College Basketball Nation: 2012 Albuquerque Region

Bears say Heslip hardworking, humble

March, 18, 2012

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Brady Heslip was stocky, not exactly someone who looked like he was going to be an impact player when he arrived at Boston College in the middle of the season two years ago.

And his impact was minimal, since he had been stashed at New Hampton Prep (N.H.) for the fall semester before he joined the Eagles in December. Then the staff was fired. New Boston College coach Steve Donahue didn’t see Heslip’s potential, for whatever reason. Heslip said the two met, he wasn’t in the plans and so he was out.

Former BC associate head coach Pat Duquette, who now has the same title at Northeastern, said he recruited Heslip out of Burlington, Ontario. Duquette said Heslip was “absolutely fearless, but physically more than you see. He had very long arms, which equaled a high release. And he had unusually big hands for a guard his size.’’

Former BC head coach Al Skinner said by phone Saturday night that he liked Heslip’s tough-minded approach.

“The thing about him was that he didn’t hunt shots; he let the game come to him,’’ Skinner said. “He executed well and was patient on the offensive end. He rarely takes a bad shot, and he had tremendous range.’’

[+] EnlargeBrady Heslip
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesBrady Heslip hit nine 3-pointers on Saturday to help Baylor earn a school-record 29th win.
There was an AAU connection with his coach to the Baylor staff. He went on a visit to Waco, Texas, and was sold. Baylor coach Scott Drew said Heslip dropped 24 pounds. He was a gym rat. His teammates loved him. But little did they know what they were getting in return.

“I know how hard he’s worked,’’ Baylor’s Quincy Acy said. “When he came in, we knew how good a shooter he was. Every time I went to the gym at night, I would see him in there sometimes twice a day. He works for it. I know whenever he gets hot, he can outshoot anybody.’’

Heslip’s impact Saturday night was epic for a Baylor program that is breaking barriers.

Heslip hit nine 3s for a career-high 27 points in Baylor’s 80-63 victory over Colorado at the Pit, to propel the Bears to their second Sweet 16 appearance in three seasons. The two Sweet 16s are the only ones in the school’s history. Drew is now 5-2 in the NCAA tournament, and the win Saturday gave the Bears a school-record 29 victories.

Heslip’s nine 3s set a single-game NCAA tournament record for the Bears. How much of an impact is Heslip having on a team known for its up-tempo style, tremendous length, and headliners Acy, Perry Jones III and Pierre Jackson?

“Heslip was the difference,’’ Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. “He was unconscious tonight.’’

Heslip made six of his 3s in the first half, but the Bears were up only two. His three 3s in the second half helped open up the game. Sure, there were times when Acy and Quincy Miller as well as Anthony Jones were extremely difficult to stop inside. The 17 offensive rebounds kept possessions alive. The 24 defensive rebounds ended plenty of the Buffs’ attempts.

But Heslip busted the game open.

“I’m just feeling great right now, first of all, because we won,’’ Heslip said. “I’m just happy for my seniors.

“As for the shooting, Pierre does a great job of finding me when I’m open and finding me in transition. Acy sets great screens, and it was just one of those nights.’’

Heslip was getting the ball in motion and was stroking it without any hesitation.

“If I’m in rhythm and feeling good shooting, it just makes it even easier,’’ Heslip said.

Baylor was a major disappointment last season, following an Elite Eight appearance and the departure of point guard Tweety Carter with a flameout in the Big 12 tournament. Jones’ ineligibility days before the tourney led to the Bears' missing the rest of the postseason.

The arrival of Jackson from junior college and Heslip’s eligibility changed the backcourt for the Bears and the potential for this squad.

If you followed Baylor early in the season, you saw wins at BYU and Northwestern and over Mississippi State, Saint Mary’s and West Virginia -- the latter three all on neutral courts. The Bears couldn’t beat Missouri or Kansas in the regular season but knocked off the Jayhawks in the Big 12 tournament.

Now Baylor is the first Big 12 team in the Sweet 16. And if Purdue were to upset Kansas on Sunday, the Bears could be the only one. Even if the Jayhawks join them, the Bears are peaking at the right time.

And so is Heslip, an option that makes the Bears that much more formidable in a possible showdown with Kentucky in the South Region at Atlanta with a right to go to the Final Four.

“Brady will be the first to tell you that his teammates really got him open and got him the ball,’’ Drew said. “That humility is what makes our team successful.’’

Rapid Reaction: Baylor 80, Colorado 63

March, 17, 2012

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Reaction from Baylor's 80-63 win over Colorado.

Overview: Give Colorado plenty of credit, the Buffaloes were scrappy until the final few minutes. But they simply didn’t have the overall talent to hang with Baylor, especially against the power game inside or the 3-point shooting from Brady Heslip and Anthony Jones. The Bears put on quite a display. They have the ability to turn it on as well as any team in the country, outside of Kentucky. If Baylor can play like this it should meet Kentucky in the Elite Eight Sunday in Atlanta.

Turning point: There were many to choose from but I’m more inclined to go with a Quincy Acy spin-move slam that was as impressive as you’ll see. That bucket gave the Bears a 61-58 advantage and set the tone for what would soon be a blowout. That bucket was the precursor to the 3s that Heslip started to drain, which opened up the game.

Key player: Brady Heslip. He made nine 3s, two shy of The Pit record, set by the late Bobby Phills in 1990 when he played for Southern and one shy of a school record. It was also only two shy of the NCAA tournament record set by Loyola Marymount's Jeff Fryer against Michigan in 1990. Heslip missed only three. The Buffs tried to find him but couldn’t contest. It was as good a performance as you’ll see from beyond the 3-point line.

