The first two tickets to Houston are punched with Florida Atlantic and UConn off to the Final Four. Find out how the Owls and Huskies got the job done on Saturday.

Florida Atlantic and UConn secured their spots in the 2023 men’s Final Four on Saturday night with statement victories, setting the stage for a hectic scene next week in Houston.

The Owls, playing in just their second-ever NCAA Tournament, have climbed the ladder as a 9-seed with come-from-behind wins in all four rounds. The Huskies, meanwhile, shook off a shaky first half against Iona in the first round to obliterate their opponents, capturing four victories by an average margin of 22.5 points.

Let’s dive into Saturday’s results and recap how FAU and UConn got the job done.

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Big Vlad asserts himself, leads FAU to Final Four

With a team as deep as Florida Atlantic’s, it’s always a wonder which Owl will step up for Dusty May’s squad. FAU ranks 2nd nationally in bench points per game at 33.7 and nine Owls logged at least 15 minutes a night this season.

“In this era where everyone wants the whole pie, these guys continue sharing the pie every single day and this was the result,” May said after the 79-76 thriller victory over Kansas State.

On Saturday, the hero was big man Vladislav Goldin. The 7-1, 240-pound Russian native and Texas Tech transfer established himself early and often against the Wildcats. Goldin finished with 14 points and 13 boards to go along with two blocks as one of four double-figure scorers. It was Goldin’s first double-double since Dec. 29 and his second all season. 

With six minutes and change remaining and FAU looking to make a run, Goldin kept a possession alive with an offensive rebound and used a spinning move in the paint to flush home a dunk. The jam gave the Owls a 64-63 advantage, which it never relinquished the rest of the way.

While usual suspects Johnell Davis (13 points), Alijah Martin (17 points) and Bryan Greenlee (16 points) paced the offense, Goldin’s contributions on both ends of the floor steadied FAU when K-State caused turbulence. 

“We have such good shooters so teams can’t overhelp,” Goldin said in the postgame press conference. “That’s what makes me more open than I would be in other situations. I can work in the post with more freedom.”

The Owls are off to Houston for their first-ever Final Four appearance, and Goldin’s contributions have been paramount to their March run.

UConn headed to Final Four after juggernaut performance

It may be time to say it: UConn basketball is back.

The Huskies became the second team to book its ticket to Houston after obliterating Gonzaga in an 82-54 beatdown to win the West regional final. As for the star performances from the Connecticut contingent, it was a pick-your-poison kind of night in Las Vegas.

Jordan Hawkins knocked down six 3-pointers on 10 attempts, leading the way with a game-high 20 points. Andre Jackson nearly registered a triple-double, scoring eight points, grabbing nine rebounds and dishing out 10 assists. Adama Sanogo had a career-high six assists to go with a 10-and-10 double-double. Alex Karaban had 12 points. Donovan Clingan had six points and three blocks in just 12 minutes.

UConn started the game on the front foot, and then in the second half, the Huskies pressed that foot down squarely on Gonzaga’s neck. The Zags were still in striking distance in the first few minutes after the halftime whistle, but two quick fouls on Drew Timme made it four for the Gonzaga legend with 17:38 still to play in a 10-point game.

His resultant absence gave UConn one more opening to attack, and Dan Hurley’s group did just that. In truth, it’s what the Huskies have been doing all tournament. They have won each of their first four games by at least 15 points, and the average margin of victory has been 22.5 points. 

To be sure, this has been a team off its leash after a tough go in conference play.

“The Big East Conference is the best conference in the country, so we went through some struggles,” UConn head coach Dan Hurley told TBS sideline reporter Lauren Shehadi moments after the game. “But once we got out of that league and started playing nonconference teams again, then we’ve been back to that team that looked like the best team in the country.”

So, there it is. Whoever wins tomorrow’s game between Texas and Miami will have their hands full with what might be the best team in the country right now.

As it stands, it’s hard to argue with Hurley. The UConn juggernaut appears destined to hoist its fifth national championship — but on the other hand, this year’s NCAA Tournament has surprised at nearly every turn. Will someone be able to rein in the Huskies?