Writer: Arash Markazi
Game: Texas A&M-UCLA
Post Time: 1:07 a.m., Sunday
ANAHEIM, Calif. - Ben Howland apologized as he sucked on a throat lozenge outside of UCLA's locker room.
"I'm sorry guys," he whispered to a group of reporters. "I lost my voice."
After his Bruins almost lost their second-round game to No. 9 seed Texas A&M, it seemed like a fair trade off.
While it appears that no No. 1 seed has an easier road to the Final Four than UCLA, the Bruins, much like they have done this season, seem more inclined to offer last minute dramatics than double-digit wins.
"That was reminiscent of a lot of games we seem to be in lately, where, we're having to make dramatic comebacks in the last few minutes," said Howland after UCLA pulled off a 53-49 win after trailing for much of the game. "The one thing I love about our team is that they know in their heart they're going to win the game. They're going to find the way."
Not surprisingly, the Bruins found their way to the Sweet 16 by following the lead of its star freshman playing in his first NCAA tournament. With UCLA trailing by 10 in the second half, Kevin Love took over the game and energized a shell-shocked home crowd by blocking every shot he was around and nailing big shots on the other end of the floor.
After every big play Love, who nearly had a triple-double with 19 points, 11 rebounds and 8 blocks, screamed at the crowd, pumped his fists in the air and wagged his tongue out, trying to get his teammates and the UCLA fans into the game.
"Basketball's an emotional game, whether you like to show it or not," said Love. "I was just very into it. I think I flexed so much, my muscles kind of hurt after. I also kept sticking out my tongue. It was pretty crazy... I guess you could call it March Madness."
Post Time: 11:22 p.m., Saturday
OMAHA -- The UNLV band regularly punctuated deadballs and downbeats with jeers of "Uh-huh! Tastes like chicken! Uh-huh! Tastes like chicken!" directed at Kansas' mascot.
But the Running Rebels weren't quite successful in hunting their game bird, as the Midwest's top-seeded Kansas team spurned a first-half threat and pulled away with the 75-56 victory.
Bill Self-coached teams have ranked in the top-eight nationally in field-goal percentage defense each of the last six years, including No. 5 this season at 38.2 percent, and Saturday, Kansas held UNLV to just 12 field goals all game, at a meager 26.7 percent clip -- a number Self was quick to downplay.
"That's a little misleading," Self said. "We weren't that good. They missed some looks that they probably normally make. And, you know, fouling is obviously part of defense. We did a very poor job with that."
Thus, the Rebels hung around by aggressively driving the lane and drawing fouls, briefly taking the lead as late as 21-19 and trailing by only five at the half.
Brandon Rush fouled out for the first time in his career, while Darnell Jackson, Sasha Kaun and Russell Robinson each picked up four. No one was more successful at getting to the line than the Rebels' Wink Adams. The 6-foot guard was just 5-of-13 from the floor, tallying five layups but not converting a single jump shot. Still, he drew contact inside and hit 15-of-17 foul shots for his 25 points.
In Kansas' seven-man rotation, one thing lacking is depth in the front court, so foul trouble among the big man can be a problem. But the Jayhawks showed an ability to adapt. Self went to a small lineup, against his scouting report, and it made the difference.
Kansas' guard play proved too quick and elusive, and UNLV's smallish front-court wasn't able to stand tall on the second line of defense. The Rebels' tallest starter is Joe Darger, a scrawny 6-foot-7 forward with a gelled-up mohawk and ever-present piece of chewing gum, who mostly plays on the perimeter. Jayhawks guards Russell Robinson and Sherron Collins each scored 10 points after intermission, each slashing his way to multiple buckets on tight drives to the hoop. And Mario Chalmers, who started an uncharacteristic 1-of-6 on three-pointers, didn't miss any of his four jumpers inside the arc, for a total of 17 points.
"I just tried to get in the lane to make something happen," Collins said. "When I got in there, they didn't collapse on me, so I went to the basket."
Though the foul trouble may have exposed the minor weakness that is Kansas' short front-court bench, it also highlighted their surplus of scoring guards. Though Robinson and Collins aren't usually counted on for their offense, they proved they were more than capable.
"We thought our advantage was size," Self said. "Fouls and everything dictated differently. We went four [guards] around one [forward] and really open, spread the floor, and that [helped] Sherron and Russell's game as far as getting in there and making plays."
In UNLV's rout of Kent State on Thursday, in which it held the Golden Flashes to just 10 first-half points, aggressive trapping and up-tempo play made the difference. The oft-repeated cheer of "Reb-els! Reb-els!," with its accompanying chopping gesture -- think Florida State's war chant for the cadence and hand motion -- might as well have been "Run-ning!" against Kent State, but the Running Rebels couldn't outpace the Jayhwaks.
Writer: Arash Markazi
Post Time: 11:03 p.m., Saturday
ANAHEIM, Calif. - Brook Lopez wishes he could describe his game-winning shot against Marquette, which sent Stanford to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2001. He really does, but he probably had the worst view in the building.
"I was pretty much watching from behind the backboard the whole time and the ground," said Lopez, who got knocked down after releasing the baseline leaner. "I think I got a nice bounce or something."