Key stat: The 3s were noteworthy, but just as big a deal was the rebounding margin. The Bears dominated the backboard. Their defensive rebounding severely limited the Buffs' ability to get second-shot opportunities.

Miscellaneous: Baylor went with the yellow highlighter uniforms. The Bears are 3-0 with them. Former Big 12 commissioner Kevin Weiberg flew in to represent the conference that he currently works in, the Pac-12. Odd that he was watching two former conference members tussle at The Pit. Baylor fans were chanting "Big 12 rejects" at Colorado when Baylor was up by 12. Not cool. The proper chant came later when the Bears fans were chanting “Big 12.” That was enough.

What’s next: Baylor will play the winner of Lehigh-Xavier on Friday in Atlanta for the right to go to the Elite Eight and possibly take on South top seed Kentucky. The Bears have the makeup to challenge Kentucky better than anyone else in this bracket. The Bears also have a chance to get to the Elite Eight by facing only double-digit seeds if Lehigh were to upset Xavier.

Even Bo Ryan wowed by Wisconsin

March, 17, 2012

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Forget the No. 4 seed. Toss out the top-20 preseason ranking.

Wisconsin again reaching the Sweet 16, after what the Badgers lost off last season’s Sweet 16 edition and certainly following an unprecedented three home losses at the Kohl Center, is a surprise.

Don’t let anyone say anything otherwise. You may have picked the Badgers in your bracket to reach the Sweet 16. I did not. President Barack Obama did and countless others did as well.

But step back and digest how far this team has come this season and you’ll realize that the Badgers have fooled the field yet again.

“This team has done some things that if you’re a real basketball person, you’ve got to go, wow,’’ said Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan after the Badgers knocked off No. 5 Vanderbilt 60-57 Saturday afternoon at The Pit. “Everybody knows we have weaknesses. Jordan Taylor. Without Jordan Taylor, it’s not the same.

“I’d like to say it’s coaching but nobody would believe that,’’ Ryan said. “It’s guys working hard.’’

The Badgers lost Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankevil off last season's team.

“We have three starters that played reserve minutes [on last season's team],’’ Ryan said. “Some programs do that and put in McDonald’s All-Americans. That didn’t happen here.’’

The Badgers were dreadful in a home loss to Iowa at the beginning of the Big Ten season. That led to a 1-3 conference start. Taylor was in a shooting slump and the Badgers looked like they were going to be an afterthought in the Big Ten behind upstart Indiana and Michigan and well behind Ohio State and Michigan State.

“I had to go to practice and be up,’’ Ryan said. “It wasn’t about a lack of trying. You can’t yell at people for not making baskets.’’

But then the Badgers won at Purdue and stunned Ohio State with a win in Columbus. Taylor shook his slump. Ryan Evans became the unsung player on this team and the contributions from Mike Bruesewitz, Jared Berggren, Josh Gasser, Ben Brust and even Rob Wilson became better with each game.

When asked if this team had improved more than any other he has coached at Wisconsin, Ryan’s quick response was: “No question.’’

[+] EnlargeWisconsin
Nelson Chenault/US PresswireWisconsin star Jordan Taylor credited teammate Josh Gasser, who played ill during Saturday's win.
Saturday’s win over Vanderbilt was another example of how much.

The Badgers blitzed the Commodores with a 10-2 start as Evans made shots in and out of the lane. Vandy was in step with Wisconsin, though, and took a lead to start the second half. But just when it appeared safe for the Commodores, the Badgers, especially Taylor, would hit buckets late in the shot clock.

“Coach kept telling me in the huddle that I had to step up as a senior and take the shot,’’ Taylor said.

Gasser said, “If we get the ball to him late in the shot clock, he will make sure to always do good things. He’s been doing it all year and all of last year. He is the leader of this team and we want the ball in his hands at the end of the game. He usually makes it happen. He didn’t want this to be his last game and he definitely showed it.’’

Taylor buried a 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down to one second to give the Badgers a 59-57 lead. The Badgers defended Vandy well on the next few possessions and Taylor had a shot to deliver the dagger to the Dores with 19 seconds left.

But he missed. And that’s when Gasser hustled to get the loose ball rebound. Vandy’s Festus Ezeli, who was benched for the first three-plus minutes of the game in a coach’s decision, said it was a case of a long rebound that his team simply didn’t run down in time.

Taylor said Gasser was up until 3 a.m. sick. “I can’t say enough about him,’’ Taylor said. “He did a great job just coming in. He dogged Jenkins as much as he could. That’s why we’re able to have success because we have teammates like Josh.’’

Vandy had one more chance because Gasser missed a free throw. John Jenkins had a clean look at a 3-pointer to possibly win the game with four seconds left.

“It was a pretty good look,’’ Jenkins said. “I felt like I got a good chance of having it going in, just like a lot of looks I had. It just didn’t drop for me.’’

“He was wide open,’’ Vandy coach Kevin Stallings said. “He’s a great shooter, period. He’s really a great shooter going left and he was going left and he was wide open. We ran the play, ran it to perfection and got it right where we wanted him. He’s made so many that have caused us to win games, and unfortunately that one didn’t go in.’’

Those close to the Badgers are in awe of their Sweet 16 appearance and that they have won 26 games, picked up a number of wins by shooting close to 40 percent and survived shooting slumps by Taylor and Bruesewitz this season.

The Badgers will play East Region top seed Syracuse on Thursday with a chance at an Elite Eight berth.

“They’re long and we’ll have to get inside-outside stuff going,’’ Ryan said. “Hey, how close is Boston to Syracuse? Pretty close, isn’t it?’’

