College Basketball Nation: 2010 NCAA Oklahoma City

Loss alters complexion of Kansas' season

March, 21, 2010
3/21/10
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Marcus MorrisAP Photo/Sue OgrockiMarcus, left, and Markieff Morris sit in the locker room after a disappointing loss to Northern Iowa.

OKLAHOMA CITY -- I took a left out of the triumphant Northern Iowa locker room and saw the saddest sight of the NCAA tournament to date.

Kansas Jayhawks Cole Aldrich and Tyrel Reed were walking down the hallway toward their locker room after doing the post-shocker news conference. Aldrich had his left arm draped over Reed’s shoulders. Reed had his right arm around Aldrich’s waist. Their eyes were on the floor and their mouths were silent.

This was more a case of misery needing company, than loving it. It looked for all the world as though the teammates might sit down and cry if they didn’t have each other to lean on.

“We had a good season,” Reed said. “Just didn’t end the way we wanted it to.”

That is the cruel reality of the Big Dance. The outcome here can completely alter perceptions of an entire season -- for better or worse. And for Kansas, it is immeasurably worse.

[+] EnlargeCole Aldrich
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesDespite a Big 12 regular-season and conference-tournament championship, multiple weeks at No. 1 and the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament, Cole Aldrich and Kansas fell far short of expectations.
Thirty-three wins, all but wasted. All that time ranked No. 1, and the No. 1 overall NCAA seed? Virtually worthless.

And now all those tickets Kansas fans already had bought for the Midwest Regional in St. Louis next week? Almost worthless as well. Good luck getting those sold for decent value.

A shocking upset ending to a Kansas season is not unusual -- no team can match the school’s three second-round defeats as a No. 1 seed. The losses in 1994 to UTEP and ‘98 to Rhode Island -- those were on Roy Williams’ record. This one belongs to Bill Self.

And it marks the third ghastly NCAA upset for Self since he’s been in Lawrence. In 2005, the third-seeded Jayhawks lost in the first round to No. 14 Bucknell, and in ’06 as a No. 4 seed to No. 13 Bradley. This time, Kansas lost to a better team -- but this was a better Jayhawks team, too.

No wonder Self told his staff afterward that this was the toughest loss of his career.

“You operate under duress, you operate under pressures the whole year that a lot of teams don’t operate under because of where we were ranked and the expectations,” Self said. “And to put ourselves in a position that we were in, they don’t come around every year. You got to make the most of those opportunities when you’re granted them. That’s probably what stings the most.”

In the stinging end, KU fans are left to recriminate over a night of poor shooting (just 6-of-23 from 3-point range, with Sherron Collins and Tyshawn Taylor combining to go 0-for-11). And a night of sloppy ball handling (15 turnovers). And a night of questionable strategy.

Knowing that Northern Iowa’s best weapon would be its slow-down tempo, Kansas played directly into the Panthers’ hands for most of the night. Even though UNLV nearly eliminated Northern Iowa on Thursday with full-game pressure defense, the Jayhawks didn’t turn to that option until late in the game and were well behind.

When they did, it worked wonders. UNI handled the pressure atrociously, nearly giving away the game in the final minutes. But it turned out to be too little and way too late.

“We would love to get after them, love to pressure, love to press,” Self said. “But when they were in the bonus at the under-12 timeout (of the first half), it maybe took a little aggressiveness out of us.”

It’s also fair to wonder whether Kansas was lacking some aggressiveness from the opening tip due to overconfidence. Aldrich and Reed both said that wasn’t the case.

“I don’t think we overlooked them at all,” Reed said. “I think we knew what they were capable of. They’re just a great all-around team, play in a tough league, and they’ve got a lot of great players.”


So did this Kansas team. And now its great season has been sullied by a disastrous early exit.

Final: Kansas State 84, BYU 72

March, 20, 2010
3/20/10
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Kansas State WildcatsNelson Chenault/US PresswireKansas State advances to the Sweet 16 for the first time in 22 years.

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Quick postgame thoughts from Kansas State's 84-72 victory over BYU.

