shiffrin has one final chance to take a medal home from Beijing, and she geared up for the Olympic combined by setting the fastest time in a downhill training session on Wednesday.
The combined, which adds the times from one downhill run and one slalom run, is scheduled to begin Thursday at 10:30 a.m. (9:30 p.m. ET) with the downhill portion. American Isabella Wright will be the first to ski first with Shiffrin scheduled to run ninth.
The two-time Olympic champion so far has failed to win a medal at the Beijing Games, skiing out in the giant slalom and the slalom – the two events she has gold medals in – and finishing ninth in the super-G and 18th in Tuesday’s downhill.
Shiffrin is the world champion in combined and also won silver in the event at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.
The 26-year-old Shiffrin is far less experienced in the downhill but finished Wednesday’s training session 0.93 seconds ahead of Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener, who won bronze in the combined in Pyeongchang, behind Shiffrin and Swiss teammate Michelle Gisin.
— Associated Press
Can Americans keep up with Eileen Gu in freeski halfpipe?
ZHANGJIAKOU, China – Eileen Gu’s last step toward a third Olympic medal during the Beijing Games starts with qualifying.
Gu, the American-born teen who competes for her mother’s native China, competes in the freeski halfpipe on Thursday. The top-ranked skier in the world in that event, Gu is looking to advance to Friday’s final and claim her third medal of these Olympics after capturing gold in big air and silver in slopestyle.
No freeskier has medaled in all three events, which recently joined the Olympic program with halfpipe and slopestyle being added in 2014 and big air first contested here.
Veteran U.S. skier Brita Sigourney enters the Olympics coming off a silver medal at X Games last month. The three-time Olympian took bronze in Pyeongchang four years ago
Olympic newcomer Hanna Faulhaber comes into the competition ranked fifth in the world and with two world cup podiums this season, along with X Games bronze last month.
Three-time Olympian Devin Logan, a silver medalist in slopestyle eight years ago, is competing in her final Games. And Carly Marguilies skies in her first Olympics.
— Rachel Axon
Women’s figure skating comes down to free skate
With the short program in the rearview mirror, attention turns to the women’s free skate and the medals that won’t be awarded in figure skating following their completion if Kamila Valieva, who failed a pre-Olympic drug test, finishes in the top three.
But on the ice, the competition should still be fierce. The women’s free skate event is expected to start at 6 p.m. Thursday in Beijing and 5 a.m. ET in the U.S.
Karen Chen, who is in the second of four groups, will be the first American to skate at approximately 6:47 a.m. ET. The third group features Americans Mariah Bell at approximately 7:23 a.m ET and Alysa Liu at approximately 7:46 a.m. ET.
The medals, though, are likely to be decided amongst the skaters in the fourth and final group, which begins around 8 a.m. ET. Valieva skates last of the six skaters in this group at approximately 8:49 a.m. ET.
Valieva was first in the short program, but a well-known retired Olympic and world figure skating judge, who co-wrote the criteria for the program components on which the sport’s artistry is based and judged, told USA TODAY Sports’ Christine Brennan that she should have finished third.
Eileen Gu begins quest for Olympic medal trifecta
ZHANGJIAKOU, China – Eileen Gu knows she skis better under pressure.
Gu, who was born and raised in the United States but competes for her mother’s native China, won gold in the Olympic debut of freeski big air last week and took silver in slopestyle on Tuesday. Thursday, she’ll begin her quest for a third Olympic medal when qualifying begins in freeski halfpipe.
“The trifecta has always been my biggest goal. It’s definitely lofty, but I know it’s something I can do.”
But the halfpipe is sure to carry a unique pressure for Gu.
Though she was born and raised in San Francisco, she decided in 2019 to compete for China. She has become the biggest star of these Games, beloved by the few fans selected to attend, and cheered by the Chinese press. She is ubiquitous in media, appearing in seemingly most commercials airing during Olympic competition.
She’s likely to face pressure again in finishing her trifecta, though it’ll be familiar. Gu won medals in all three events at the 2020 Youth Olympic Games as well as X Games and world championships in 2021 – winning two events in each of those competitions.
So Gu knows how to navigate this.
“My grandma’s coming out today, so she’s gonna watch me compete in halfpipe, which means the world to me,” Gu said. “She’s never watching me compete before, so hopefully I can put on a good show for her.”
— Rachel Axon
Latest developments in Valieva doping case
An investigative website called The Dossier Center, published a document showing that Kamila Valieva took three legal substances: Hypoxen, L-carnitine and supradyn in additional to the banned heart medication trimetazidine.