It is much closer than Madison. But distance and fan support shouldn’t matter. The Badgers won’t be picked to beat Syracuse. But doubting this particular Ryan edition has already proved to be foolish.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – A quick look at fourth-seeded Wisconsin's 60-57 victory Saturday over No. 5 Vanderbilt:

Overview: The Badgers might have been a top-15 team and a high pick in the Big Ten. But if you saw this team early in the season against Marquette, then losing to Iowa in the Big Ten, there is no way you would think Wisconsin could be a Sweet 16 team. But Wisconsin muzzled Vandy early, made key 3s, and got crucial rebounds to limit Vandy to one shot to prevail in a highly entertaining second half. Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan knew this wasn’t his most talented team, but it may have been his most improved. Vandy’s senior class, which had accomplished so much, couldn’t close out against a Wisconsin squad that simply made the late-game plays. This was as impressive a victory as you’ll see in the weekend by a team that followed its own script perfectly.

Turning point: Jordan Taylor was getting defended quite well. The shot clock was winding down. With a second left he launched a 3-pointer from the top of the key and buried it for a 59-57 lead with 1:34 remaining. Vandy had just gotten a huge Festus Ezeli block and a scoring move inside to take a 1-point lead. Taylor’s shot was a big swing.

Key player: It’s a tough call between Jordan Taylor and Ryan Evans. Evans was hot early. But Taylor once again showed that he makes plays when the shot clock is winding down. Taylor finished with 14 points, but his three 3s were all daggers and he ran a steady game for the Badgers.

Key stat: The Badgers have to make 3s to win. They made 10. They also took 33. But that’s OK. They have to do that to pull off a win like this over Vandy.

Miscellaneous: Vandy coach Kevin Stallings benched Ezeli to start the game, opting to start Steve Tchiengang. The Commodores got down 10-2 to start the game. Hard to say if that had a direct effect. ... Old school here at the Pit as the wave made a cameo in the second half. ... Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor is deceptively quick. He broke down Vandy on multiple occasions with his fleet first step. He found openings to the hole when he needed them. Meanwhile, Jeffery Taylor might have had the broken-ankle move when he got Rob Wilson on the court with a crossover move. Taylor then buried the 3-pointer. ... More old-school stuff here in the Land of Enchantment as a beach ball made its way around the arena until a security guard popped it, much to the dismay of the fans.

What’s next: Wisconsin will take on Syracuse in Boston on Thursday. And to take this team lightly would be a major mistake. Wisconsin finds a way. Always does.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- A look at Saturday’s Round of 32 doubleheader at The Pit:

No. 5 seed Vanderbilt (25-10) vs. No. 4 Wisconsin (25-9), 6:10 p.m. ET

Vanderbilt can see itself in Wisconsin. The Badgers see the Commodores as a mirror image as well.

These are two programs that have been consistently good under Kevin Stallings and Bo Ryan, yet constantly undervalued in their respective conferences.

They are never the first pick to win the league title. They don’t get the top choice in recruits. Yet they remain in the mix near the top of their conferences, usually have upperclassmen contributing at a high level and have had their share of NBA talent.

Wisconsin has won Big Ten titles. Vanderbilt finally won an SEC one, at least in the tournament. It still counts.

And now they will meet in a 4 vs. 5 East Region game Saturday afternoon with the chance to possibly take on top-seeded Syracuse in Boston next Thursday if the Orange can get past Kansas State -- no easy feat -- Saturday in Pittsburgh.

“I would say there is a lot of truth in all those things, but they’ve probably done it at a better level than we have,’’ Stallings said Friday. “We’ve tried to be a consistent program. And for the most part we’ve been able to accomplish that. They’re usually picked to finish lower in the Big Ten and they end up in the top two or three. They’ve done a great job there.’’

Vandy hasn’t been to the Sweet 16 since 2007. Wisconsin went last year.

“For us the consistency is all about Coach Ryan,’’ said Wisconsin guard Jordan Taylor. “Everyone buys into what they’re trying to teach. Everyone loves to say that we’re not athletic or not as athletic as other people. They say the same thing about Vanderbilt in comparison to Kentucky. But guys buy into what is being taught, they want to win and be successful.’’

Taylor will make money somewhere playing ball. Vandy has three players that will be in the NBA in John Jenkins, Jeffery Taylor and Festus Ezeli.

“Both programs consistently win a lot of games, but we’ve struggled to get over the hump,’’ Jeffery Taylor said. “It should be really fun [Saturday] since the team that wins has a chance to make a run."

Vandy should win this game. The Commodores, as Ryan noted, have senior starters that dominate the minutes. And the Badgers have overachieved the past month after struggling early in the season and losing a blasphemous three home games. But wins at Ohio State and over Indiana in the Big Ten tournament, coupled with a convincing hammering of Montana in the NCAAs, have the Badgers believing in a Sweet 16 berth.

“I’m so happy with this team, especially what we did in Columbus,’’ Ryan said. “We came together.’’

The Badgers will have to make 3s to advance. But neither team will or should be tight. Vandy simply had to get that first win after losing in the first round three of the past four years.

Taylor said it was nice to sit around Friday and watch other teams in the tournament and know the Commodores were still alive.

“It was so nice to get that first game because it can ruin your season,’’ said Stallings. “You work so hard to get to a point where you’ve accomplished enough to be a 5-seed and get rewarded for it and then it can all go in the trash can if you don’t win the first game.

“There was a lot of pressure and high tension intensity,’’ Stallings said of the Harvard game. “Now we can relax and go play and let it hang out. Now we got past it and we can relax and hopefully just do our best.’’

No. 11 Colorado (24-11) vs. No. 3 Baylor (28-7), 8:40 p.m. ET

The Bears should be Kentucky’s most formidable opponent in the South bracket. Baylor has the length, the athleticism and the overall productivity at every position to match the Wildcats. But that matchup wouldn’t happen until the Elite Eight in Atlanta next Sunday.