Lopez, who scored eight of Stanford's 11 points in overtime, had to stretch his arms in front of the basket and contort his body over Marquette's Dwight Burke for the game-winning shot which gave Stanford an 82-81 lead over Marquette with 1.3 seconds left.
Had Trent Johnson stayed around long enough, he would have had a good view of the shot from the Stanford bench. As it was, he was pacing around the Stanford locker room by himself after being ejected with 3:36 left in the first half.
Johnson, who had already received a technical for arguing a foul outside the coach's box, was assessed his second for continuing to argue a call, walking onto the court during what was supposed to be a media timeout.
"During a timeout, coaches are allowed to stay in the vicinity of their bench," said referee Curtis Shaw, who ejected Johnson. "They are not allowed to walk onto the floor and continue to complain. He was warned visibly with a "stop" sign. ‘Trent, that's enough.'"
Shaw, who had given both teams a bench warning early in the game for standing up, has been known to have a penchant for calling excessive fouls. In 100 games officiated this season, he leads the nation in most fouls called (3,927), most technical fouls called (48) and most ejections (5), according to statsheet.com.
After the game, Johnson deflected questions about what he told the officials and took the blame for his ejection. "I was out of line," said Johnson. "Bottom line, I was trying to fight for my kids...obviously if they're going to play this way I think I need to stay away from the games all the time."
Writer: Caitlin Moscatello
Game: Notre Dame vs. Washington State
Post Time: 10:02 p.m., Saturday
DENVER -- If Tampa is the city of upsets these first two rounds, Denver is the city of blowouts. In what was expected to be a close game, Washington State beat Notre Dame 61-41 with the help of seniors Kyle Weaver and Robbie Cowgill. Weaver, a 6-foot-6 guard who averaged 12.1 points and 5.0 rebounds per game in the regular season (he scored 18 points Saturday), was undoubtedly going to be a factor for Wazzu. But the real surprise was Cowgill, who at a lanky 6-foot-10 and 211 pounds looks like he could be broken in half by Notre Dame's Luke Harangody. Cowgill missed just one shot, scoring 12 points for the Cougars, and played a significant role in keeping the Irish from scoring inside the paint. Cowgill, a bearded, guitar-playing forward with a mellow on-court presence, was an unassuming opponent for the bulldozing Harangody (who to his own credit had 22 rebounds and led Notre Dame in scoring).
The key to this game was defense. Washington State did just what it needed to in keeping Notre Dame shooting from the perimeter. In the first half, the Irish made just 12.5 percent of their three-pointers and were unable to dribble penetrate, which worked out well for the Cougars considering Notre Dame's best three-point shooter, junior Kyle McAlarney, made just two out of eight shots from outside the arc.
Washington State seniors Cowgill, Weaver and Derrick Low were part of the Wazzu team that was bounced out by Vanderbilt in the second round last year. Before that, Washington State had not been in the NCAA tournament since 1994, and this is the first time since 1941 that the Cougars have made it past the second round.
Writer: Stewart Mandel
Post time: 8:55 p.m., Saturday
WASHINGTON D.C. -- Xavier point guard Drew Lavender had one word written on each of his black sneakers during Saturday's NCAA second-round game against Purdue: "Nope."
Nope, as in "not going to happen," as in "not going to bow out in the second round again" -- and certainly not in the same heart-breaking fashion as befell the Musketeers a year ago against Ohio State, when they blew an eight-point lead in the final minutes and lost in overtime.
"The Ohio State game was in our head the whole game [against Purdue]," Lavender said after Xavier pulled out an 85-78 victory. "Stanley [Burrell] and I talked about it at halftime. 'This isn't last year. We're not going out like that again."
For a brief moment in the second half, it appeared they might. After going up 60-50 with 8:33 left, the Boilermakers went on a 11-0 run to pull ahead 61-60. That the Musketeers didn't flinch was a credit to the 5-foot-7 Lavender, Xavier's undisputed spark-plug who finally returned to 100 percent this week after playing the last month of the regular season with a sprained ankle.
Shortly after regaining the lead on a B.J. Raymond three-point play, Lavender did what he does best: Drove the length of the floor for a lay-up to extend the lead to 65-61, then, with the shot clock about to expire, beating Purdue's press, driving to the hoop and dishing to C.J. Anderson for a buzzer-beating lay-in with 3:37 remaining.
"You can't press Drew Lavender when he's 100 percent," said Burrell. "He's [5-foot7]. He's going to zigzag right through you."
Purdue immediately called a timeout, upon which Lavender skipped to the bench with his arms raised above his shoulders. "That was kind of a back-breaker," said Lavender, who finished with 18 points and eight assists. "At that point, I was thinking about going to Phoenix."
For Xavier seniors Lavender (who transferred from Oklahoma three years ago), Burrell and Josh Duncan and fourth-year coach Sean Miller, that trip to the desert will be the latest milestone in a four-year ascension from no postseason (2004-05) to the NCAA first round ('06) to the second round ('07) to now, at least, the Sweet 16. In an interesting coincidence, they meet West Virginia, whose coach, Bob Huggins, led Xavier's arch-nemesis, Cincinnati, for 16 years.
"It's going to be a great storyline, but I can't really think about it right now," said Burrell. "This is a time to celebrate. How many times can you say, I'm going to the Sweet 16? I know I've never been."