  • Kansas State advances to its first Sweet 16 in 22 years, a milestone worth celebrating in Manhattan -- and in the Wildcats' locker room.

    "It's like a dream come true," said guard Denis Clemente. "I can't even express it right now. I'm so happy. At the same time, you have to be focused and take care of your business in the Sweet 16."
  • The shooting star from this game? It wasn't Jimmer Fredette, scorer of 37 points for the Cougars in their first-round victory over Florida. Jimmer made just 1 of 4 three-pointers and scored 21 points the hard way. No, the shooting star was K-State's Jacob Pullen, who smoked BYU for a career-high 34 points. Pullen made 7 of 12 3-point shots and all 11 free throws he attempted in a brilliant performance. Pullen also added four steals.
  • BYU was again blistered on the backboard. The Cougars were outrebounded by 12 by Florida in the first round and 10 Saturday night.
  • Fouls were a pregame storyline, because Kansas State is prone to push and BYU is the best free-throw shooting team in the country. As it turned out, K-State outscored the Cougars at the line, 27-25. The Cougars shot an excellent 89 percent at the line; the Wildcats shot 90.

Photoblog: Kansas stunned

March, 20, 2010
3/20/10
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Markieff Morris Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesNorthern Iowa surprised Markieff Morris and the Kansas Jayhawks with 69-67 victory.

Photoblog: Panthers pull the big one

March, 20, 2010
3/20/10
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Ali Farokhmanesh celebrates hitting a 3-pointer late in Northern Iowa's upset of Kansas.Nelson Chenault/US PresswireAli Farokhmanesh celebrates hitting a 3-pointer late in Northern Iowa's upset of Kansas.

UNI wrecked a lot of brackets

March, 20, 2010
3/20/10
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How surprised is America about Northern Iowa? Let's take a look at ESPN.com's Tournament Challenge, which includes just under 4.8 million brackets:

Northern Iowa:

  • 42,500 brackets (0.9%) had Northern Iowa making the Sweet 16
  • 16,169 (0.3%) have them in the Elite Eight
  • 5,720 (0.1%) have them in the Final Four
  • 2,620 (0.005%) have them in the championship game
  • 1,546 (0.003%) have them winning it all

And what about Kansas?

  • 98% had Kansas in the Sweet 16
  • 59% had them in the Final Four
  • 42% had them winning it all

President Obama’s bracket
is among the 4,689,556 that had Kansas in the Sweet 16 and the 2,017,360 that had Kansas winning it all. With Villanova and Georgetown also losing, the President has now lost 3 of his Elite 8.

Final: Northern Iowa 69, Kansas 67

March, 20, 2010
3/20/10
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Northern Iowa 69, Kansas 67.
  • Yes, you read that right. Someone other than the Jayhawks will win this tournament.
  • Northern Iowa controlled this game from start to finish but needed some unbelievable heroics to pull it out in the end. Ali Farokhmanesh, hero of March, did it again. After hitting the 3 that beat UNLV on Thursday, he hit another one -- and a questionable shot it was -- with 35 seconds left for a four-point UNI lead, then made two free throws to clinch it.
  • Northern Iowa epitomized team, getting something from everyone it played. Ben Jacobson, coaching star of March, regularly plays 10 men and it paid off brilliantly in this game. So many Panthers stepped up and made huge plays.
  • For Kansas, it is a gruesome underachievement. The solid favorite to win the national title doesn't even make the Sweet Sixteen. Bill Self has his title, but also now another crashing NCAA tourney disappointment. Kansas has now lost in the second round three times as a No. 1 seed, most of any school.

Halftime: Northern Iowa 36, Kansas 28

March, 20, 2010
3/20/10
6:46
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Quick halftime thoughts from Northern Iowa 36, Kansas 28.

