Agganis Lives

   Admit it, North Carolina fans. In the first half yesterday, while Ty Lawson was getting his sock and shoe readjusted and he was still hurting from stubbing his bum toe once again, you had visions of what happened to Illinois on Thursday when a point guard goes down.

   And even when he returned to the game, you dreaded thinking about it when LSU erased a nine-point halftime deficit just like that.

   But then, like some bad Hollywood product, Lawson woke his team up, scoring 21 of 23 points in the second half. North Carolina needed that explosion against an LSU team that has gotten little respect this year thanks to the Incredible Shrinking SEC. Suddenly, the Heels look that dominating veteran presence that cast a giant shadow over the world in November.

   With the coast-to-coast drive for the old-school three-point play that ignited the decisive 10-0 run, Player of the Day Lawson might as well have declared to the world, "I'm baaaaaaaaaack!" after missing his team's tentative ACC tournament and glorified scrimmage with Radford.

   This tournament has a clear team to beat once again.

   A few more thoughts after yesterday's second-rounders:

   * The CBS producers finally got tested by two simultaneous fantastic finishes last night. Kudos to Greg Gumbel for not stepping on the drama when they cut to the final seconds of the dramatic Gonzaga-Western Kentucky game, a thriller which unfortunately got little airing outside Kentucky, Washington and maybe Oregon and Idaho.

   * In a perfect world, Demetri Goodson's charge downcourt to the Zags' winning basket (and bravo, Mark Few, for running it without a timeout after watching a nine-point lead evaporate in the final 2:14) would get just as much lasting run as Tyus Edney's second-round finisher in the '95 UCLA-Missouri game. And to my guy Kenny McDonald's team, great show - Orlando Mendez-Valdez put himself front and center for the Stephen Curry Award with seven treys and 25 points. Let's see what Cleveland State's Cedric Jackson does today against Arizona.

   * After Texas rallies from 10 down in the final seven minutes, Duke pulls out the kind of tournament grinder that's gotten away in recent years. But who would've thought the highlight-film play of the game would be Jon Scheyer desperately heaving a ball downcourt before crashing out of bounds?

   * Texas A&M's not a bad team, but that game was over after the first couple of times the Aggies went into the lane against Hasheem Thabeet? The big guy's come a long way from the big stiff I saw two years ago. In Al McGuire-speak, he's gone from All-Airport to Aircraft Carrier. He's not nearly a finished product, but with his athleticism, he'll be a better pro than Greg Oden.

   * I'm already geeked for (barring upsets) a monster UConn-Memphis Elite 8 game. The whole Tiger squad showed up yesterday, while, unfortunately for Maryland, Greivis Vasquez didn't arrive until the game was no longer a contest. The Terps could've used young Roberto Duran's style and just a little arrogance much earlier.

   * Minnesota Fats wasn't built to b-ball, but he sure would've appreciated those two bank shots Corey Fisher threw in off the top of the backboard to propel Villanova to a rout of UCLA. Enjoy that game, Bruin haters - those freshmen will be back.

   * Purdue looked like a veteran champ in the 15th round barely holding off Washington. The Boilermakers are probably done at Sweet Sixteen, but JaJuan Johnson's inside play helped them survived the bombs Isiah Thomas (unfortunate name!) and Jon Brockman threw at them.



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