Fans arrive early for the festivities before the Final Four games Saturday at University of Phoenix Stadium. (Patrick Breen/azcentral)
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Will Phoenix become a basketball city? Dan Bickley discusses the Final Four in Arizona, NBA stars resting and more in the latest Shot Clock.
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Would you spend $7,500 for three games of the best college basketball? How about $275? Reporter Perry Vandell breaks down the action on the tickets before the big games. Patrick Breen/azcentral.com
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Oregon’s Tyler Dorsey and Dillon Brooks discuss what it would mean to win a national championship, at University of Phoenix Stadium on Friday, March 31. David Wallace/azcentral sports
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University of North Carolina talks nerves and expectations before Saturday’s game.
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South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell talks about missing Thursday’s practice because of illness and feeling better for Friday’s practice at University of Phoenix Stadium. David Wallace/azcentral sports
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Perkins and Karnowski talk injury, nerves and expectations before practice on Friday.
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A look at the paths taken by the remaining teams in this year’s mens NCAA basketball tournament.
By Jim Sergent and Ramon Padilla, USA TODAY.
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USA TODAY Sports’ Nicole Auerbach thinks you’ll be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t keep an eye on these players in the Final Four.
USA TODAY Sports
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South Carolina players answer the question that’s on the minds of so many college basketball fans: what the heck is a Gamecock?
USA TODAY Sports
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North Carolina’s Justin Jackson and Joel Berry II discuss being back to the NCAA Final Four and trying to win it all, in the locker room at University of Phoenix Stadium on March 30, 2017. (David Wallace/azcentral sports)
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Oregon’s Dillon Brooks, Dylan Ennis and Casey Benson, discuss counting their blessings, meeting Kobe Bryant and playing a Final Four in their home state, respectively, in the locker room on March 30, 2017. (David Wallace/azcentral sports)
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Gonzaga’s Przemek Karnowski, Jordan Mathews and Nigel Williams-Goss talk about rising to the moment of the NCAA Final Four in the locker room at University of Phoenix Stadium on March 30, 2017. (David Wallace/azcentral sports)
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South Carolina’s PJ Dozier and Duane Notice talk about their confidence and under dog status for the NCAA Final Four in the locker room at University of Phoenix Stadium on March 30, 2017. (David Wallace/azcentral sports)
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Downtown Phoenix gets ready to host the NCAA Final Four Fan Fest and house the teams as they play in nearby Glendale for the NCAA Final Four games. David Wallace/azcentral.com
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Luke Maye connected on a last-second jump shot to defeat the Kentucky Wildcats and send North Carolina to the Final Four.
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USA TODAY Sports’ Nicole Auerbach goes behind the scenes of South Carolina’s win over Florida, which sends the Gamecocks to their first Final Four.
USA TODAY Sports
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The Oregon Ducks have reached the Final Four for the first time since 1939 after a 74-60 win over the Kansas Jayhawks in the Elite Eight.
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USA TODAY Sports’ Dan Wolken breaks down Gonzaga’s Elite Eight victory over Xavier.
USA TODAY Sports
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The court for the NCAA Final Four tournament is put together at the University of Phoenix stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral
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azcentral’s Paola Boivin breaks down Arizona’s loss to Xavier in the Sweet 16. Video: Michael Chow/azcentral.com
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The Arizona Wildcats, who many had in the Final Four, are bounced from the NCAA Tournament. Plus, the Oakland Raiders may soon be the Las Vegas Raiders. Will that actually happen? Video: azcentral sports
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USA TODAY Sports’ George Schroeder looks at how the Jayhawks and Ducks prevailed to set up their upcoming matchup in the Midwest region of the NCAA tournament.
USA TODAY Sports
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ULCA head coach Steve Alford acknowledges the game against the two ‘bluebloods’ of NCAA basketball with the most championships between them.
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Considered all but done after losing their star point guard and dropping six straight games in February, Xavier has improbably made a run to the Elite Eight after defeating No. 2 Arizona in the Sweet Sixteen.
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Arizona Wildcats head coach Sean Miller is the third highest-paid head coach in the NCAA Tournament and can earn close to $1 million in bonuses for winning the national title.
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Take a look at some at the faces of celebration and dejection from the tourney.
USA TODAY Sports
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The massive scoreboard known as “Colussus TV” is installed at University of Phoenix Stadium for the upcoming NCAA Final Four games. David Wallace/azentral.com
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Being on network TV means this years NCAA tourney should easily overtake last year’s viewership. Richard Deitsch explains how to watch the Madness.
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Fans pack University of Phoenix Stadium lawn for Final Four
Shot Clock: Phoenix a basketball city?
Which seats in the Final Four house are still available?
