V-RECAPS | NCAA Tournament, First Round | Thursday, March 20 (final update)
(5) Connecticut 58, (12) BYU 53 -- Sophomore center Emeka Okafor had a huge game, with 20 points and seven blocked shots, dominating on the interior against the tenacious Cougars. BYU hung around and made the game a half-court contest, doing a great job keeping UConn out of transition. The late basket by Ben Gordon was a really big play. UConn's win saved brackets all across America. If BYU had won and then advanced to the Sweet 16, it would have been shipped to a different region due to the NCAA's mistake regarding BYU's no-Sunday rule (as a Mormon school).
The bottom line is that the Huskies will have to keep getting shots for Okafor. He only took 13 shots in the last two games of the Big East tournament, but they got the ball to him Thursday. He must be a factor for them to advance. Coach Jim Calhoun has to be a little concerned that his offense has been held under 60 points in the past two games. It's the first time all season that has occurred, but knowing Calhoun, he will make an adjustment and get his players ready for Saturday's game against Stanford.
(4) Stanford 77, (13) San Diego 69 -- Stanford jumped out to an early 14-2 lead and forged ahead by as many as 19 points. It looked like it would be an easy W. But San Diego coach Brad Holland, the former UCLA player, had other ideas. His club scrapped and scrapped and got back in the game, making it a Maalox masher. Stanford super soph Josh Childress (22 points, 11 rebounds) proved to be too much for San Diego, though Julius Barnes had a poor shooting day (5-of-15). He'll need to be better vs. UConn in the second round. Will the Cardinal have enough to offset UConn's super-soph duo of Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon?
Stanford's Mike Montgomery has to be one of the top five candidates for national coach of the year. The Cardinal lost Curtis Borchardt and Casey Jacobsen, who declared early for the NBA draft (both could have played this season).
(11) Central Michigan 79, (6) Creighton 73 -- Creighton was the highest-ranked mid-major team for much of the season, and Kyle Korver was sensational (my choice for national player of the year). But Korver and Co. stumbled to start this game, falling behind by as many as 26 points. Central Michigan, led by coach Jay Smith, did a phenomenal job defensively, with 7-foot center Chris Kaman causing problems inside. But Creighton didn't win 29 games this season by accident, and Korver and Co. showed lots of heart by rallying and cutting the lead to two. But Central's senior forward, Mike Manciel, was strong inside, scoring 29 points.
This is nothing new for the MAC, baby -- every year in the tourney, it seems a MAC team causes havoc. Ball State, Eastern Michigan, Miami of Ohio, Kent State ... and this year it's Central Michigan.
(10) Arizona State 84, (7) Memphis 71 -- Memphis was in the Big Dance for the first time since 1996, but coach John Calipari's favored Tigers couldn't pull off the W despite the double-double effort of senior forward Chris Massie (20 points on 8-of-14 shooting plus 13 boards). Superstar diaper dandy Ike Diogu led the way for the Sun Devils (22 points on 9-of-11 shooting plus five boards). Yes, Syracuse freshman Carmelo Anthony is my national freshman of the year, but Diogu is definitely in the top five. Arizona State was able to bounce back after losing an 83-82 heartbreaker to Oregon in the Pac-10 tournament. Sun Devils guard Curtis Millage complemented Diogu, posting a double-double (17 points, 11 boards).
(3) Duke 67, (14) Colorado State 57 -- Duke survived a serious scare, with senior Dahntay Jones scoring 23 points before fouling out. No question, they need him to stay in the lineup. Freshman guard J.J. Redick hit key free throws down the stretch, and freshman forward Shelden Williams made a crucial basket to help Duke pull away. The final score was not indicative of the kind of nail-biter this game was. One concern for coach Mike Krzyzewski: Chris Duhon struggled again with his shooting (2-of-7 from the field). Duke will be tested inside by Central Michigan and 7-foot center Chris Kaman in the second round.
(5) Notre Dame 70, (12) Wisconsin-Milwaukee 69 -- The Irish survived quite a scare against a gutsy Wisconsin-Milwaukee team coached Bruce Pearl, the former assistant under Dr. Tom Davis. Sophomore guard Chris Thomas led Notre Dame with 27 points. Coach Mike Brey's Irish have to be concerned with the injury status of senior guard Matt Carroll, one of the most improved players in America, who was hurt during the game. The Irish really need a healthy Carroll against Illinois in the second round.