But the Bears are playing a team in Colorado that may be as loose as any in the tournament. The Buffs weren’t supposed to be here. No, not just in the third round. They weren’t supposed to be in the NCAAs. But they won the Pac-12 tournament with four wins in four days. And then took down No. 6 seed UNLV on Thursday.

“They will be the most talented team we will have faced,’’ said Colorado coach Tad Boyle. “We’ve got to limit them to one shot. We can’t let them have second or third opportunities. We have to be physical against them. We’ve played against a team like them, but not as long or athletic.’’

But CU hasn’t faced a team as talented as Baylor during this five-game run.

The pressure is all on the Bears to win.

“We’re loose,’’ Boyle said. “We’re confident and have nothing to lose.’’

So much is made of the Bears’ ability to dominate the backboards with Perry Jones III, Quincy Acy, Deuce Miller and the sturdy yet disruptive play of point guard Pierre Jackson.

But the Bears may have an option that can really squash the Buffs’ ability to play catchup. If guard Brady Heslip is hot from the perimeter and makes 3s in bunches, then the Buffs may not have a chance.

“He makes the floor get spaced and you have to know where he is at all times,’’ Baylor coach Scott Drew said.

Heslip’s appearance as a key member of this team makes it even harder to fathom that Boston College passed on his services. Heslip was recruited by Pat Duquette and played on semester for Al Skinner before he was forced out at BC. New coach Steve Donahue didn’t think Heslip fit into the Eagles' plans, even though he’d be perfect for the Cornell-style offense.

“I didn’t take it personal but that’s how they viewed it and after meeting it made sense to move on,’’ Heslip said.

Heslip said it means the world to him to be in the NCAA tournament for the first time and now with a chance to be on a team that can advance deep.

Drew said Heslip deserves all the credit for losing 24 pounds and toning his body. He has made himself into a player.

And as a result, he can provide the necessary dagger for the Bears in a tight game or when a lead needs to be stretched.

Video: How far can Colorado go?

March, 16, 2012

Cassidy Hubbarth and Jimmy Dykes discuss how far Colorado will advance this March.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The NCAA tournament had its epic near-miss earlier Thursday when 16-seed UNC Asheville couldn’t close out Syracuse.

The controversy about the officiating contributed to it being the most discussed game of the day.

VCU became a storyline yet again with a final-possessions win over Wichita State, remaining relevant for a second year in a row.

There were plenty of impressive performances, notably Gonzaga’s pummeling of West Virginia in Pittsburgh. But for the most part the chalk held.

Except at the end of the night.

The Pac-12 has been rightfully beaten down throughout the season. Washington, the regular-season champ, didn’t even get a bid. Cal didn’t put up much of a fight against a middling South Florida in a First Four game in Dayton, Ohio, adding even more insult to the league’s off-year.

But if an underdog or Cinderella can still come from a BCS league (in football terminology), then Colorado fits the description.

This simply shouldn’t be happening. But it is.

The Buffs, picked to finish 11th in the league to start the season, won the Pac-12 tournament with four wins in four days and have moved into the third round of the NCAAs after holding on to beat No. 6 seed UNLV 68-60 Thursday night at the Pit.

Maybe even more surprising than the score and the Buffs moving on is how much they have become a hoops haven.

The Colorado crowd was by far the most boisterous of any of the eight teams in attendance. The raw euphoria from fans young and old had the security at the Pit sprinting out in anticipation that Buffs backers might actually storm the court. A number of fans, who were a part of an impressive CU contingent of about 2,500, had started to move down to the lower level, gathering right above the band in what looked like a precursor to a storm.

But this is the NCAA tournament, where storming is as forbidden as taking a Coke can onto the floor without an approved plastic cup cover.

[+] EnlargeAskia Booker
AP Photo/Matt YorkGuard Askia Booker's 16 points off the bench led five Colorado players in double figures.
“I feel like our guys are playing well, playing with a lot of confidence and we’re just going to try to keep it rolling,’’ said Colorado’s Andre Roberson. “I just feel like we can take down Baylor coming up.’’

Umm, what?

Baylor is by far the most athletic, longest, deepest and talented team Colorado will have faced all season. No one in the Pac-12 would have come close.

But why would Colorado feel like anything is impossible? The Buffs actually used Connecticut’s five-games-in-five-days Big East tournament title run of a year ago as motivation prior to the Pac-12 tournament.

Victories over Utah, Oregon, Cal and Arizona just continued the improbable roll.

UNLV was next, and while the Runnin’ Rebels had moments of confusion at times in the final month of the season, they surely would outrebound and run past CU, right?

Not quite. CU outrebounded the Rebels by 13.

“I did think that they played with a greater sense of urgency than we did,’’ said UNLV coach Dave Rice.

The rarity of Colorado in this position was quickly pointed out by the CU administration on a postgame release. The Buffs had never won five games in a row March. That’s never — as in has never happened. The last time the Buffs won a game in the NCAA tournament, Chauncey Billups was the point guard and it was 1997.

“I don’t think I was born yet,’’ said Roberson. “No, I know I was. I don’t know.’’

“I was 3,’’ CU’s Askia Booker said. “I was 3.’’

The Buffs have a collection of gritty guys who would pale in comparison to Baylor’s length — and yet to dismiss them would be a major error in judgment. Roberson and Spencer Dinwiddie can block shots with the Baylor bigs Quincy Acy and Perry Jones III. Shooters like Austin Dufault, Carlon Brown and Booker can all match Brady Heslip on 3s. And the Buffs can actually win despite making turnovers (23 Thursday).