  • Hang on to your hats. The entire tournament is 20 minutes away from being broken wide open. Overall No. 1 seed and solid pre-tournament favorite Kansas is fighting for its life against poised, tough, shot-making Nothern Iowa.
  • This is a clinic in Panthers basketball. Ben Jacobson's team looks exactly the same as it did in dominating the Missouri Valley Conference -- controlling tempo, almost error-free on defense and hitting open shots when they present themselves (6-for-12 from three-point range). Simply put, Northern Iowa is taking the fight to Kansas, dictating the terms, and appears very unsurprised to be ahead by eight points at intermission.
  • Ali Farokhmanesh, the undersized shooting guard who got the Panthers into the second round with a 25-foot 3-pointer to beat UNLV, is still hot. He's 4-of-4 from the field, 3-for-3 from 3-point range, and has a game-high 11 points. Hulking Northern Iowa center Jordan Eglseder added 10 points, hitting his second and third 3s of the season. When those were going in, you knew Kansas was in trouble.
  • Sherron Collins is Kansas' best player, but he had one of his worst halves of his career. Collins scored just two points, had two assists and committed two turnovers. He lost his cool to the point that he stayed on the floor at halftime to complain to one of the officials. Might have deserved a technical foul there, but did not get whistled for one. Coaches can get away with that sort of thing, but not often players.
  • Northern Iowas is dead even on the glass -- 16 rebounds for each team, six offensive apiece.
  • A sign of excellent depth: Northern Iowa leads by eight, and the MVC Player of the Year, Adam Koch, hasn't scored a point. It hasn't mattered.
  • The only foul trouble to speak of is Marcus Morris with two.

Previewing Saturday in Oklahoma City

March, 20, 2010
3/20/10
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OKLAHOMA CITY –- A quick look at the two second-round games here Saturday:

Northern Iowa (9) vs. Kansas (1), 5:40 p.m.

Key to the game: As is always the case when the Panthers play, the tug-of-war over tempo will be vital. Northern Iowa, the sultans of slowdown, have not played a game with more than 64 possessions since December according to pace guru Ken Pomeroy. Kansas, by contrast, has played just one of its last 19 games with fewer than 64 possessions. UNLV did its best to pressure the Panthers into a faster pace Thursday night, but the score still wound up in the 60s. But Kansas has the better players, and if the game becomes a half-court grinder, the Jayhawks can handle that too.

“Whatever the pace is, we need to embrace it and enjoy it,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “We don’t need to get frustrated because we don’t like the pace. I think we have a team that’s equipped to play fast or not so fast. The whole deal is from my standpoint we need to be patient on both ends, offensively and defensively, because there’s going to be lots of possessions that I think (the shot clock) gets under 10. And the team that executes under 10 seconds on the shot clock will probably have a great chance.”

Player to watch: Northern Iowa point guard Kwadzo Ahelegbe. He only played 23 minutes Thursday against UNLV because of first-half foul trouble, but was vital in the second half running the offense and getting to the foul line. The hard-edged Ahelegbe finished with 13 points and four assists, and will have to hold his own in the matchup with Kansas All-American Sherron Collins.

Who has the edge: Kansas. The Panthers have the size to play the Jayhawks, but not the same level of athleticism –- especially on the wings. If Kansas gets its running game going it should be able to win without much of a scare.

Brigham Young (7) vs. Kansas State (2), 8:10 p.m.

Key to the game: Can BYU wear out a path to the foul line? The Cougars are the best foul-shooting team in the nation at 79 percent, and have a knack for drawing them. Meanwhile, Kansas State is foul-prone. BYU shot 32 free throws against Florida Thursday, and North Texas shot 31 against K-State.

“We foul some,” Wildcats coach Frank Martin acknowledged. “We had a moment during the season where we fouled too much because of how we play, the new players in place. It takes time for guys to understand the aggressiveness that we ask our guys to play with and where you can draw that line.

“The Kansas game (in the Big 12 tournament), we fouled too much. We put our hands on them and put them on the line a little too much, and then we kind of did that again (Thursday). That’s why I’m a little concerned about it, because we reverted. … If we foul (the Cougars), we’re in trouble. They’re not going to miss free throws.”