Oregon on what it would mean to win a national championship
UNC players talk about returning to Final Four
South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell on his illness and feeling better
Gonzaga’s Josh Perkins and Przemek Karnowski talk Final Four
Road to the Final Four means a lot of miles traveling
Top players to watch in the Final Four
Gamecocks explain what a gamecock is
North Carolina on being back to the NCAA Final Four
Oregon on counting their blessings
Gonzaga on rising to the moment
South Carolina on their confidence and underdog status
Downtown Phoenix gets ready for NCAA Final Four
North Carolina headed to Final Four with win over Kentucky
South Carolina makes history with Final Four berth
Oregon advances to first Final Four since 1939 with win over Kansas
Gonzaga advances to program’s first Final Four
Piece by piece, the court for the NCAA Final Four tournament is put together in Glendale
Paola Boivin recaps Arizona’s loss to Xavier
Shot Clock: Arizona knocked out; Raiders moving to Vegas?
Kansas and Oregon set up intriguing Elite 8 matchup
UCLA’s Steve Alford talks about playing Kentucky
No. 11 Xavier upsets No. 2 Arizona to head to Elite Eight
A closer look at Sean Miller’s salary and bonuses
March Madness: Craziest faces of the NCAA tournament
Scoreboard installed at University of Phoenix Stadium for Final Four
Media circus: A guide to March Madness
When a double-digit lead slipped away, when coach Mark Few had to call time to settle his team, it wasn’t Gonzaga’s experience that saved the Bulldogs. It was a freshman.
Zach Collins doesn’t start, but at the end of Saturday’s 77-73 national semifinal win over seventh-seeded South Carolina, he was the best player on the court, pushing top-seeded Gonzaga one step closer to the school’s first national championship.
“Last night, I went to bed and I was like, ‘I have to make an impact, I have to be the player I know am,’ ” Collins said.
In front of 77,612 at University of Phoenix Stadium, this is what that looked like: After a furious South Carolina second-half charge, the 7-foot Collins helped Gonzaga lasso back control. In 23 minutes, he produced 14 points and a season-high 13 rebounds. He also blocked a season-high six shots, five in the second half.
“Those blocks were huge,” Gonzaga guard Jordan Mathews said. “The way he attacked the rim was huge. … He was big time.”
BOX SCORE: Gonzaga 77, South Carolina 73
Point guard Nigel Williams-Goss was just as big, contributing 23 points, five rebounds and six assists. Mathews added 12 points, all on 3-pointers. Gonzaga (37-1) on Monday meets North Carolina to try and complete a near-perfect season. Its only loss to BYU came on the final day of the regular season.
“One game away,” guard Josh Perkins said. “We’re not done yet.”
This wasn’t easy for the West Coast Conference champs. With just under 11 minutes left, Williams-Goss converted a 3-point play, giving himself 23 points and Gonzaga a 65-51 lead that started to look insurmountable. It wasn’t. After a timeout, South Carolina charged.
Chris Silva converted a 3-point play. P.J. Dozier scored on a curl move. Suddenly, the Gamecocks had scored 10 points in just over a minute-and-a-half (Collins was on the bench for part of this stretch) and they kept going. Silva had his shot blocked by Collins inside. He tried again. Collins blocked it again. Dozier, however, put back the rebound, tying the game.
BICKLEY: Gonzaga shows its heavy mettle
After an empty Gonzaga possession, Rakym Felder hit two foul shots giving South Carolina a 16-0 run and its first lead – 67-65 – since the opening minutes.
“That run they made on us, that just shows the heart of a lion that they have,” Few said.
Gonzaga answered with Collins. With 6 minutes left, the freshman flashed to the top and spotted center Przemek Karnowski, who had missed time in the first half with a minor eye injury, in the post. Instead of dumping it inside, Collins launched a 3-pointer that hit the rim and bounced in, giving Gonzaga a 68-67 lead.
“Very ugly,” said Collins, who had attempted only 20 3-pointers all season. “I don’t know how it went it, I’m just glad it did.”
Said South Carolina coach Frank Martin, whose team finished 26-11: “We’d battle and take a lead and a young man that’s not a 3-point shooter hits a shot that gets stuck on the back of the rim and then just trickles in.”
After his 3, Collins collected five rebounds and an assist the rest of the way, at times teaming with the 7-foot Karnowski to give the Bulldogs an imposing frontline. With Gonzaga leading 75-72 with 1:19 left, he also blocked his sixth shot, a short jumper from South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell.
“He’s a competitor,” Gonzaga assistant coach Tommy Lloyd said of Collins, who scored only seven points in two games of the regional. “He’s not afraid of the moment. He’s not afraid of contact. It’s pretty impressive.”
Leading 75-72 in the final seconds, Few elected to foul rather than let South Carolina attempt a 3-point shot. With 3 seconds left, Thornwell hit the first free throw, but intentionally missed the second. Gonzaga’s Killian Tillie then hit two free throws to put the game out of reach and Gonzaga into Monday’s championship contest.
“It’s moments like this,” Collins said, “when I know why I chose to come here.”