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Catching our Collective Breath Before the Final Fours

SI staffers are en route to the Final Fours. Let’s catch you up on what you might’ve missed.
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ICYMI: The biggest story for each Final Four team

With our writers traveling to the men’s and women’s Final Fours in New Orleans and Minneapolis, respectively, today’s edition of the Morning Madness newsletter is coming a bit later. And while we all get ready for a weekend full of basketball, take some time to read about each remaining Final Four team.

South Carolina women

• South Carolina heard the comments about its offense. Emma Baccellieri broke down the Gamecocks’ complete offensive game that has them back in the Final Four.

Louisville women

• Hailey Van Lith led the way as the Cardinals pulled away from Michigan to reach their fourth Final Four. Whether the sophomore guard can continue to carry a big scoring load could help her team upset top overall seed, No. 1 South Carolina, wrote Ben Pickman.

UConn women

Paige Bueckers buried shot after shot in UConn’s hard-fought win over NC State. Ben Pickman wrote about the marathon outing that got the Huskies back in the Final Four once again.

Stanford women

• Stanford got its revenge, defeating Texas 59–50 in the Elite Eight after losing to the Longhorns earlier in the season. The defending national champs are two games away from repeating.

Villanova men

Maybe these Wildcats aren’t as talented as past national championship squads. But that might not matter, wrote Greg Bishop.

Kansas men

The Jayhawks are the only No. 1 seed left standing in the men’s tournament. Jeremy Woo wrote about the second-half surge in the Elite Eight that showed just how good they are.

North Carolina men

• No one should be doubting Hubert Davis now. Pat Forde looked into how the first-year coach is leading the Tar Heels’ run to the Final Four.

Duke men

Coach K and Duke could get their storybook ending. The young Blue Devils had a rocky end to the regular season. Now, they may be the team to beat, according to Pat Forde.

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Ralph Sampson on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1981

This photo of Virginia’s Ralph Sampson, leaping high above two BYU opponents, is a work of art. Sampson and the Cavaliers held off No. 9 seed Villanova in their first game of the tournament and then advanced fairly easily past Tennessee and BYU to reach their first Final Four in school history.

The story of the East Region, though, was Danny Ainge. Frank Deford’s recap of that segment of the bracket devoted plenty of space to Ainge’s heroics for the Cougars.

​​“The fuzzy-cheeked Ainge is a mythic figure who will get $500,000 over three years playing third base for the Toronto Blue Jays starting this season,” Deford wrote.

But before going off to play baseball, Ainge led No. 6 seed BYU to upset wins over No. 3 UCLA and No. 2 Notre Dame. Against the Irish, he raced up the floor in the closing seconds, dribbling behind his back through three defenders, to score the game-winning layup just before the buzzer.

Virginia lost to ACC rival North Carolina in the national semifinal, and the Tar Heels lost the title game to Indiana, while the Cavaliers defeated LSU in the third-place game.

Ainge went on to join the Blue Jays for his third season in the majors (yes, he had been playing major league baseball as a college student) and told the team he was committed to baseball despite overtures from the NBA.

On June 9, the Celtics took him with the 31st pick in the NBA draft. On June 10, he told Toronto team president Peter Bavasi he wanted to play basketball instead. Most teams would have had no problem letting go of a guy who batted .187 and slugged .228 in 86 games in 1981, but the Jays believed Ainge had potential and engaged in a long legal battle with the Celtics over interfering with Ainge’s baseball contract by negotiating with him.

The Blue Jays wanted $1 million from the Celtics to buy out Ainge’s three-year, $525,000 contract, according to a later SI article. The case was eventually settled for an undisclosed amount, and Ainge signed with Boston in late November.