Valieva’s grandfather is part of her defense and saying that she might have been exposed to trimetazidine through him.
“The grandfather did not testify at the hearing,” according to a brief synopsis in the document. “In his pre-recorded video (shot in a car), he claimed to use trimetazidine periodically when he suffered from ‘attacks’ and showed a packet of trimetazidine medication to the camera.”
– Tom Schad
Team USA medal count rising
Heading into Thursday’s action in Beijing, the United States sit fourth in the overall medal haul with 19, one ahead of Canada.
Norway leads the total medal count with 28, with 13 golds. The Russian Olympic Committee soared into second with 24 total medals, with Germany winning 20 medals so far, including 10 gold.
Razzies royally torch 'Diana' musical and 'Space Jam 2,' show love to Oscar favorite Will Smith
In its proclamation of the worst films of 2021, the Razzies lambasted a critically reviled Princess Diana musical and LeBron James’ “Space Jam” sequel, but spread love instead of hate for Will Smith.
The Golden Raspberry Awards, annually announced the day before the Academy Awards, bestowed five dishonors on Netflix’s “Diana: The Musical,” a filmed production of the recent Broadway show that closed after 33 performances. “Diana” beat out “Infinite,” “Karen,” “Space Jam: A New Legacy” and “The Woman in the Window” for worst picture, plus picked up worst screenplay and worst actress for star Jeanna de Waal.
“New Legacy,” the live-action/animated hybrid basketball comedy featuring James hooping it up with Bugs Bunny and Co., earned three Razzie awards. James was named worst actor and also was saddled with worst screen couple – which went to James and “Any Warner Cartoon Character (or WarnerMedia Product) He Dribbles On” – while the movie snagged worst sequel.
How to watch the 2022 Oscars:Everything you should know about Sunday’s Academy Awards
“House of Gucci” star Jared Leto lost his Screen Actors Guild race for best supporting actor but nabbed the Razzie for worst. And Bruce Willis does so many VOD movies now that he received his own special category (worst performance by Bruce Willis in a 2021 movie) that, to no one’s surprise, he won – for “Cosmic Sin.”
Smith, who’s expected to win the best actor Oscar Sunday for “King Richard,” received this year’s Razzie Redeemer Award for previous Razzie honorees who’ve come back with quality efforts. Recent winners include Ben Affleck, Sylvester Stallone, Melissa McCarthy and Eddie Murphy.
The full list of this year’s Razzie “winners”:
Worst picture: “Diana: The Musical”
Worst actor: LeBron James, “Space Jam: A New Legacy”
Worst actress: Jeanna de Waal, “Diana: The Musical”
Worst supporting actress: Judy Kaye, “Diana: The Musical”
Worst supporting actor: Jared Leto, “House of Gucci”
Worst performance by Bruce Willis in a 2021 movie: Bruce Willis, “Cosmic Sin”
Worst screen couple: LeBron James and Any Warner Cartoon Character
(or WarnerMedia Product) He Dribbles On, “Space Jam: A New Legacy”
Worst remake, rip-off or sequel: “Space Jam: A New Legacy”
Worst director: Christopher Ashley, “Diana: The Musical”
Worst screenplay: “Diana: The Musical”
As more marijuana dispensaries get targeted by robbers, SAFE Banking Act lingers in Congress
A bill that could allow electronic transactions at weed dispensaries nationwide is again make its way through Congress but the SAFE Banking Act might not be the cure-all that supporters envision.
In over a decade of operating cannabis shops in Washington, Shea Hynes never once worried about his stores getting robbed at gun point – until recently: In a span of three weeks, his stores were robbed three different times at gun point.
Reports of armed robberies at cannabis dispensaries like Hynes’ have nearly doubled in the first quarter of this year compared with all of last year, according to data maintained by the Craft Cannabis Coalition. The group, which represents more than 50 stores in Washington, has recorded more than 65 armed robberies so far this year, compared with 35 in 2021 and 29 in 2020.
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Takeaways from Friday's Sweet 16: North Carolina looks like national title contender
CHICAGO — In a ridiculous coincidence, the Saint Peter’s Peacocks wrote NCAA Tournament history on National Peacock Day with a thrilling upset of Purdue.
The mid-major became the first-ever No. 15 seed to reach the Elite Eight, outdoing previous No. 15 seeds Oral Roberts (2021) and Florida Gulf Coast (2013). Exactly 0.8% of people picked the Peacocks to get this far, with the school from Jersey City, New Jersey, defying all odds. Is Saint Peter’s the best Cinderella of all time?