“We believe in ourselves,’’ Roberson said. “We believe in everything coach [Tad] Boyle tells us. We execute our game plan. We try to do our best. Defense and rebounding, that’s our motto. Every time we do that, we win games.’’

Boyle had the Buffs on the doorstep of the NCAA tournament last year in the final year of the Big 12. It was Boyle’s first season with Colorado. And then the team lost its two best players in Alec Burks and Cory Higgins.

Now, five games into this postseason, Boyle’s record is a combined 10-2 in playoff basketball at CU after a 3-1 NIT record a year ago.

“I don’t see why it can’t continue,’’ Boyle said. “It’s going to get harder as we go, we know that. But I believe in this team. They believe in themselves, and as long as you do that this time of year, you’ve got a shot.’’

Rapid Reaction: Colorado 68, UNLV 64

March, 16, 2012

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Quick thoughts on 11th-seeded Colorado's 68-64 victory over No. 6 seed UNLV:

Overview: Colorado carried the momentum of its four-game run to the Pac-12 tournament title into a convincing second-round NCAA win over UNLV at the Pit. This wasn’t close. Colorado looked like it was the champ of a major league from the opening tip against a team that ended up behind New Mexico and San Diego State in the Mountain West. The confidence with which the Buffaloes played, from making 3s to contesting shots to rebounding, was unmatched at times by the Runnin’ Rebels. This scrappy bunch of Buffs was playing with house money. Colorado coach Tad Boyle said Wednesday that the pressure was all off the Buffs. He was right. They played as loose as any of the eight teams in the field here at the Pit. But they are still the Buffaloes and couldn’t close. UNLV made quite a run to get it within one possession, but then Colorado showed poise, created turnovers and converted free throws.

Turning point: UNLV had cut the deficit to three, and the Runnin’ Rebels were on the verge of making it a one-point game. But a quick turn of events occurred when Andre Roberson blocked a shot and it led to a runout for Carlon Brown, who flushed home a jam. That gave the Buffs a 60-55 lead and a chance to breath. The Runnin’ Rebels would cut the lead to three one more time at 67-64 with 8 seconds left on a rainbow 3-pointer by Chace Stanback.

Key player: There were a lot of choices here, but a pair of back-to-back 3s by Austin Dufault early in the second half were decisive. They helped send a strong message that the Buffs weren’t going to back down. Dufault ended up with 14 points. He was an efficient 3-of-4 on 3s. But his bang-bang triples were crucial to creating some distance between the two teams after the break.

Key stat: Rebounding. The Runnin’ Rebels went into the game as the more aggressive rebounding team. It shouldn’t have been close. And it wasn’t. The Buffaloes dominated the backboard. Colorado outrebounded UNLV 43-30. UNLV couldn't get second shots on a consistent enough basis to take the lead.

Miscellaneous: Colorado gets major props for its fan contingent. The Buffs brought their A-game. I remember going to a few CU games in Boulder in the '90s, and it was never this loud. The enthusiasm for this team has certainly resonated. ... NCAA president Mark Emmert didn’t last the whole second game. I’m sure he was off to another site for Friday. ... Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott was behind the Colorado bench and so was interim Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas. Neinas lives in Colorado, and the Buffs used to be in the Big 12/Big Eight. ... The Buffs had the karma going the moment they stepped on the Pit floor. Assistant coach Tom Abatemarco was an assistant on the 1983 NC State team that won the epic title game in this building.

What’s next: Colorado will play Baylor on Saturday in what would appear to be a mismatch. The Buffs don’t have the interior length to match the third-seeded Bears. But why would anyone doubt the Buffs' ability to make this a game and pull off the upset? This will easily be the toughest game for the Buffs since this run started.

Video: Breaking down Baylor's win

March, 15, 2012

Jimmy Dykes discusses Baylor's 68-60 victory over South Dakota State.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Quick thoughts on third-seeded Baylor's 68-60 victory over No. 14 South Dakota State on Thursday:

Overview: Baylor got off to an eight-point halftime lead but then had to deal with as scrappy a team as you’ll see in the NCAA tournament. When the Bears are forcing turnovers and scoring, they are a good watch. The dunks come, and the athleticism was on display. The board work was efficient and the 3s were enough to hold off South Dakota State. But the overall talent on the floor should be a strong indicator that Baylor must advance to call this season a success.

Turning point: Quincy Miller had a spin and dunk move with just under nine minutes left that gave the Bears a nine-point lead. The move didn’t squash the Jackrabbits, but it did send a strong message that the Bears weren’t going to lie down. And, of course, it highlighted the overall athleticism advantage for the Bears.

Key player: Tough call but I actually may go with Brady Heslip here. He made five 3s among his 17 points. He answered the Jackrabbits’ 3-pointers to allow the Bears to stretch first-half leads. Heslip is the kind of difference-maker for Baylor who can change the fortune of this team. He also made late free throws. The Bears will only go as far as they make perimeter shots.

Key stat: The Bears dominated the backboard as they should, outrebounding South Dakota State 35-23. This was the concern of Jackrabbit coach Scott Nagy. Perry Jones III wasn’t offensive Thursday night, but he could board. He grabbed 11, and that’s what he had to do more than anything with the overall production from players such as Quincy Miller, Brady Heslip, Pierre Jackson and Anthony Jones.

Miscellaneous: I really wanted to see what would have happened if the Pit lights went out during this game. Would Baylor’s uniforms glow in the dark? I’m all for gimmicks, but these highlighters were too much. Did I miss the return of neon and "Miami Vice"? I’m not sure which was worse: the shirts, shorts, socks or shoe laces. ... Baylor is now 2-0 in these jerseys, though. ... South Dakota State will now be the premier team in the Summit League with the departure of Oral Roberts to the Southland Conference next season. ... South Dakota State should be the class of the Summit yet again with the return of Nate Wolters. Scott Nagy is less than five years into leading the Jackrabbits into Division I. ... Oh, did I say how much I love the nickname Jackrabbits? I don’t know why, but I do. Biggest controversy was that the mascot used to look too much like Bugs Bunny. Now it no longer has a cartoon feel.

