College Basketball Nation: 2011 NCAA Golden Grizzlies-Longhorns

Thompson wins matchup, lifts Texas

March, 18, 2011

TULSA, Okla. -- For his introduction to March Madness, Texas freshman Tristan Thompson was presented the challenge of guarding 6-foot-11 Oakland senior Keith Benson, a guy some think will be selected in the first round of the NBA draft in June.

Actually, Thompson volunteered for the challenge, saying he wanted to guard Benson. He embraced the opportunity to guard him one-on-one, with little in the way of double-team support. And he ultimately dominated the matchup.

No freshman nerves. No need for a life preserver from his teammates. No fear of giving away height and experience to a big-time player.

“When you play March Madness you want to play the best of the best,” Thompson said.

Thompson was the best of the best Friday in the BOK Center. The Canadian showed why he’s first-round material as well, putting 17 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high seven blocked shots on the board in an 85-81 Texas victory. Most importantly, he showed Benson who was the boss of the paint, rejecting several of his shots and limiting him to a hard-earned 15 points on 6-of-15 shooting.

“If I’m a fan watching that game, I’m watching two future NBA players battling each other,” Oakland coach Greg Kampe said.

The pros will love Thompson whenever they get a hold of him. He’s a legit 6-foot-9 and talented, but he’s also first-team All-Effort. He relishes doing the dirty work that some big men shy away from. He’s not a woofer, preener or pouter.

That attitude, combined with his defensive presence, has helped make Texas a dramatically improved team over last year. The Longhorns control the paint as well as any team in the country -- and as an added bonus, they get along with each other, too.

Neither was necessarily the case last season. With those improvements, this is a legit national title contender.

Just ask Kampe, whose under-seeded team is really good. The Grizzlies have played a bunch of national powers and can make some comparisons.

“We play everybody in the country,” Kampe said. “I know who is good and I know who isn’t. And that Texas team is as good as anybody. Texas can win a national championship. ... Ohio State and them, they’re right there neck and neck. We’ve played them both, and they’re a great team.”

For 30 minutes, Texas looked like championship material. For 10, Texas looked like it can find a way to lose a tight game with elimination on the line.

The Horns let a 16-point second-half lead shrink to five in the final minute, and Oakland guard Reggie Hamilton had a shot to cut it to three go halfway down and come out. It would have been a brutal collapse on Texas’ part.

But it didn’t come to that, and the fact that this was a competitive game throughout is more a credit to the quality of the Grizzlies than a criticism of the Longhorns.

“It’s a team I thought could have done something in this tournament, and we just got a bad draw,” Kampe said.

Both teams did. Neither probably deserved to lose in the first round.

“If there is any team that really got a bad [seeding] deal, it was Oakland,” Rick Barnes said. “I’m telling you, we just won a game against an outstanding team.”

It took an outstanding game from Texas’ fearless freshman center to do so.

Rapid Reaction: Texas 85, Oakland 81

March, 18, 2011
TULSA, Okla. -- Quick thoughts from Texas' 85-81 win over Oakland Friday afternoon.

Overview: Texas played about 30 minutes of dominant basketball and 10 minutes of shaky basketball in defeating the Golden Grizzlies. Oakland mounted a spirited comeback that got as close as five points in the final minute, and had a Reggie Hamilton 3-pointer spin out that could have cut the deficit to three, but couldn't come any closer. The Longhorns' size played a major factor in limiting Oakland inside.

Turning point: Leading by seven points early in the second half, Texas went on an 11-2 run to boost the lead to 16. Oakland was in serious catch-up mode after that.

Key player: Tristan Thompson won a high-level paint battle with Oakland's Keith Benson, racking up 17 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high seven blocked shots.

Key stat: Texas has been a wobbly free throw shooting team this season but made 80 percent of its attempts on Friday, which helped the Longhorns preserve their lead late.

Miscellaneous: Jordan Hamilton's 3-point struggles continued for Texas, but he drove the ball with authority to finish with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Fellow sophomore J'Covan Brown led the Horns with 21 points and also chipped in six rebounds.

What's next: Texas moves on to the round of 32 to face the winner of Memphis-Arizona. Oakland ponders life without Benson.

Previewing Tulsa: The day games

March, 18, 2011
TULSA, Okla. -- The NCAA tournament is back here for the first time in 26 years, and in a shiny modern arena -- the BOK Center.

Historically speaking, this has been a good town in which to launch a big tournament performance. In five previous NCAA tourneys in Tulsa, four teams have started their Final Four run: Houston in 1982, Notre Dame in 1978, Louisville in 1975 and Kansas in 1974.

The Jayhawks, here as the No. 1 seed in the Southwest Region, certainly hope that history repeats, as opposed to their catastrophic NCAA history elsewhere in the state. Kansas was shocked in the second round last year in Oklahoma City, and in the first round by Bucknell in 2005.

