Home Hockey jerseys Houston and Villanova advance to San Antonio’s Elite 8 game on Saturday

Houston and Villanova advance to San Antonio’s Elite 8 game on Saturday

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Until Thursday, March 24, I had never covered an event at the AT&T Center. My time in South Texas covering high school sports had taken me to almost every stadium in San Antonio, including the Alamodome, but I had never been to the Spurs. I can’t say that anymore.

March Madness returns to San Antonio for the first time since 2018. The Silver & Black arena has gone blue and gold and varying shades of red for Thursday’s Sweet 16 matches. And I had a pretty good view of the NCAA tournament drama.

Have the Cinderellas moved on? Where did the Goliaths advance? Here is what I saw:

Arizona Wildcats guard Bennedict Mathurin (0) attempts a shot against Houston Cougars forward Fabian White Jr. (35) during their game in the Southern Regional Semifinals of the Men’s Basketball Tournament NCAA at the AT&T Center on Thursday, March 24, 2022.

San Antonio Express-News/Staff photographer Kin Man Hui

Championship stage

The No. 2 seed Villanova beat the No. 11 seed Michigan, 63-55. No. 5 seed Houston beat No. 1 seed Arizona 72-60.

The wins set up an Elite 8 match on Saturday, March 26 to decide who goes to New Orleans for the Final Four. Will the Cougars advance to their second consecutive Final Four? Or will Villanova return for the first time since 2018?

The Elite 8 is scheduled for 5:09 p.m. Saturday at the AT&T Center. Tickets can be purchased here. The match will be televised on TBS.

Villanova Wildcats guard Justin Moore (5) and Michigan Wolverines forward Moussa Diabate battle for a loose ball during their game in the Southern Regional Semifinals of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the AT&T Center on Thursday, March 24, 2022.

Villanova Wildcats guard Justin Moore (5) and Michigan Wolverines forward Moussa Diabate battle for a loose ball during their game in the Southern Regional Semifinals of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at the AT&T Center on Thursday, March 24, 2022.

San Antonio Express-News/Staff photographer Kin Man Hui

Villanova loves Texas

Villanova defeated Michigan with a 22-point performance from forward Jermaine Samuels off the bench. Seven combined three-point shots from Collin Gillespie and Justin Moore helped secure the Wildcats’ spot in Saturday’s regional final.

“It’s about surviving now,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “We have to rest, learn a bit per film and then go out and be smart against who we are playing because we know we have a great team, whoever it is.”

You might think a Pennsylvania school full of East Coast players would want something to do with Texas. But in the contrary. The Wildcats’ win over Michigan was the program’s sixth straight NCAA Tournament victory in the Lone Star State, dating back to 1983.

Villanova powerfully won their 2016 and 2018 championships in Houston and San Antonio respectively. A victory in the Elite 8 on Saturday would send the Wildcats to their third Final Four in six years.

Sidenote: It’s also an even year. If past results have anything to do with it, could this be Villanova’s year?

Houston Cougars guard Kyler Edwards (11) shoots a three against Arizona Wildcats guard Pelle Larsson (3) during their game in the Southern Regional Semifinals of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at AT&T Center on Thursday, March 24, 2022.

Houston Cougars guard Kyler Edwards (11) shoots a three against Arizona Wildcats guard Pelle Larsson (3) during their game in the Southern Regional Semifinals of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at AT&T Center on Thursday, March 24, 2022.

San Antonio Express-News/Staff photographer Kin Man Hui

Fertitta South introduces itself


Before Houston left for San Antonio, head coach Kelvin Sampson said Mark Berman of FOX 26 that they needed fans to turn AT&T Center into Fertitta South. The Spurs pitch was filled with red jerseys on Thursday. Even though some of them were Arizona reds, the Houston faithful were vocal.

“Coach likes to call it Fertitta South because we were right here next to Houston, so we like how our home crowd presented today,” guard Kyler Edwards said. “They brought all the energy today and that really helped us.”

“The energy was just electric,” guard Jamal Shead said. “It was great to have that kind of crowd here. We’re going far in the playoffs and it was electric.

It’s a testament to the work Sampson put in during his eight years with the Cougars. They are no longer Phi Slamma Jamma, but they expect to be in the tournament and go further every year.

Shead and Edwards scored 21 and 19 points respectively, hitting five and six 3-pointers as the last of the Houston guards scored from deep. With Hakeem Olajuwon watching from the stands, the Cougars never trailed and closed out the victory with a pair of dunks from Josh Carlton and J’Wan Roberts.

Michigan Wolverines center Hunter Dickinson (1) scores between Villanova Wildcats guard Justin Moore (5) and guard Caleb Daniels (14) during their game in the South Regional Semifinals of the Men's Basketball Tournament in the NCAA at the AT&T Center on Thursday, March 24.  , 2022.

