Well, ESPN has done it again. Instead of looking at the actual game they’ve decided to look at seeding alone and refer to Western Kentucky’s 76-72 win over Illinois as the “only major NCAA upset of Day 1”. Um, major? Maybe when you consider that 69% of players in their “Tournament Challenge” game picked the Illini it’s a major upset, but the Hilltoppers were in control of this game for thirty-plus minutes. Then the craziness ensued, with a combination of Illinois finally making shots and WKU turning the ball over. Not to mention one of the more bizarre calls of the season, with Illinois being given the ball after the Hilltoppers threw the ball directly out of bounds with 1:21 remaining.
In replays it looked like Mike Davis tipped the ball before it went out of bounds, but it wasn’t ruled that way. If Davis didn’t touch the ball then why was the clock reset to 1:20 instead of 1:21? But for all of the Illini’s fight the Tops were able to hang on, with a pair of Anthony Sally free throws sealed it with 0.9 seconds remaining sealing the deal. All five starters scored in double figures for the Hilltoppers, led by Steffphon Pettigrew’s seventeen. Illinois was led by senior guard Trent Meachem, who finished with twenty-four points. Western Kentucky now moves on to face Gonzaga Saturday evening. Here are some of the other key happenings on the first day of the NCAA Tournament.
1. Memphis survives thanks to a record-setting performance from a seldom-used reserve.
Roburt Sallie rarely got of the bench this season, due in large part to the fact that the junior college transfer has struggled on the defensive end of the floor. But with three starters on the bench with foul trouble in the first half, Sallie came off the bench to score thirty-five points on 10-for-15 from behind the arc. The point total passes the great Larry Kenon for the school record in an NCAA Tournament game, while the three pointers fell one shy of Loyola Marymount’s Jeff Fryer record of eleven back in 1990. If not for Sallie and Antonio Anderson the Tigers could have paid dearly for overlooking the Matadors of Cal-State Northridge, champions of the Big West who refused to back down.
“My job is to have the swagger role but I've got to be on top of the arrogance, because arrogance comes to slippage cool,” said head coach John Calipari after the game. “You want to be cool, versus really aggressive and tough. So the swagger for us went to a little bit of arrogance.” Next up for Memphis is ten-seed Maryland, who made a second-half run to put away Cal in the second game of the afternoon in Kansas City. Look for Memphis to be ready to go from the start on Saturday.
2. Same matchup, same result.
For the second consecutive year Texas A&M met BYU in an 8/9 game, and for the second consecutive year the Aggies rode solid inside play to the victory. Texas A&M came out of the gates on fire, hitting their first ten field goals to sprint out to a 24-8 lead. The Cougars could get no closer than eight (that was in the first half), shooting just thirty-nine percent from the field while the Aggies were 57.7%. Of the thirty field goals that A&M made twenty were assisted, and the only starter not to reach double figures (Chinemelu Elonu, 8 points) went ahead and grabbed ten rebounds.
Their physical ability inside is something that gives them a chance in their second round tilt Saturday with top seed Connecticut, something that the smaller Cougars could not handle. “We play physical,” said head coach Mark Turgeon after the game. “Good teams do. We don't play football, but we play physical. So I think it helped us.” Going up against the likes of Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien on Saturday, the Aggies will need that same level of physical play if they’re to advance to the Sweet 16.
3. Hot starts rule the afternoon.
The Aggies weren’t the only team in the day session to get out to a quick start. Purdue got out to a 16-6 lead on Northern Iowa in Portland, with the Panthers turning the ball over five times on their first ten possessions of the game. LSU ran out to a 9-0 lead on Butler in Greensboro, leading by as many as thirteen in the first half before taking a six-point lead into the locker room at the half. Maryland jumped out to a 10-3 lead on Cal in Kansas City. All three teams won, with their opponents expending a lot of energy to simply get back into the game. Another thing those three victors have in common: second-half runs to answer those comebacks. All will be going up against teams on Saturday that either have more offensive firepower or are seeded higher so they’ll need today’s quick start to become the norm in order to advance.
4. Down three with seconds to go against Michigan, Clemson really could have used Terrence Oglesby.
Oglesby, who struggled in a big way against the Wolverines’ zone defense, was thrown out early in the second half for an elbow thrown at Michigan’s Stu Douglass. Clemson came back from a second-half run that put the Wolverines up 58-43 with just under six minutes to go, holding John Beilein’s team without a field goal for more than five minutes. But down 62-59 with thirteen seconds remaining, a confusing possession ensued with senior K.C. Rivers eventually tossing up a contested three with two seconds to go. Shot goes wide, and Clemson is once again left to wonder “what if” following a disappointing NCAA Tournament loss.
Next up for Michigan is Oklahoma, and if they can play efficiently on the offensive end they may be able to give the Sooners some trouble with their zone defense.
5. Villanova survives American…in Philadelphia.
On Sunday it looked as if the Wildcats had their road to the East Regional in Boston paved for them with two games in Philadelphia. At halftime Thursday night there was the distinct possibility of Villanova taking the 17-mile trek back to their campus on the Main Line. Led by guards Derrick Mercer and Garrison Carr, the Eagles went into the locker room up ten and led in the second half by as many as fourteen before Jay Wright’s team snapped to life. The Wildcats, instead of trying to show that they could shoot from the perimeter as well (a strategy that didn’t work in the first half), attacked the basket and took control of the game once Carr went to the bench with his fourth foul. Finally the Wildcats were able to gain separation, winning 80-67 to move on to a second round showdown with UCLA Saturday.
“I think this game was more just us having bigger, stronger athletes at the end,” said head coach Jay Wright in the postgame press conference. “In the end, they were getting some good shots still. I think they were a little worn down. We were getting more rebounds. We were driving the ball better, getting to the foul line [as a result].” Villanova will have to do more of the same if they’re to beat the Bruins, a team that can make opponents one-dimensional on offense with their brand of defense.
6. Thursday Superlatives
Player of the Day: Memphis G Roburt Sallie (35 points, 10-for-15 3PT)
Team of the Day: Western Kentucky
Special Occasion: Tyler Hansbrough breaking J.J. Redick’s ACC career scoring record in the Tar Heels’ 101-58 beating of Radford.
What in the world were you thinking: Morgan State forward Ameer Ali for his judo throw of Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin.
Newsworthy ailment: Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun missed their first round game against Chattanooga due to dehydration. He’ll spend the night in a Philadelphia hospital (precautionary), most likely returning to the bench for the second round game on Saturday. “I think we would have been more fired up if coach was here,” said UConn point guard A.J. Price. “Chattanooga actually got off easy, I think, by coach not being here today.” Final score: 103-47.
7. Thursday’s Scores
Greensboro: #7 Texas 76, #10 Minnesota 62; #2 Duke 86, #15 Binghamton 62
Philadelphia: #3 Villanova 80, #14 American 67; #6 UCLA 65, #11 VCU 64
Greensboro: #8 LSU 75, #9 Butler 71; #1 North Carolina 101, #16 Radford 58
Kansas City: #10 Michigan 62, #7 Clemson 59; #2 Oklahoma 82, #15 Morgan State 54
Portland: #4 Gonzaga 77, #13 Akron 64; #12 Western Kentucky 76, #5 Illinois 72
Kansas City: #2 Memphis 81, #15 Cal-State Northridge 70; #10 Maryland 84, #7 California 71
Philadelphia: #9 Texas A&M 79, #8 BYU 66; #1 Connecticut 103, #16 Chattanooga 47
Portland: #5 Purdue 61, #12 Northern Iowa 56; #4 Washington 71, #13 Mississippi State 58