Player to watch: Jimmer Fredette, coming off a 37-point performance against Florida Thursday. Does he continue his Stephen Curry-style scoring spree and vault BYU to a major upset and a de facto home game in Salt Lake City in the Sweet Sixteen?

Who has the edge: Kansas State. The Wildcats are a much better defensive team than Florida, and their athleticism and ability to disrupt flow will make it hard for BYU to run its efficient offense. The Cougars have great shooters, but open looks figure to be at a premium.

Top seeds may play in de facto road games

March, 19, 2010
3/19/10
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DeMarcus CousinsAP Photo/Patrick SemanskyDeMarcus Cousins and No. 1-seeded Kentucky may face Cornell in Syracuse -- less than 60 miles from the Big Red's campus.
OKLAHOMA CITY -- The art and science of producing a 65-team NCAA tournament field is complicated on a number of levels.

First and foremost, there are the difficulties of selecting the right teams and seeding them in the right order. This year’s bubble was flimsy enough that there’s no point crying about teams left out, but there were plenty of seeding decisions that made little sense. No need to run over that squirrel again here, though.

On the secondary level is the Rubik’s Cube job of geographic placement. It’s a tricky process that is supposed to award the best teams with the most preferential site locations, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Almost every year some high seed is complaining about being put in a virtual road-game setting against an underdog.

This year, we could have several of those situations.

We could have Duke, top seed in the South Region, dealing with a regional semifinal in Houston against fifth-seeded Texas A&M and a regional final against Baylor. It’s roughly 97 miles from College Station and 186 miles from Waco to Houston, and both schools have a significant alumni base in that city. (Maybe that’s the payback for giving Duke a region that’s only slightly more difficult than the Missouri Valley Conference.)

We could have No. 1 East Region seed Kentucky playing Cornell in Syracuse, if both win second-round games this weekend. Cornell’s Ithaca campus is 55 miles from Syracuse. (Then again: given the way Kentucky fans travel, and given the Big Red’s average home attendance of 3,658, don’t look for that to be a potential major issue for the Wildcats.)

And, of particular interest here in Oklahoma City, there is the Brigham Young situation.

The Cougars are an upset of Kansas State away from a West Region Sweet Sixteen game in Salt Lake City. Provo is 44 miles from the Utah state capital, and many of the BYU fans already live there – a potentially stupendous home advantage for a No. 7 seed. If you’re sixth-seeded Xavier or No. 3 seed Pittsburgh, one of whom will advance to Salt Lake City, you would not be happy about seeing BYU there. And neither would No. 1 seed Syracuse.

BYU is an annual location headache for the selection committee, because the Mormon school will not play on Sundays for religious reasons. That automatically eliminates 50 percent of the sites.

It is the Cougars’ great good fortune that Salt Lake City is a Thursday-Saturday site.

“You don’t want to look too far ahead, but I think anything that can maybe motivate you a little bit more is a good thing,” BYU coach Dave Rose said Friday. “I think our players would really look forward to that opportunity. And so we’ll just kind of treat it like something that’s out there that’s good for our team if we can accomplish another goal.”

You don’t have to look any farther back than last year to find evidence of how significant a motivating factor de facto home games can be. Michigan State elevated its play to another level to beat overall No. 1 seed Louisville in the regional final and advance to the Final Four in Detroit. And once there, the Spartans rode a huge home-state advantage to upset Connecticut before getting drilled by North Carolina in the national championship game.

So you can understand why BYU players’ eyes lit up when the bracket came out last Sunday and showed them two games away from Salt Lake City.

“We have a very tough game on Saturday with Kansas State,” scoring machine Jimmer Fredette said. “If we were to win that game, it would be great for us to be able to go back to Salt Lake and play in front of kind of a home crowd, basically. That would be a great thing for our program, for our fans and everything.

“But, obviously we can’t look ahead. We’ve got a huge game coming up. They’re a very, very talented team. We have to be ready to go.”

Fredette is right, of course. There is a very difficult matchup to survive first. But from Salt Lake to Houston and perhaps even to Syracuse, the NCAA selection committee has set itself up for a lot of potential whining next week from higher seeded teams playing de facto road games.