(2) Kansas 64, (15) Utah State 61 -- Give coach Stew Morrill's club credit for hanging tough against Kansas. But the Jayhawks still won their 20th straight opening-round NCAA tourney game. Last year, Kansas was tested against Holy Cross before pulling away at the end. This time it went down to the wire, as Utah State had a couple of 3-point opportunities in the closing seconds that would have tied the game. Coach Roy Williams and Co. were fortunate that both shots missed, and they hung on to advance to play Arizona State in the second round.
(4) Illinois 65, (13) Western Kentucky 60 -- Coach Bill Self's Illini struggled to put away Western Kentucky. Self has done a masterful job, winning the Big Ten tourney with a diaper-dandy starting backcourt, Dee Brown and Deron Williams. Brown's energy and ability made the difference Thursday (16 points, eight assists, seven rebounds). The Illini survived even though senior forward Brian Cook fouled out. Defense in the game's last five minutes made all the difference for Illinois. I love the Illinois fans, the Orange Crush, who are jumping with joy since their Illini have advanced.
Still, it was an amazing season for Western Kentucky's Dennis Felton. Felton lost 7-foot center Chris Marcus, a sure-fire NBA first-rounder, to injury, as well as 6-9 forward Todor Pandov (who injured his knee in the season's first game vs. Arizona). How many coaches could lose two key guys and still win the Sun Belt championship -- and then challenge the Big Ten tournament champs?
(1) Arizona 80, (16) Vermont 51 -- You have to feel for the Catamounts, who had a tough time traveling to Utah because of a snowstorm. The journey certainly didn't make life easy for coach Tom Brennan. But what really made life tough was Arizona's talent level, which shows why the Wildcats are a No. 1 seed. When you look at the numbers, one thing jumps out at me that needs to change if Arizona wants to live up to its billing as a national-title contender: Jason Gardner's shooting.
Gardner was 0-for-5 from 3-point range (2-for-9 overall) -- and that's coming off a 2-for-20 performance in Arizona's quarterfinal loss to UCLA in the Pac-10 tournament. The Wildcats didn't need Gardner's scoring against Vermont, but they'll need it against Gonzaga, a tough group of kids who won't back down. Zags forward Ronny Turiaf can get to the basket, as indicated by his 16-for-22 from the free-throw line vs. Cincinnati on Thursday. Gonzaga vs. Arizona, David vs. Goliath. But to people who follow college basketball, Gonzaga is no longer a David, baby!
(9) Gonzaga 74, (8) Cincinnati 69 -- Gonzaga, a Cinderella story in recent years, has proven already it can play with the big boys, and Thursday against Cincinnati was no different. Bearcats star Leonard Stokes really struggled, shooting 2-for-10 and scoring only seven points. Gonzaga's defensive plan really shut him down. Cincy big man Jason Maxiell got in foul trouble and that spelled trouble for coach Bob Huggins, who was ejected and saw the Bulldogs take advantage by converting four technical-foul free throws.
Gonzaga's Ronny Turiaf, normally a sixth man, started and went 16-for-22 from the free-throw line, scoring 22 points to go with 10 rebounds. He was a dominant factor. Winston Brooks also played a solid game with 11 points, seven rebounds and only two turnovers on the perimeter in 36 minutes. Gonzaga marches on and gets ready to face Arizona.
(13) Tulsa 84, (4) Dayton 71 -- Dayton staged a tremendous comeback in the second half, but Tulsa hung on thanks to great play from the backcourt of Jason Parker and Dante Swanson (each had 24 points and six assists). Some may consider Tulsa's win the biggest upset of the day, since Dayton was the lowest seed to post a victory on Thursday. But I disagree, because I was more surprised by sixth-seeded Creighton's loss to 11th-seeded Central Michigan in the West Region.
(5) Wisconsin 81, (12) Weber State 74 -- Many observers thought Weber State was capable of surprising the Big Ten regular-season champion, but coach Bo Ryan's Badgers were impressive. Some people feel that Wisconsin isn't able to score, but the Badgers scored 80-plus for the 10th time this season (they're 9-1 in those games). As usual, senior guard Kirk Penney was the leader (21 points, nine boards, five assists). Wisconsin avenged a loss to Weber State last season in a tournament in Hawaii.
