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UCLA stops Cincy; Salukis stun Georgia

SPECIAL TO ESPN.COM


(8) UCLA 105, (1) Cincinnati 101 (2 OTs)
What a magnificent season the Cincinnati Bearcats had -- they were one of the premier teams in America and earned the right to be a No. 1 seed. But standing in their way Sunday were the UCLA Bruins, a dangerous No. 8 seed. The Bruins showed their incredible potential with a win over Kansas earlier this season. The problem this season has been that you never knew which UCLA team would show up. Well, the Bruins are showing up at tourney time -- the most important time of the year.
More on UCLA-Cincinnati...

(2) Oklahoma 78, (7) Xavier 65
The kids from Xavier battled and battled, but in the end Oklahoma forward Aaron McGhee (25 points) and guard Ebi Ere (20) were too much. McGhee is one of my Elite Eight PTPers from the first two rounds; he scored 26 in the Sooners' first-round victory over Illinois-Chicago. McGhee has been a dominant force on the inside for coach Kelvin Sampson.

Sampson is one of America's premiere coaches, and he has his Sooners ready to make some noise. David West and Co. tested Oklahoma, but McGhee and Ere were too much too handle. Oklahoma now advances to the Sweet 16 to face Arizona -- wow, what a matchup! The magical passing ability of Luke Walton vs. the multi-talented offensive ability of Ebi Ere ... McGhee vs. Channing Frye on the interior ... Sampson vs. Lute Olson. What a big-time game, baby!


(2) Connecticut 77, (7) N.C. State 74
What a nail-biter -- talk about Maalox time. It was a heartbreaker for Wolfpack coach Herb Sendek, but what a fantastic job he did this season. Remember, last year lots of people were screaming for Sendek's head. But he kept battling, he had the support of AD Lee Fowler (this year's NCAA tourney chair), and he got N.C. State to the Big Dance for the first time since 1991. It's hard to believe this program endured a decade-long tourney drought.

N.C. State played outstanding basketball Sunday, but UConn had the best player on the floor in Caron Butler. Every time the Huskies needed a big play, coach Jim Calhoun turned to his super, sensational sophomore. Butler (34 points, nine rebounds) made one big play after another, especially down the stretch. He was flawless from the free-throw line (12-of-12) -- including five clutch freebies in the final 11 seconds to ice the win.

Butler is my overall PTPer for the first two rounds of the tournament. UConn also got a great performance from guard Tony Robertson (18 points, 8-of-11 from field); Robertson was up and down during the season but is now playing his best basketball. Calhoun is one of those coaches who knows how to prepare a team and get his players ready for postseason action.

(11) Southern Illinois 77, (3) Georgia 75
It was Upset City in Chicago, baby -- Southern Illinois got a break playing at the United Center in Chicago. Coach Jim Harrick and Georgia had a tough matchup against a tough-minded Southern Illinois club. Jermaine Dearman (25 points) was a star of stars for the Salukis in both victories.

Southern Illinois was down 19 early and it looked like a blowout, but Dearman and Co. kept battling back bit by bit. With strong defense and good shot selection -- the Salukis didn't panic -- they whittled away at the lead and earned a hard-fought victory. Now they move on the Sweet 16 with two other double-digit seeds, 10th-seeded Kent State (in the South) and 12th-seeded Missouri (in the West).

(1) Maryland 87, (8) Wisconsin 57
Maryland did what was expected -- the Terps have too much talent and played in front of a home crowd at the MCI Arena. But Maryland could have played Wisconsin anywhere and dominated with superior athletic ability and size inside (in Lonny Baxter and Chris Wilcox). Juan Dixon led Maryland with 29 points and surpassed Len Bias as the career scoring leader at Maryland.

Wisconsin started strong, controlling tempo and and jumping to an early lead. But once Maryland got its transition game going and made it an up-tempo contest, it was all Terps. The Terps now move on the Sweet 16 to face Kentucky. What a Goliath vs. Goliath matchup ... if the real Kentucky team shows up, this will be a real barn-burner, baby!


(4) Illinois 72, (12) Creighton 60
Illinois coach Bill Self is back in familiar territory -- he's in the Sweet 16 again. Self led Tulsa to the Elite Eight in 2000 and returned to the Elite Eight with Illinois last year. Illinois advanced Sunday with a win over a solid Creighton team from the Missouri Valley Conference. Creighton came to play but ran into a buzz saw in the Illini.

Illinois' 3-point shooting has been superb (23-46 in the first two rounds). That's tough to overcome. Big man Brian Cook (16 points) was a factor for Illinois on Sunday before getting into foul trouble. But the Frank Williams show made the difference for the Illini. Williams was nowhere to be found in the first half but scored all 20 of his points in the second half (giving him 45 overall in the first two rounds). When Williams is on, he's the catalyst -- he makes Illinois go and his teammates feed off his performance.

Playing in a home-court environment in Chicago at the United Center was a big plus for the Illini. If you had told Self back in November that his team would play San Diego State and Creighton in Chicago for a chance to go to the Sweet 16, he probably wouldn't have believed it. Hey, maybe we should call it the Illini Classic, baby!

(6) Texas 68, (3) Mississippi State 64
It looked like a blowout for coach Rick Barnes and Texas in Dallas -- not a bad place to play for Texas, with Longhorns fans galore in the house. Texas came out and pounced on SEC tournament champion Mississippi State, taking a 22-point lead. Texas was led by forwards Deginald Erskin (17 points, 8-of-9 from the field) and Brian Boddicker (11 points) as well as point guard T.J. Ford (11 points, six assists).

Late in the game, coach Rick Stansbury's Bulldogs cut the lead to two and it became a nail-biter. But Texas found a way to survive and advance. Texas is one of four Big 12 teams in the Sweet 16 (with Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma).


(3) Pittsburgh 63, (6) California 50
The Big East is known for tough defense, and Pitt demonstrated its own tough D by shutting out Cal for nearly 10 minutes in the second half to advance to the Sweet 16. Pitt hasn't been there since 1974, baby! The Panthers also benefited from playing in front of their home crowd (as did Illinois, Texas and Maryland).

Sophomore Julius Page led the Panthers on offense with 17 points (7-of-10 from the field, 3-of-6 on trifectas). Junior point guard Brandin Knight scored 11 points with seven assists and just one turnover. Knight hurt his knee in Pitt's Big East title-game loss to UConn, but it looks like he's OK based on his play in the first two rounds.

Next up for Pitt is a surprise Sweet 16 team, a Cinderella -- Kent State. The Panthers better take 10th-seeded Kent State seriously, baby -- just ask Oklahoma State and Alabama.

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