Final: Kansas 90, Lehigh 74

March, 19, 2010
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Quick postgame thoughts from Kansas 90, Lehigh 74:
  • That was no tour de force from the overall No. 1 seed in the tournament. But in the end it was all that it needed to be -- a victory. Jayhawks now advance to play Northern Iowa Saturday. "Happy that we won," coach Bill Self said, in muted praise of his team's performance.
  • After a very slow start, Kansas assumed the lead midway through the first half and then maintained a single-digit lead through the first six minutes of the second half before making a push. Lehigh continued to battle and whittled the lead back down to six at 50-44, but couldn't get any closer than that the rest of the way. Kansas missed enough open jump shots and layups to keep the final score from getting too far out of hand.
  • As expected, Kansas walloped Lehigh on the glass, 42-29. The Mountain Hawks had nowhere near enough height, heft or leaping ability to compete inside with the Jayhawks.
  • Sophomore Marcus Morris led KU with 26 points and 11 rebounds, most of it coming from skulking around the offensive glass and putting in misses of others.
  • Lehigh leading scorer C.J. McCollum finished with 26 points but needed 21 shots to get there. Zahir Carrington added 17 points and six rebounds.

Ali Farokhmanesh delivers a big shot

March, 18, 2010
3/18/10
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- With time dwindling and Northern Iowa dithering and the ball not going anywhere near her wide-open son, Cindy Fredrick couldn’t watch.

"I had my head down," she admitted.

Finally, she looked up in time to see Johnny Moran snap a pass across the court to her boy. And as Ali Farokhmanesh rose off the ground from 25 feet away and flicked his right wrist, Fredrick and her husband, Mashallah Farokhmanesh, had a very good idea what was coming next.

[+] EnlargeAli Farokhmanesh
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesAli Farokhmanesh's critical 3-pointer lifts Northern Iowa past UNLV, 69-66.
Swish.

"I knew with the rotation of the ball," Mashallah said.

He and his wife are both college volleyball coaches, but they have a solid read on their son's pretty shooting form. Two years ago, they stepped away from their coaching jobs to focus on their son, traveling all over the Missouri Valley Conference to watch him play the final two seasons of his college basketball career.

They drove their Honda CRX eight hours to Evansville, then drove back home the same night. There were also long journeys to Carbondale and Wichita. Wherever the Panthers played, Ali’s parents followed.

Having seen many of the undersized shooting guard’s 146 collegiate 3-point shots in person -- including four on this night -- they know what looks good and what does not. Ali’s teammates did, too.

"It was in," said Lucas O’Rear, watching from underneath the basket.

Ali? He had a feeling about it, too.

"I was 90 percent sure," Ali said. "It felt good leaving my hand."

It felt even better entering the net. With 4.9 seconds remaining, Ali Farokhmanesh -- son of an Iranian immigrant who came to this country in 1978 to learn English and wound up staying -- had beaten UNLV 69-66. He catapulted Northern Iowa to the second round of this off-the-chain tourney and become a household name-and-a-half.

To Panthers fans, this was an instant flashback to the only other NCAA tournament win in school history. That came 20 years ago, when Maurice Newby hit a deep 3-pointer in the final seconds to upset Missouri.

Now Newby has company in the annals of the greatest shots in Northern Iowa history. Thing is, it looked for the longest time as though the Panthers were going to blow that possession.

Point guard Kwadzo Ahelegbe was trying to dribble down the clock, but the Rebels were having none of it. Their pressure defense had gotten them back into the game after trailing by nine points, and they were blitzing Ahelegbe with a double team. Out near midcourt, he was nowhere near getting the ball into scoring position.

Finally, Ahelegbe got enough breathing room to hit Moran on the right wing. It looked like he might trigger the shot, but instead he threw it to the opposite wing.

"Johnny made the right play and got it to the best shooter in the country," Ahelegbe said.

