Saturday’s Elite Eight saw two of the best coaches in men’s college basketball earn another trip to the Final Four.
The appearance in New Orleans next week will be the fourth time in the national semifinals for Villanova’s Jay Wright. Wright and the Wildcats, who beat Houston for their ticket, have won the championship in their last two visits.
Joining him will be Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who will be there for the 13th time, a record after surpassing UCLA’s John Wooden with his team’s win over Arkansas. He will finish his incredible career on the biggest stage in sport.
Three observations from the day’s action:
Coach K shows he still has his fastball
A coach who has won five national titles and three Olympic gold medals is not going to be nervous on the sidelines. So when Arkansas cut Duke’s 15-point lead to five with 13 minutes left, Krzyzewski called a timeout to calm his team down. He then he went to work and did what great coaches do. He made adjustments.
Coming out of timeout, a play was executed for star Paolo Banchero, who delivered a basket. A touchdown by AJ Griffin took the lead to nine and Krzyzewski then switched to a zone defense. The change threw the Razorbacks out of sync and resulted in several lost possessions. The advantage quickly returned to 15 and order was restored. From there, Duke reached its first Final Four since 2015, the last time Coach K won a title.
ELITE EIGHT: Winners and losers of Saturday’s matches
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It was the second time in consecutive games that Coach K went to an area that had been used sparingly all season. But that’s part of the greatness of him, knowing when he’s going to push the right buttons and giving his team the best chance to win. Clearly, the game hasn’t passed Krzyzewski by and his team looks like the favorites to win it all.
Villanova wins but also suffers a potentially large loss
It was a classic performance for the Wildcats against Houston. They slowed the game down to their own pace, played great defense and combined some well-timed shots to outlast the Cougars 50-44. It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective.
The low point was an injury to guard Justin Moore’s right leg in the last minute that looked serious. Moore was seen crying on the bench as the team celebrated immediately after the win and was on crutches as the players cut down the nets. Wright later admitted that he’s “probably no good.”
If Moore can’t play next week, it will be a huge blow to Villanova’s title hopes. He is not only the team’s second leading scorer, but also one of the main ball handlers. The Wildcats usually only have six depths, so they’ll be looking for some reserves to pick up the slack and the margin for error will be much smaller.
Nothing for Houston and Arkansas to hang their heads over
The harsh reality of the tournament is that 67 teams will end with a loss. Where you lose, however, is important. For the Cougars and Razorbacks, who reached the Elite Eight last year, they once again had another great run that they should appreciate. Both teams maxed out their talents and that’s all you can ask for.
Houston hoped to go further after reaching the Final Four in 2021. Despite suffering some key injuries midway through the season, the Cougars managed to defeat Big Ten co-champion Illinois and the No. 1 seed , Arizona, before Saturday’s loss that saw them make 1 of their 20 shots from 3-point range.
Arkansas won the SEC tournament title and then eliminated Gonzaga, the No. 1 seed in the field, before losing to Duke. There were numerous narrowly missed opportunities at the rim on Saturday in the second half that would have kept things even against the Blue Devils. The basket appeared to have a lid.
Basketball can be a cruel sport. Sometimes the ball just doesn’t land the right way, no matter how hard you play. That was the case for both teams and led to their departure.
Follow college reporter Erick Smith on Twitter @ericksmith
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Three takeaways from Saturday’s Elite Eight games