Michigan Wolverines center Hunter Dickinson (1) scores between Villanova Wildcats guard Justin Moore (5) and guard Caleb Daniels (14) during their game in the South Regional Semifinals of the Men’s Basketball Tournament in the NCAA at the AT&T Center on Thursday, March 24. , 2022.

San Antonio Express-News/Staff photographer Kin Man Hui

The memory of the Fab Five lives on

Michigan’s famous Fab Five led the Wolverines to back-to-back national championship games in 1992 and 1993. Current head coach Juwan Howard was one of the five – and his love for the school was present in his conference of introductory press in tears.

The Fab Five have been on the mind this week. Chris Webber and Ray Jackson had an emotional chat in the locker room following Michigan’s Round of 16 victory. Jalen Rose and Jimmy King attended Villanova’s game on Thursday and never sat out.

Seven-foot-one center Hunter Dickinson led the Wolverines with 15 points and 15 rebounds on the night.

Michigan never felt like a true No. 11 seed. There was a confidence that got them this far and kept them in the game late. Howard kept Michigan’s Sweet 16 streak alive, and it won’t be the last time we see the Wolverines.

“Great young men to be part of their development,” Howard said. “I learned a lot from them in terms of their competitiveness. They competed throughout the season from start to finish. A great group to coach, to learn from, to stay connected supporting each other. Some of their roles were different. No one hesitated on the other end. Did an amazing job accepting their roles.

Arizona fails again

Over the past decade, Arizona has seemed like a team destined for greatness. Whether it was current NBA players Aaron Gordon or Deandre Ayton, the Wildcats had a knack for making people believe they could win anything. But each time they failed to break into the Final Four.

Arizona was back in the tournament for the first time since 2018, and after a scandal with former coach Sean Miller. Bennedict Mathurin, an expected first-round pick in the NBA draft, led this year’s team and scored 15 points in the loss. Dalen Terry led the team with 17.

But No. 1-ranked Arizona acknowledged it still has work to do.

“I thanked those guys after the game, it’s an amazing group of guys,” Arizona head coach Tommy Lloyd said. “I will always be grateful to them. I think they really helped me get Arizona basketball off to a good start in my tenure and I will always be grateful to them. I think we’ve really built some fundamentals this year that will really help us move forward. So I’m extremely proud of the guys, extremely proud of the coaching staff and we played a really good team tonight, it was a bit too much for us.

Villanova Wildcats forward Jermaine Samuels (left) aims for a score against Michigan Wolverines forward Brandon Johns Jr. (23) during their game in the Southern Regional Semifinal of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the AT&T Center on Thursday, March 24, 2022.

Villanova Wildcats forward Jermaine Samuels (left) aims for a score against Michigan Wolverines forward Brandon Johns Jr. (23) during their game in the Southern Regional Semifinal of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at the AT&T Center on Thursday, March 24, 2022.

San Antonio Express-News/Staff photographer Kin Man Hui

The fans showed

I was worried that Thursday wouldn’t be the sold out game it was supposed to be. There were a lot of empty seats during the Villanova-Michigan game. But 17,357 fans filled the arena by the end of the night and had their voices heard. They also cheered on the Arkansas-Gonzaga and Texas Tech-Duke games on the jumbotron as much as they did the live games.

I saw a lot of jerseys. Olajuwon from the Rockets, a Greek Giannis Antetokounmpo, a Golden State Kevin Durant, your expected David Robinson and Tim Duncans from Spurs. There was even a man wearing a powder blue Earl Campbell Houston Oilers jersey.

Sidenote: What is the best group uniform? Villanova hockey jerseys or Where’s Waldo shirts from Arizona?

Houston fans take seats for the game against Arizona in the Southern Regional Semifinals of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the AT&T Center on Thursday, March 24, 2022.

Houston fans take seats for the game against Arizona in the Southern Regional Semifinals of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at the AT&T Center on Thursday, March 24, 2022.

San Antonio Express-News/Staff photographer Kin Man Hui

All international players

Can we take a moment to salute all the international players who adapted on Thursday?

Arizona fielded Bennedict Mathurin (Canada), Azuolas Tubelis (Lithuania), Christian Koloko (Cameroon), Kerr Kriisa (Estonia), Pelle Larsson (Sweden), Oumar Ballo (Mali) and Adama Bal (France). Michigan fielded Moussa Diabata (France) and Caleb Houstan (Canada).

I have no comment. I just think it’s really cool.

Unveiled bias

I graduated from the University of Houston. You can imagine how I feel.

Also, my mom watched Villanova defeat Patrick Ewing and Georgetown in the 1985 Final Four. So now I’m the second person in my family to watch the Wildcats in the tournament.