The best shooter in the country was shot-ready, got his sturdy thighs underneath him and elevated as a UNLV defender rushed out, too late. The arc he honed in his backyard, shooting over his mom and dad holding up a broom taped to a yardstick, was perfect. The ball splashed and the Ford Center exploded.

Farokhmanesh’s response was much more pragmatic.

"Get back and play defense," he told himself.

With a big hand from O’Rear, who back-tapped away the ball out of bounds and left UNLV with just 1.6 seconds to get off a tying shot, UNI held on. Farokhmanesh was the man of the hour.

Years of obsessive practice ("Outside in the rain sometimes," he said) were instantly fulfilled. All the drill work his parents did with him was distilled into a single moment of perfect shot mechanics.

"He’d make us go practice with him," Fredrick said. "He was always practicing."

Practice paid off. Farokhmanesh’s parents will return to coaching volleyball in the fall at Division III Luther College, and they’ll take a lifetime memory with them from the shot Ali hit Thursday night.

Halftime: Kansas 35, Lehigh 29

March, 18, 2010
3/18/10
11:04
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Quick thoughts from Kansas 35, Lehigh 29.

Like just about everything else on this riotous first day of the NCAA tournament, the half did not go as planned for the favored, No. 1-ranked Jayhawks.

• They started the game without scoring for the first 3 minutes and 15 seconds, and trailed the Patriot League champions 12-4 after six minutes. Order was restored thereafter, but Kansas has not been able to pull away and take command of the game. Their biggest lead was 11 before Lehigh cut it to two at 31-29, and then the Jayhawks scored the final four points of the half.

Zahir Carrington, the undersized but resolute center I interviewed Wednesday, had a great half. He led the Mountain Hawks with 12 points and five rebounds.

• Stay tuned. You cannot expect an earth-moving upset here, but this game merits monitoring the rest of the way.

Final: Northern Iowa 69, UNLV 66

March, 18, 2010
3/18/10
9:42
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Quick thoughts from Northern Iowa-UNLV:

  • Ali! Ali! Ali! Northern Iowa guard Ali Farokhmanesh rose up from about 25 feet with five seconds left and buried the 3-pointer that won the game for the Panthers.
  • Northern Iowa took control of the game but UNLV wouldn't let the Panthers keep it, fighting back to tie the score with 37 seconds left. UNI ran the clock to get the winning shot -- which was hardly a designed play. UNI was in trouble until Farkohmanesh got open and stepped up.
  • Great game. It was tight the entire way. Two out of three so far here have been excellent and dramatic.

Halftime: UNLV 36, Northern Iowa 35

March, 18, 2010
3/18/10
8:27
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Quick halftime thoughts from UNLV 36, Northern Iowa 35.

• Neither team can maintain any momentum here. But Vegas has had the strategic upper hand: It is running the pick-and-roll repeatedly, and Northern Iowa has struggled to guard it. They tried fighting through screens and that didn't work. They tried switching screens and that didn't work. When 7-footer Jordan Eglseder couldn't guard the play, they tried 6-foot-6 backup Lucas O'Rear. Finally, they played the last several minutes of the half with brothers Adam and Jordan Koch both in the game and guarding the Rebels' bigs. They had better success, but Vegas was still able to get good shots and put UNI's defense in scramble mode over and over again.

• Vegas also used full-court pressure and half-court traps to speed the Panthers out of their comfort zone at several points in the half. Scoring 70 points is usually the demarcation between victory and defeat for UNLV, and it is on pace for 72. UNI hasn't given up 70 points in 20 games. The Panthers' nine turnovers also can be directly attributed to UNLV pressure.

• If you're Northern Iowa, you have to be pleased with the fact that you're right in the game despite having No. 3 scorer Kwadzo Ahelegbe only play eight minutes because of two fouls. They'll need the Missouri Valley Conference tournament's Most Outstanding Player to stay on the floor longer and be productive in the second half. He had three points and three assists in the first half.

Photoblog: Vegas, baby

March, 18, 2010
3/18/10
8:13
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Steve JonesAP Photo/Tony Gutierrez UNLV celebrated a 36-35 lead over Northern Iowa at the half.

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