A brief breakdown of the two day games Friday:

No. 13 seed Oakland (25-9) vs. No. 4 seed Texas (27-7), 12:15 p.m. ET (CBS)

What to watch: This will be a primo interior matchup, and the winner in the paint may win the game. The Golden Grizzlies have one of the best big men in the country in 6-foot-11 Keith Benson, the Summit League Player of the Year who averages 18 points, 10.1 rebounds and 3.6 blocked shots. But he’s going up against the Longhorns’ array of physical postmen, led by freshman Tristan Thompson (13.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.2 blocks). Texas might be the best interior defensive team in the nation.

Who to watch: The most talented player on the floor will be Texas forward Jordan Hamilton, a versatile scorer who at 6-foot-7 is a matchup nightmare. Most importantly for the Longhorns, Hamilton appeared to get his shooting stroke back at the Big 12 tourney in Kansas City, where he made 48 percent of his shots. In the previous six games, half of them losses, Hamilton made just 31 percent of his field goals. If Hamilton is hot, it will be tough for Oakland to win.

Why to watch: This has upset potential. Oakland is a very talented offensive team that got valuable NCAA tourney experience last season and played a rigorous non-conference schedule to prepare for this moment. Texas is a national title contender -- but is also not invincible. And if Thursday afternoon showed us anything, anyone can be beaten -- or at least taken down to the wire.

What they’re saying: “I don’t think we’re scared,” Benson said. “We’re coming in with the mindset of getting the upset.” … Thompson, on Texas’ late-season struggle: “To be honest, we totally forgot about that. We’re not focused on what happened in the past. Situations happen, and we got the losses and that’s good for us to experience those heartaches. But now it’s tournament time. We know it’s a lose-or-go-home situation, so now we’ve got to pull up our socks and it’s time to grind.” (It is assumed the freshman meant win-or-go-home, but that was the quote.) … Oakland coach Greg Kampe, on seeing President Barack Obama pick Texas in his bracket for ESPN: “I didn’t vote for him either, so I guess we’re even now.”

Of note: The Grizzlies have played seven teams in this tournament and went 1-6 against them. The victory was at Tennessee. The losses were against Illinois, Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and West Virginia. Texas is 8-5 against the NCAA field. … Oakland has won eight straight and averaged more than 90 points in that span. In other words, it would love to turn this game into a shootout. … Texas has advanced to 12 straight NCAA tournaments, and has won at least one game in eight of those.

No. 12 seed Memphis (25-9) vs. No. 5 seed Arizona (27-7), 2:45 p.m. ET (CBS)

What to watch: Which green group handles the pressure of the tournament best? The Wildcats have only two players who played meaningful minutes in Arizona’s previous NCAA tournament game -- Kyle Fogg and Jamelle Horne combined to play 57 minutes and scored five points in a Sweet 16 blowout against Louisville in 2009. Not a single current Tiger played in Memphis’ previous tournament game, a Sweet 16 loss to Missouri in ’09. The Tigers’ coach, Josh Pastner, has never led a team into a Big Dance game either.

Who to watch: The best player on the floor is Arizona forward Derrick Williams, a 19-point, 8-rebound guy who can get his points efficiently -- and from anywhere. He’s a 62 percent shooter, a crazy 60 percent from 3-point range and 74 percent at the line, where he takes 8.5 foul shots per game. Memphis has some size in Tarik Black and Will Coleman, but the question is whether either can check Williams all over the court.

Why to watch: To see which traditionally powerful program is on the rebound fastest. Both missed the Big Dance last season after coaching changes, and both now have taken steps back to national contender status. Arizona (four Final Fours, one national title) won the Pac-10 regular-season title this year to re-establish itself in Year 2 under Sean Miller. Memphis (three Final Fours, no titles) had to earn its bid by winning the Conference USA title on UTEP’s home court in Year 2 under Josh Pastner.

What they’re saying: Coleman, on the youth of the Tigers: “We’re all goofy. We’re a goofy bunch of guys that just like to have fun, and there is nothing wrong with that."

Williams, on choosing Arizona over Memphis in recruiting: “That’s all I did is ate barbecue the whole time (on his official visit to Memphis). It was a great time, a great experience for me. … Pastner did recruit me very hard. Like I said, I couldn’t go wrong either way whether I chose Arizona or Memphis, but I’m glad I chose here.”

Pastner, on the feeling of winning the C-USA tournament Saturday and seeing Memphis in the field the following day: “Those 40 hours, it was probably the greatest 40 hours of just adrenaline, of emotion, of just being happy that you can experience. If somebody came to me today and wanted to give me $100 million to trade for that, I wouldn’t. I mean that.”

Of note: Tulsa is a Memphis-friendly location. The city is only about a six-hour drive, so expect a fair amount of Tiger blue in the stands. … Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne said he spoke with Miller earlier this week and that Miller has “zero interest” in other jobs, most notably North Carolina State, where he was a former assistant coach.