Writer: Richard Deitsch
Game: Connecticut-Old Dominion
Post time: 3:57 p.m., Sunday
GREENSBORO -- The end of the Rutgers-George Washington game can't come soon enough because today has been interminable. Greensboro Coliseum is half-empty and the upper tier is covered by black curtains. Black is an appropriate color. It's rainy outside and the atmosphere reminds me of a Knicks game. Rutgers leads George Washington 42-32 with 9:22 left in the second half and UConn beat Old Dominion 78-63 in the first game.
So here comes the first heavyweight fight of the NCAA women's tournament. You'll hear a lot of chatter over the next 48 hours about how the Rutgers-UConn rivalry (the teams split two games this year) has become the nation's best, but you won't hear that from the UConn staff.
"At this point, playing Rutgers is not about a rivalry," says Connecticut assistant coach Jamelle Elliott. "It's about winning a game that we haven't won in a few years."
No kidding. The Huskies last played in a Final Four in 2004, which for fickle UConn fans may as well be 1904. UConn coach Geno Auriemma has long described the regional final as the toughest game to win in the NCAA tournament. He is 8-6 lifetime in Elite Eight games.
"I call it the Hilary step at Everest," Auriemma said. "More people die at the spot than anywhere else."
Writer: Stewart Mandel
Post time: 3:20 p.m., Sunday
DETROIT -- During the off day between games here Saturday, a fellow writer and I tried to come up with a recent college player one could compare to Davidson star Stephen Curry. We couldn't.
What Curry has accomplished the past three games -- averaging 34.3 points, highest in the tourney (minimum three games) since Loyola Marymount's Bo Kimble in 1990 -- would be remarkable for anyone, nevertheless a diminutive, 6-foot-3 shooting guard.
It's one thing for a big man like Tyler Hansbrough or Kevin Love to dominate the way both did in Saturday night's Elite Eight games. It's easier for them to simply impose their physicality. Shooting guards are susceptible to so many factors -- a cold shooting night, a taller defender, not getting the ball in the right spot -- that make his three straight 30-plus nights that much more remarkable. We've seen shooters go off in the tourney (remember Gerry McNamara's title-game performance against Kansas?) but often it's because they're left wide open by the defense collapsing on someone inside (like Carmelo Anthony). Curry, for the most part, creates his own opportunities.
So how does one go about describing Curry's game? His sweet shooting stroke is reminiscent of Duke's J.J. Redick, but Curry has a much quicker release. The way he flies around the court is reminiscent of Illinois' Dee Brown, but Brown was nowhere near this kind of scorer. And as Curry showed with his acrobatic reverse layup against Wisconsin and his late-game drive through the entire Georgetown defense, he's much more than a shooter. He's also a pretty darn good defender, notching four steals against the Bagders.
It doesn't help that Curry himself doesn't find anything particularly unique about his skills. "What I do best is run around like a little kid off screens," he said. "... It's nothing special that I do. I just get screens and when I'm open, I get the ball. I have a lot of confidence to shoot it. Nothing special I'm doing it."
If anyone can think of a comparable, modern college player, by all means, let me know. I can only say that the way Curry single-handedly takes over such big games reminds me of watching Michael Jordan in the NBA Finals. Obviously, I'm not delusional enough to think the scrawny Curry is as talented as the greatest player in the history of the sport ... but then again, Jordan himself was never this dominant in college.
Post time: 11:07 p.m., Saturday
PHOENIX -- Darren Collison admitted he had to play smarter after he fouled out of UCLA's Sweet 16 game against Western Kentucky with 5:39 left to play. "That was the first time I've been fouled out -- ever," Collison said Friday. "It was a weird feeling. It was like I got benched real early in the game."
Saturday's 76-57 win over Xavier was a different story. Collison played 37 minutes, committed one foul, and tied with teammate Kevin Love for a game-high 19 points.
"I just wanted to make a statement," Collison said. "I felt like I let the team down a little bit [against Western Kentucky]. My coach told me good players don't have two bad games in a row."
The majority of the more than 18,000 fans at the U.S. Airways Center were behind Collison and the Bruins, with the "U-C-L-A" chants drowning out the chants of "Let's Go X." One Bruins bunch near the baseline kept booing the Xavier band. At one point, one member of the bunch shouted, "Go back to Cincinnati. Your city sucks."
The Xavier band went back to Cincinnati but not without some souvenirs they picked up Friday night back at the team hotel. A few band members had decorated white T-shirts they bought in Phoenix to read, "Mid-Major This" (with a big "X" in the middle). While hanging out on their hotel-room balcony, they talked to Musketeers forward Joe Hughes and guard Stephen Duckett, who were out on the balcony directly above them. The band members ended up getting the shirts signed by Hughes, guard Danté Jackson, guard Stanley Burrell and forward B.J. Raymond. Trombone player Kurt Westfall proudly draped his souvenir over the front of the band's section during the game. Said Westfall, "This is being framed."
Writer: Andy Staples
Game: Louisville-North Carolina
Post time: 10:07 p.m., Saturday
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- If you're only glancing at the score, North Carolina's 44-32 halftime lead might make it seem as if the Tar Heels are crushing Louisville. That isn't the case.
Against any other team in the country -- with the possible exception of Memphis during Friday's first half -- Louisville would be much closer. North Carolina point guard Ty Lawson's speed makes trapping him in the backcourt nearly impossible but the Cardinals kept trying for much of the half. As a result, the Tar Heels scored 12 fast break points. Perhaps the best indicator of just how good this North Carolina team is: Louisville shot 52 percent in the first half and is still down by a dozen.
Still, if the Cardinals can make shots and cut down on the turnovers -- they had 11 in the first half -- they have a chance. Remember, late in the first, Louisville slashed an 11-point deficit to five in about three minutes. If the Heels don't keep the pressure on, the Cardinals may have a comeback in them. If North Carolina learned its lesson after squandering an 11-point second-half lead in last year's Elite Eight loss to Georgetown, Louisville may not get that chance.
Writer: Andy Staples
Game: Louisville-North Carolina
Post time: Saturday, 9:48 p.m.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- One of the lovelier aspects of a Louisville-North Carolina matchup is the hoops savvy of just about everyone in the building. As someone who has covered the SEC -- where the non-Kentucky fans typically can't come up with anything more creative than "You suck!" -- for the past four years, it's awfully refreshing.
For example, when Louisville guard Terrence Williams tattooed a Wayne Ellington floater with a "Don't bring that weak mess up in here" swat, the North Carolina cheerleader sitting on the far left in the front row on the baseline raised her left index and middle fingers and quickly thrust her hand down. That's right, at Louisville-North Carolina, even the cheerleaders know the sign for goaltending.