Monday, March 27, 2017

East Regional and Bridgeport Regional: Ray Floriani's Photo Essay

NEW YORK, and BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- Three days in a weekend to epitomize March Madness. Along the way, there were logistical issues with New Jersey Transit and the trip up the New England Thruway to the Nutmeg State. All that was soon forgotten. The memory stays embedded on the games that were witnessed, action and drama that transpired.
Friday night at Madison Square Garden treated us to two distinctly different games. In the opener, South Carolina had it all over Baylor, earning their advancement to the Elite Eight. The final game of the night saw a contest everyone will be talking about for quite some time. Florida showed how long four seconds truly is, as the Gators’ Chris Chiozza sped up the floor and launched a running, buzzer-beating three-pointer to send Florida to a regional final and Chiozza to the back pages of newspapers.

In the women’s Bridgeport Regional, we were reminded you must play the game. On paper, Maryland had the edge. On the floor, Oregon was better executing and forcing turnovers to advance to the Elite Eight. The second game saw UConn withstand a good challenge from UCLA and show why they are the most dominant team in the land, now winners of 111 straight following Monday’s latest triumph over Oregon.

Sunday gave the packed Garden another classic in every sense of the word. South Carolina and Florida battled hard, with a trip to Phoenix hanging in the balance. With three minutes to go, the score was tied, 180 seconds separating two teams from a coveted trip to the last weekend of the college season. South Carolina drew first blood, then their lockdown defense, widely discussed by fans and observers during the weekend, took over. The Gamecocks’ 77-70 victory was closer than the final margin hinted.

South Carolina had their first Final Four ticket punched. In the end, it was a reaffirmation of a timeworn principle: Defense wins games. Great plays and individual scoring efforts aside, Frank Martin’s Gamecocks proved to be the story.

The final analysis gave us different types of games and styles from the participating teams. From the Big Apple to Bridgeport, 75 miles north, a common denominator throughout was unforgettable excitement; and of course, defense.

An hour away from tipoff Friday, an anxious crowd awaits outside Madison Square Garden:
Wisconsin's cheerleaders, already checked in, prepare to ascend the escalators to the Garden floor:
South Carolina and Baylor, moments away from player introductions:
A look at one of MSG's many souvenir stands, a prime target of fans eager to commemorate their experience:
Chris Chiozza's buzzer-beater, as viewed by the Florida pep band:
Outside Webster Bank Arena, site of the NCAA Women's Tournament Bridgeport Regional:
Game action between Maryland and Oregon:
Ray with former UConn star and No. 3 overall WNBA Draft pick Morgan Tuck, now a member of the Connecticut Sun:
UConn head coach Geno Auriemma takes the floor as the Huskies match wits with UCLA:
UCLA's cheer and dance teams watch as the Bruins' alma mater is played:
Madison Square Garden before Sunday's East Regional final:
South Carolina's Hassani Gravett, in mid-throwdown during pregame warmups:
The Garden, as seen from the Chase Bridge:
South Carolina head coach Frank Martin cuts down the net after his Gamecocks punched their ticket to the Final Four:
The Gamecock celebration, in full swing:
Cocky, the South Carolina mascot, poses for a victory selfie:
The Garden jumbotron with one final memento:

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