(6) Missouri 72, (11) Southern Illinois 71 -- The Tigers had their hands full against a competitive Southern Illinois squad. Coach Bruce Weber's Salukis showed why they went to the Sweet 16 last year. Their one-two punch of Kent Williams and Jermaine Dearman certainly can play for anybody in America, and Webber is a rising star in coaching. But at the end, Williams' jumper from the baseline would not go down, and Missouri was able to escape with a one-point victory.
The reason for the W was the dominant inside play of Arthur Johnson and Rickey Paulding -- the combination on the interior, both from the Motor City, certainly made the difference. Junior guard Ricky Clemons had a rough game. And if coach Quin Snyder has one concern, it has to be turnovers (23). Next the Tigers will face Marquette. If they turn it over more than 20 times, they'll be in trouble against the Golden Eagles. Clemons needs to step up in that matchup.
(3) Marquette 72, (14) Holy Cross 68 -- Marquette had a tough game versus Holy Cross, but we shouldn't be shocked. This is the third straight year the Crusaders have been competitive against heavily favored opponents (Kentucky in 2001 and Kansas last year). Marquette's All-Rolls Royce player, Dwyane Wade, had a nightmarish first half as he went 0-for-3 and didn't score a point. But it was the brilliant play of Travis Diener that saved the Golden Eagles. Diener shot under 40 percent in the regular season but hit 9-of-14 shots, including 5-of-9 trifectas. Wade ended up scoring 15 points in the second half, and that was enough for Marquette to hang on.
Holy Cross coach Ralph Willard certainly knew a lot about Golden Eagles head coach Tom Crean, having hired Crean years ago at Western Kentucky. Willard said at the time that he was immensely impressed, and there is no question Crean is one of the rising stars in coaching. His star continues to shine as Marquette marches on to the second round.
(1) Oklahoma 71, (16) South Carolina State 54 -- Oklahoma and South Carolina State was an M&Mer (a mismatch, baby). The big story in this game was that Sooners senior guard Hollis Price only played 11 minutes. The status of his groin injury is a question mark. Let me tell you, he'll have to be on his A game and healthy for Oklahoma to advance in the next round. Ebi Ere shot just 2-for-14. The second half of the season has been a struggle for Ere, who lost the starting job to DeAngelo Alexander.
In the second round, Oklahoma meets California, which has physical toughness on the inside with Gabriel Hughes, Joe Shipp and Co. Coach Kelvin Sampson's team must get a big-time performance on the baseline from players like Kevin Bookout, Jabahri Brown and Co. to negate some of the Golden Bears' strength. This should be a great matchup. Cal coach Ben Braun knows how to win in the tournament -- including a Sweet 16 trip when he was at Eastern Michigan. And Sampson has certainly become one of the Rolls Royce coaches in American and would like to go to the Final Four in consecutive years.
With Oklahoma, one name jumps out -- Hollis Price. You've got to believe that Price and Quannas White will be charged up big-time. They don't want to be denied the chance to get back home where they started their careers as high school stars in New Orleans (the site of this year's Final Four).
(8) California 76, (8) N.C. State 74 -- This game was a thing of beauty. The last three plays were absolutely incredible. Joe Shipp, California's big-time scorer, hit a big bucket late to give the Golden Bears the edge, only to see Scooter Sherrill come back and drain a 3-pointer to give N.C. State a two-point lead. But it wasn't enough, as Richard Midgley, the diaper dandy from England, hit a big 3 to give coach Ben Braun and Cal of the Pac-10 a big victory over N.C. State of the ACC.
Poor shot selection hurt coach Herb Sendek's Wolfpack down the stretch. The Wolfpack battled, but Cal rebounded from a 17-point loss to USC in the Pac-10 tournament to move on. Shipp has great scoring ability taking the ball or creating plenty of problems on the wing. California also got a solid performance of Gabriel Hughes with 13 points (5-for-5 from the field) and nine rebounds, and that certainly played a big part in Braun's squad getting the W.