The story of the day was UCLA surviving an upset bid by Texas A&M. We (like a lot of other analysts) thought that UCLA had a clear path to San Antonio. With the 2 (Duke) & 4 (UConn) seeds in the West going down in the past 24 hours, things looked pretty easy for the Bruins. Instead, Texas A&M opened up a 10 pt lead in the 2nd half. After falling behind 36-26, Ben Howland rode Kevin Love and Darren Collison back to a tie at 45 with 2:53 left. The final 2 minutes were filled with both teams hitting big baskets. The game appeared to be sealed with 9.5 seconds left when Darren Collison hit a shot that was eerily reminiscent of Tyus Edney’s shot against Missouri in 1995. However, the Aggies had one last shot, but their attempt was “blocked” and Russell Westbrook finished the scoring with an emphatic slam that appeared to be after the buzzer. They often say that championship teams usually end up winning tight games like this that they probably shouldn’t win. UCLA’s offense didn’t show up today with the exception of Collison and Love, but Howland’s defense came through (especially Love’s 7 blocks). If the Bruins end up winning a championship, they (along with their fans) will point to this game as that game.
Pittsburgh, another trendy pick to make it deep into the tournament (Knight picked them to win the championship), was unable to make it past a big performance by Drew Neitzel’s 21 and freshman Kalin Lucas’s 19 that led the Michigan State Spartans to a 65-54 victory that was closer than the final score makes it appear. In the end, Pittsburgh’s awful 3 pt shooting (2/18) cost them a shot at the victory. Perhaps their legs finally gave out after a run through the Big East tournament.
In the other big upset, everybody’s most hated team (unless they’re your favorite team) Duke fell to West Virginia, 73-67. Going into the tournament, everybody knew Duke’s weakness–they rely on their outside shooting. When the outside shot isn’t falling, they’re screwed. Today it wasn’t falling, and today they’re heading back to Durham. The Blue Devils went 5/22 from 3 pt range including 15 straight misses. Somehow Duke stayed in this game. And before people claim conspiracy theory, the difference in fouls was only 25-23 in favor of Duke. In the end, the Mountaineers used big games from Joe Alexander and Joe Mazzulla to send the Blue Devils home for the season.
In what might have been the best game of the day, Stanford beat Marquette, 82-81 on a Brook Lopez crazy leaning/falling down shot with 1.5 seconds left in OT. Seriously, Lopez has the strangest form of any shooter we have ever seen. We have no idea how he gets his shot off and we are even less sure that he will be able to put that up at the NBA level, but it goes in. Lopez (Stanford) and Jerel McNeal (Marquette) each put in 30 pts for their respective sides. The Cardinal made it to the Sweet 16 without the help of head coach Trent Johnson who was ejected in the first half. With the Cardinal advancing, it appears that Brook Lopez is the most difficult player in the tournament to match up against. We just don’t see anybody in college who can stop him.