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Sister Jean: Basketball’s Easter gift

05:01 AM March 28, 2018

Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt celebrates with the Loyola Ramblers after defeating the Kansas State Wildcats during the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament South Regional at Philips Arena on March 24, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. Loyola defeated Kansas State 78-62 Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images/AFP

SACRAMENTO, California—From a bracket of 68 teams, only four remain with a chance to cut the net and raise the winner’s trophy after the finals of the NCAA basketball tournament in San Antonio, Texas, on Monday (Tuesday in Manila).

This Saturday’s Final Four will feature three tested programs and a Catholic school with a Cinderella story whose most famous and ardent supporter is a 98-year-old nun.

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Now on its 79th year, America’s college cage championship is the rough equivalent of the UAAP, NCAA and the alphabet soup of tourneys in the Philippine college circuit all rolled into one.

The NCAA is the main feeder of talent for the National Basketball Association, the premier men’s basketball league in the world and its stars who are among the wealthiest and most recognizable athletes on the planet.

The University of Kansas and Villanova University booked the last two tickets to San Antonio’s Alamodome last Sunday.

Three time national winners, the Kansas Jayhawks, whose first basketball coach was James Naismith, the game’s inventor, outlasted four time titlists Duke University Blue Devils 85-81 in overtime in the Midwest Regional Final in Omaha.

The Villanova Wildcats, tournament champions in 2016, drubbed Texas Tech University, 71-59, to earn their second semifinal trip in the last three years.

On Saturday, University of Michigan held off a late rally by Florida State University and hung on for a 58-54 win in the West Regional Semifinal.

With the victory, the Wolverines advance to their second Final Four in six seasons.

Also last weekend, Loyola-Chicago University became the fourth No. 11 seed in NCAA tournament history to earn a Final Four berth, beating No. 9 seed Kansas State University 78-62 in the South Regional championship game.

Michigan and Loyola-Chicago will face off in the first national semifinal on March 31. Villanova and Kansas will tip off the second semifinal 40 minutes after the first game.

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The Loyola Ramblers, who have not been to the Final Four since 1963 are going to the Big Dance again, mainly because of a 32-5 record and the spiritual guidance of Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt.

The media dubs Sister Jean, the feel good story of the NCAA, informally called March Madness.

A basketball lifer, she has been around the sport since she played at St. Paul High School in San Francisco from 1933-35.

Sister Jean has been Loyola’s chaplain and occasional team scout for 24 years, religiously leading the Ramblers in prayer before every home game and going through the scouting report on the opposition with Coach Porter Moser before the team hits the hard court.

“I’m having a glorious time through this NCAA whirlwind,” Sister Jean told reporters after the Ramblers returned to their campus Saturday.

That’s an understatement from someone who still lives life to the fullest two years shy of her 100th birthday.

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