What’s next: Baylor gets the winner of UNLV-Colorado. Baylor is a bit wild at times but clearly should be playing in the second weekend. Anything less than a win Saturday would have to be deemed a disappointment. Baylor has too much talent to not make it out of here against either opponent.

Vanderbilt sheds its NCAA albatross

March, 15, 2012

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Vanderbilt finally solved its Kentucky problem by winning the SEC tournament on Sunday in New Orleans.

But that did nothing to answer its larger issue: winning in the NCAA tournament.

Double-digit seeds had flummoxed the Commodores in three of the past four NCAA tournaments with losses to Siena, Murray State and Richmond.

Harvard was a sentimental favorite in making its first NCAA tournament since 1946. Oh, and the Crimson were seeded No. 12, making this one of those dreaded 5-12 games.

“It’s well publicized that Vandy’s lost in the first round the last three out of four years,’’ said Harvard senior guard Oliver McNally. “So we knew if we were hanging around, we’d put that thought in their head and see what happened. And I thought we were going to do that.’’

Vandy had an 18-point lead on Harvard on Thursday afternoon at the Pit. And then suddenly it was five.

“Credit to them for coming out really strong after that and being strong with the ball and making free throws,’’ McNally said. “But we made a great run.’’

The Commodores held on to win 79-70 and looked every bit the part of a team that could beat No. 4 Wisconsin on Saturday in a third-round game for the right to possibly take on East top seed Syracuse (if the Orange can knock off Kansas State in Pittsburgh on Saturday).

John Jenkins was sensational with 27 points. The Dores got plenty of pop from Brad Tinsley, Jeffery Taylor and 11 boards from Festus Ezeli. Vanderbilt’s big four came through when it mattered most.

Vandy can exhale -- for now.

“I didn’t want to be in that tight of a situation with the way we had the game going in our favor,’’ said Vandy coach Kevin Stallings. “But since we won, I’m glad it unfolded that way.’’

Stallings knew the toughness question was relevant with this squad during the SEC tournament. The Dores simply didn’t have the track record to back up their belief that they were over their late-game issues.

And comments like Taylor’s that the big lead led to a bit of relaxation and too much standing on offense just contributed to the narrative. But there was something the Dores had that had been missing even in last-second losses in previous NCAAs to Siena and Murray State: composure.

Jenkins used a different word -- poised. “I think leadership is definitely a factor in that guys huddled up and decided we need to lock down and get rebounds down the stretch,” he said. “We did what we had to do. We hit big free throws.’’

The Dores had one possession that took the lead from 11 to 14 with a four-shot sequence that ended up in a traditional 3-point play for Jenkins. That lead ballooned to 18. Harvard made its run, but the hole was too deep.

“I think our maturity showed up a little bit there,’’ Tinsley said. “We were playing not to lose instead of playing to win. You can never do that, especially in the NCAA tournament.’’

[+] EnlargeBrad Tinsley
AP Photo/Matt YorkBrad Tinsley, right, and Jeffrey Taylor cheer as Vanderbilt puts away Harvard during their second-round meeting.
Vanderbilt could finally talk about its albatross after the win.

“It really means a lot for the seniors to be our last time in the NCAA tournament,’’ Tinsley said. “We just kind of got that monkey off our back and win a close game in the first round. It just means a lot to us old guys, the coaching staff and the program.’’

Getting into the NCAA tournament did that as well for Harvard. The Crimson didn’t just show up for the first time in 66 years. They got off to a rocky start and scrapped their way back.

Harvard senior Keith Wright said that getting into the NCAA tournament and representing the Ivy League, especially after losing the playoff to Princeton at the buzzer last season, was a celebration of all the hard work put forth.

“It’s just really special and I’m really glad to be a part of it,’’ said McNally. “They sell you on all kinds of dreams but Coach (Tommy) Amaker had a plan and this plan was followed through. Not only were there good players but really good people. We made the tournament. We wanted to advance. That was obviously the ultimate goal.’’

But this meant more to the Ivy League and to Harvard to have its flagship name finally make the dance.

Alumni from the White House to an 86-year-old surviving member of the 1946 team — the Crimson's previous NCAA entry — could all feel good about this run. The latter was Don Swegan, who was at the Pit in his old Harvard sweater. He was in his glory, talking to other alumni. The Friends of Harvard hoops read about Swegan on and wanted to make sure he made it to Albuquerque from near Youngstown, Ohio, so they paid for his expenses. NCAA president Mark Emmert and Harvard alumnus and Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott wanted to have their picture taken with Swegan.

These were good memories for him, the Harvard program and a clear signal that the Crimson aren’t going into NCAA tournament hibernation.

“For us to represent our school and conference for the first time in so many years and to have so many folks come and cheer us on means so much to us,’’ Amaker said. “This has been and is a big deal.’’

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Reaction from No. 5 Vanderbilt's 79-70 win over No. 12 Harvard.

Overview: Vanderbilt had lost to a double-digit seed in three of the past four NCAA tournaments.

Possibly none of them was as beloved as Harvard. Siena, Murray State and Richmond all knocked off the Commodores. But this Vandy team is not like the others. This one finally knows how to close. Vandy carried the momentum from the SEC tournament to snuff out the Crimson’s historic bid to win their first NCAA tournament game. It was Harvard's second appearance and first in 66 years.

