(CBS Local)- March is over and with it, the final games of March Madness are upon us. Only three games remain, beginning with the Final Four matchups between No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 11 UCLA and No. 1 Baylor and Houston on Saturday.
Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis is the site for the semifinals and national championship and CBS lead reporter Tracy Wolfson will be in the building as the Bulldogs, Bears, Bruins and Cougars fight it out for the national title. We caught up with Wolfson to get her thoughts on each of the semifinals games as we gear up for the final weekend of college basketball this season.
The stories heading into the Final Four are abundant. Gonzaga is going for an undefeated season, the first since the Indiana Hoosiers did it under Bob Knight in 1975-76. Baylor, in the Final Four for the first time since 1950 with Scott Drew finally breaking through that wall that the program has run up against in previous tournaments.
Houston, in search of the program’s first championship, Kelvin Sampson looking to further etch his name into the history books. And UCLA, with a head coach in Mick Cronin whose hire wasn’t exactly welcomed two years ago, has the Bruins in their first Final Four since 2008. All of those stories are big through lines to follow but Wolfson says the most intriguing to her is the potential for Mark Few to cap off a storybook career in Spokane.
“Certainly the undefeated season with Gonzaga is one that stands out, but I think the underlying story with Gonzaga is Mark Few trying to win that championship. His 22nd season and never leaving Spokane and trying to take Gonzaga to the title game and winning it this time,” said Wolfson. “I love the coaches and their stories in a lot of these games.”
It’s the program’s second appearance in the Final Four, their first coming in 2017 when they fell to North Carolina in the title game. But, the Bulldogs story as a program under Few’s leadership has been one of breaking through a new barrier every few years. First it was breaking through to the Elite 8, then the Final Four. Now, win a title. What’s different in this year’s team?
“It’s their unselfishness, the way they play together and the poise with how they play,” said Wolfson. “The poise and unselfishness they play with, it’s another guy always stepping up…They’re experienced as they always are, although you have a freshman in Jalen Suggs coming. I think it’s really impressive the way they’ve been able to work together, block out the noise and it’s a different player every game.”
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That unselfishness has manifested itself in an average of 20.7 assists per game in the tournament. And it’s not just the offensive side of the ball that has shone, the Bulldogs have held three of their four tournament opponents to 66 points or fewer.
Their opponent, UCLA, will be looking to bog down the game. Mick Cronin’s team has adapted to the loss of Chris Smith by playing even further into Cronin’s grind it out style. It is that style that Wolfson says will be key in the matchup.
“They have to do something similar that they did to Michigan, and as a Michigan fan, that absolutely crushed me,” said Wolfson. “As I was watching the game I said, ‘they yucked it up’. They play really slow and their toughness and defense and they controlled the tempo in that game and they need to do the same thing against Gonzaga.”
Aside from trying to play the game at a slower pace, Wolfson does note that someone other than Johnny Juzang will need to step up offensively in order to keep pace with Gonzaga. The Bulldogs have been held under 80 points just three times this season, slowing them down is no small feat.
As for the first matchup of the night, the all-Texas battle between Houston and Baylor is one of teams that are very similar. Each is driven by a trio of guards which Wolfson is interested to see who is able to gain the upper hand.
“Which guards are going to step up? What are these matchups going to be? (Quentin) Grimes vs. (Davion) Mitchell would be unbelievable,” said Wolfson. “That’s a really good matchup that stands out to me. Both of these teams can win with their defense even though we’re talking about these guards and how well they shoot the ball.”
There are two key areas that could swing the game as Wolfson sees it entering Saturday. The depth for the Bears and the offensive rebounding ability of Houston.
“I think the backcourt of Baylor could also be a little bit of a difference maker,” said Wolfson. “The key I think it comes down to I think is the boards. Houston is one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country and Baylor’s one weakness could be on the defensive rebounding side. It could really come down to that in the end in this one.”
The action begins on Saturday night with Houston vs. Baylor tipping off at 5:14 p.m. ET on CBS followed by Gonzaga vs. UCLA.