Meanwhile, the ACC is sitting pretty with three teams – Duke and now North Carolina and Miami (Fla.) – in the Elite Eight on the same day the Big Ten saw its last team go down.
A look at three key takeaways from Friday:
Saint Peter’s writes NCAA history
Coach Shaheen Holloway has this team playing inspired basketball, and now the Peacocks (22-11) are just one win from the Final Four. The best Cinderellas of the last two decades to reach Final Fours – George Mason in 2006, VCU in 2011, Loyola-Chicago (2018) all were double-digit seeded mid-majors. But none was as highly seeded as this Saint Peter’s team that’s now beaten No. 2 seed Kentucky, No. 7 Murray State and No. 3 Purdue.
WINNERS, LOSERS:Poised Saint Peter’s keeps the dream alive; bye-bye, Big Ten; hello, ACC
OPINION:Saint Peter’s embodies wackiness and uncertainty of this NCAA Tournament
ANALYSIS:Purdue’s loss leaves Big Ten shut out of Elite Eight. We could see this coming.
MORE:Legendary Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson: Coach K’s farewell tour ends Saturday
OPINION:Houston is leaving Phi Slama Jama in the 1980s for good
While other bracket-busting NCAA Tournament darlings of yesteryear have had flair (FGCU’s “Dunk City”) or a lovable fan (Loyola’s Sister Jean), this team from the MAAC is doing it with defense, namely with nine steals. In spite of being undersized against the Boilermakers, the Peacocks used aggressiveness and hustle to outduel their seemingly superior opponent behind 6-8 freshman Clarence Rubert and 6-7 junior Hassan Drame. Daryl Banks III (14 points) is the go-to scorer for Saint Peter’s, but Mr. Clutch has been guard Doug Edert (10 points) off the bench. One stat to note: a 19-for-21 clip from the free-throw line. What’s been most impressive is the Peacocks’ ability to stay hungry and poised under pressure, winning close games in all three NCAA Tournament matchups.
Blue-bloods show title potential
Duke and Villanova advanced on Thursday, and fellow blue-bloods Kansas and North Carolina will now join them in the Elite Eight. And yes, if both the Blue Devils and Tar Heels win Sunday, we could see them meet in the Final Four.
Ever since North Carolina embarrassed Duke in coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final home game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Heels have been red-hot – knocking out No. 1 Baylor in the previous game in overtime. That continued against a UCLA team that reached the Final Four last year and seemed destined to get back. Caleb Love was brilliant again, finishing with 30 points off six three-pointers. Armando Bacot’s tip-in with 22 seconds left sealed the win in another impressive outing for coach Hubert Davis’ resilient team.
The last remaining No. 1 in the NCAA Tournament, Kansas stayed alive, escaping Providence by five points. It’s coach Bill Self’s ninth trip to the Elite Eight with Kansas and 11th of his career, as the Jayhawks (31-6) are one win from the Final Four. They’ve now won eight in a row and are looking like a title contender after entering the NCAA Tourney having won the Big 12 tournament.
The secret weapon for Kansas has been guard Remy Martin. For the third consecutive tournament game, Kansas got a jolt off the bench from the fiery Martin (23 points), the Arizona State transfer who has erupted in these NCAAs after playing a reserve role throughout 2021-22.
ACC > Big Ten
Despite garnering nine NCAA Tournament bids on Selection Sunday – the most of any conference – the Big Ten is out following Purdue’s stunning exit vs. Saint Peter’s. The league tanked in the first two rounds, with No. 5 Iowa – the conference tourney champ – getting upset by Richmond in the first round. No. 3 Wisconsin, No. 4 Illinois, No. 7 Michigan State and No. 7 Ohio State all lost in the second round. And now, with Michigan’s loss to Villanova, the overall underachievement is on full display. That’s a 9-9 finish in the tournament.
No Big Ten team has cut down the nets since 2000 (the Spartans), and it’s a depressing outlook for the league that posted the second-best NET score in 2021-22 and showcased several teams with Final Four potential.
The ACC, which finished with the sixth-worst NET score as a league, has Duke, North Carolina and Miami all in the Elite Eight. That’s after the Tar Heels, Hurricanes and Notre Dame were all bubble teams in early March. The NCAA Tournament is about matchups and pathways. No matter how well the Big Ten did in the regular season, much like the Pac-12’s surprising finish last year, the ACC is well-positioned with three teams still alive and two of them title contenders.
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.
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