Turning point: Harvard made a series of runs in the second half, and there was a sense the game could be turning when the Crimson cut the lead to 11. But the Commodores had a possession that changed the momentum. Harvard had put on a tremendous run to cut an 18-point deficit to two possessions. But a John Jenkins jumper gave the Commodores a 13-point lead. On the plan, the Commodores had four shots to make one. Harvard couldn’t grab an offensive rebound, and Vandy kept getting opportunities. That possession signaled a shift that contributed to Harvard getting down five more.

Key player: Jenkins scored 27 points, made three 3-pointers and was 10-of-13 from the line. He made key plays consistently when the Commodores were challenged. Jenkins always has had the most talent on this team, but there have been a few moments during his career when he has disappeared. That hasn’t been the case recently. He’s on a tear from being named the SEC's most outstanding player at the tournament last weekend in New Orleans to a fantastic start at the NCAAs.

Key stat: The Commodores got to the free throw line in bunches, and ultimately that’s what did the Crimson in because they couldn’t play catchup fast enough. There was no officiating issue. Vanderbilt simply created more contact and got to the line while Harvard did not. The final number had Vandy 21-of-30 while Harvard was 11-of-14.

Miscellaneous: Harvard '46 grad Don Swegan was in attendance. He’s one of three or four surviving members (he’s not sure) from the last NCAA tournament team from the Crimson. Swegan was a hot commodity. The 86-year-old was tracked down by Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott (Harvard '86, where he was a tennis player). NCAA president Mark Emmert also made his way over to talk to Swegan. The Friends of Harvard basketball reacted to a story on Swegan on and paid for his expenses down from near Youngstown, Ohio, to the game. ... The NCAA has plenty of logistical issues in scheduling and bracketing. But there used to be a rule that would prevent a school from hosting and its team playing at the same time. The Pit crowd was near capacity but probably would have been a sellout if the University of New Mexico wasn’t playing at the same time as Vanderbilt-Harvard. ... I anticipate Harvard won’t have to wait long to be back here. The Crimson will be the favorite again in the Ivy. ... I’m not sure whose whistle is louder, Miami’s Jim Larranaga or Vandy’s Kevin Stallings. I can beat them with my loud clap. But the whistle is heard over crowd noise pretty easily.

What’s next: No. 5 Vanderbilt will take on No. 4 Wisconsin on Saturday at the Pit in what should be a tantalizing third-round game. The winner has a legit shot to knock off Syracuse, assuming the Orange get past Kansas State, next week in Boston. The Dores and Badgers will play a rugged, 3-point shooting game Saturday. It should be a good watch, as these are two teams that could make a run to the Elite Eight.

Video: Breaking down Wisconsin's win

March, 15, 2012

Doug Gottlieb, Jimmy Dykes and Jay Williams break down Wisconsin's win over Montana.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Reaction from No. 4-seeded Wisconsin's 73-49 win over No. 13 Montana.

Overview: The last time the Badgers played at The Pit, in 2000, they went to the Final Four.

But that was a regional final.

This is just a second- and third-round event. But the Badgers had the look of an efficient team that will be a tough out going forward. Wisconsin made 3s, forced Montana into taking bad shots and ran its offense to perfection with limited unforced turnovers.

The Grizzlies had their March moment by winning the Big Sky tournament in Missoula. It was a program-changing event for head coach Wayne Tinkle. The Grizzlies had been an elite Big Sky team but hadn’t won the event on their home court since the '90s.

Still, they ran into a Wisconsin team that is ascending in March, not descending. Regardless of who the Badgers play next, the nets at The Pit were friendly.

Turning point: Wisconsin’s Mike Bruesewitz buried a 3-pointer that stretched the Badgers' lead to 53-38. Montana had mounted a mini-comeback and appeared to be on the verge of getting The Pit crowd into the game. But Bruesewitz helped snuff out the Grizzlies.

Key player: Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor ran a steady game for the Badgers. He scored when he needed to give the Badgers a run. He was efficient in dishing out assists and didn’t turn the ball over. The Badgers were run like a machine that knew what it wanted to do on every possession.

Key stat: The Badgers don’t have the low-post presence that previous Wisconsin teams have had under Bo Ryan. So for Wisconsin to advance in this tournament, they have to make 3s. Well, the Badgers did so in waves, making nine 3s in the second half that pushed the Badgers to a 16-point lead at one point. The lead eventually grew to 20.

Miscellaneous: Montana had to get off to a good start to have a chance. But the Grizzlies’ defense couldn’t hold the Badgers. Wisconsin scored 39 points in the first half. ... I have to admit, few people could pull off a deep maroon sport coat like Tinkle. ... The Grizzlies had to have a good shooting game from Will Cherry. They didn’t get one. ... Tinkle needs to get a look at some higher-level jobs. He’s that good. ... I’m not sure Bo Ryan would say this is his best team at all. But it’s one of his most improved from midseason to now.

What’s next: Wisconsin will take on the winner of No. 5 Vanderbilt-No. 12 Harvard. The winner of that game will certainly be given a legitimate shot of winning the Sweet 16 game and advancing to the Elite Eight, assuming it’s Wisconsin or Vandy.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- A look at Thursday's early games at New Mexico's famed Pit:

No. 4 Wisconsin (24-9) vs. No. 13 Montana (25-6), 2:10 p.m. ET

This may be Wisconsin's worst team under Bo Ryan. Yet he's still in the NCAA tournament as a No. 4 seed with a solid chance to advance to the third round and possibly the Sweet 16. That's how good the system is for Ryan and the players he has found to flourish.

The Badgers lost an unprecedented three home games and still finished strong enough to win at Purdue and knock off Ohio State on the road to earn a No. 4 seed.

"We just have to stick with what we've been doing all year long,'' said Wisconsin guard Jordan Taylor. "I know based on the numbers or whatever, it is, I think you could say everybody plays at a quicker tempo based on the possessions or whatever you want. But it's not like we're trying to slow it down or anything or are looking to drag out the shot clock. We're just trying to get a good shot every time down. It's been working for the most part.''

Wisconsin may want to limit possessions. Montana will want to increase them. The Grizzlies will want to push the tempo and had no problems running Weber State and Damian Lillard out of the Big Sky tournament. Montana coach Wayne Tinkle said this team is better than the one two years ago that narrowly lost to New Mexico in the first round. Montana has won 14 straight, and the backcourt of Will Cherry and Kareem Jamar will push the Badgers as much as any in the Big Ten.

"They've got a lot of shooters,'' Taylor said. "They're pretty good defensively, especially Will Cherry.''

The bigs of Montana are much like Wisconsin's, with the ability to stretch the floor by making perimeter shots. But they have maybe even more of a rugged side to their on-court existence.

Cherry said he grasps that the Badgers put five players on the court who can all pass.

"If we can try to use our length on the defensive end and our speed and athleticism against them, I feel like we could speed them up,'' Cherry said.

The problem is the Badgers don't turn the ball over much and play with more control.

The last time Wisconsin played at the Pit, it went to the 2000 Final Four with an Elite Eight win over Purdue.

"I hope we can definitely carry some of that good karma,'' said Wisconsin's Jared Berggren. "Our coaches talked about it a little bit. We hope to make some more good memories here and advance to the next round.''

Three players to watch

Jordan Taylor, 6-1, Sr., Wisconsin: Taylor has the ability to take over a game and score in bunches. But he also can go through droughts. He's a steady lead guard who needs the ball in his hands to steer this offense.

Jared Berggren, 6-10, Jr., Wisconsin: Berggren can knock down the deep 3-pointer and really stretch the Grizzlies' defense. If he starts making face-up shots and pulls Derek Selvig away from the basket, then the Badgers are in good shape.

Will Cherry, 6-1, Jr., Montana: The Grizzlies guard can push the basketball with any guard in this field. He averages nearly three steals a game. If he flusters Taylor then the Grizzlies have a shot.

No. 5 Vanderbilt (24-10) vs. No. 12 Harvard (26-4), 4:40 p.m. ET

Since Fab Melo was ruled ineligible for Syracuse, it seems the trendy thing to do is pencil in Vanderbilt as the Elite Eight representative out of the top part of the East Region.

And why not? The Commodores just beat mighty Kentucky in the SEC tournament title game, right?

Whoa, whoa; let's slow down. This is Vanderbilt we're discussing here. This is the same program that has lost in the first round to double-digit seeds (Murray State, Siena and Richmond) in each of its last three tournament appearances.

This team may be suddenly surging after the performance in New Orleans, but the players haven't proved they can be trusted in the pressure-packed NCAA tournament -- no matter how much Melo's suspension might open things up.

"We deal in truth and reality, not perception and prediction,'' Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "What happens in the rest of the bracket doesn't impact us at all. Nothing does except how we play.''

But if the Commodores play the way they played in New Orleans last week, 12th-seeded Harvard will have a short stay in its first NCAA tournament in 66 years.

At the SEC tourney, Vandy's defense kept Georgia and Ole Miss under 60 points and held Kentucky to a mere 64. The significance of that win cannot be overstated.

"I would say you go from a team that knows it's capable of playing with anybody in the country to one knowing that they're capable of beating everybody in the country,'' Stallings said. "You have to beat the teams to prove it to yourself. We played them tough twice. But until you beat them, you're not 100 percent sure that you can. There is an extra bounce in their step and a sense of accomplishment and a sense of confidence. There's also a sense of excitement too.''

Vanderbilt is probably the worst possible matchup for Harvard. The Crimson get a team that's as hot as any in the country and one that plays a similar style to Harvard but has better, more productive players. Harvard probably would have been better served with a less disciplined opponent that can't make 3s.

"They are very athletic, more athletic than people give them credit for being in the SEC with incredible athletic teams that have been known throughout the years in that league,'' said Harvard coach Tommy Amaker.

Stallings was quick to compliment the Crimson on their fundamentals, the ability to shoot, ball-handle, pass and score inside as well as get to the foul line. He also doesn't hesitate to reference his school as "the Harvard of the South."

"I've used it a few times and I hope that the Harvard people don't take that as a slap in the face,'' Stallings said. "We obviously feel like we'd be comparing ourselves to greatness. We obviously really admire Harvard as an institution.''

The NCAA tournament selection committee says it doesn't consider opponents. But it's odd to see how much the two schools share a similar athletic vision. They are two of the most academic-rich schools in the field. And two of the hungriest.

"We basically ask the question 'Why not?' We just felt like our name and our school are as powerful as any,'' Amaker said. "There are other great ones obviously but we felt we were as powerful as any name in higher education and why not? Why can't we present this as an option for the correct kids that would want to see this as something to do something different, to make history?"

The Crimson have made their own history with a first bid in the modern era of the sport. A win would be a historic first.

Three players to watch

John Jenkins, 6-4, Jr., Vanderbilt: Jenkins was the SEC tournament MVP. He's one of the top shooters in the field. If he's on from the perimeter, the Commodores will be a tough out, and not just here but in Boston.

Jeffery Taylor,6-7, Sr., Vanderbilt: Taylor can score more as a slasher but his defense sets him apart. Taylor could be the key player in shutting down Harvard's wings.

Kyle Casey, Jr., F, Harvard: Casey is the one player on the Crimson who could pose some matchup issues for the Commodores. He has a knack for coming up big in key games and was instrumental in the Crimson's run to the Ivy League title thanks to his efficient offensive production.