King Kaufman’s Sports Daily

Gonzaga's choke for the ages, LSU's upset of Duke highlight a stellar night at the Sweet 16.

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That was a choke, right? Is there any other way to describe the end of Thursday night’s UCLA-Gonzaga game in Oakland than as a choke job by the Zags?

UCLA scored the last 11 points of the game, winning 73-71 after Gonzaga failed to protect the ball and a one-point lead in the closing seconds.

All credit to the Bruins. They had about 20 chances to curl up and let the rout roll over them. They didn’t. A young team, they showed veteran character by hanging around, and when Gonzaga left the door open at the end, UCLA took advantage.

But how could Gonzaga have left that door open? This game was over. It was won. Even after losing most of an 11-point lead, it still came down to not losing the ball in the last 20 seconds, making some foul shots. And the Zags lost the ball in the last 20 seconds.

Jordan Farmar stole it from J.P. Batista, the strongest man on the floor failing to be strong with the ball. Farmar found Luc Richard Mbah a Moute cutting to the basket unguarded, and Mbah a Moute scored the winning basket with nine seconds to go.

That was only one of three fabulous games, great finishes, Thursday night. LSU upset Duke 62-54 in a nip-and-tuck game in Atlanta in which the Tigers’ athleticism and speed proved too much for the Blue Devils.

Also in Atlanta, Kevin Pittsnoggle’s dramatic three-pointer pulled West Virginia into a 71-71 tie with Texas with five seconds left. And five seconds is exactly how long Kenton Paulino needed to hit his own three, a classic buzzer-beater that gave Texas the win.

In the other game in Oakland, Memphis pounded Bradley back to earth, 80-64.

UCLA will get a lot of praise for its character and perseverance, and yeah, sure thing. But that coughing sound you heard Thursday night was Gonzaga.

UCLA got off to a hideous start. Jittery doesn’t begin to describe it. The Bruins missed their first nine shots and had six turnovers before their first field goal, which came more than eight minutes in. At one point they had the ball stolen on four straight possessions. Gonzaga jumped out to a 17-5 lead.

The Bruins staggered under that double-digit deficit for the rest of the half, trailing by 13 at the break, then got within six early in the second half, couldn’t get closer and eventually fell back to double digits.

But after Zags star Adam Morrison hit a pair of free throws with 3:27 to go, Gonzaga didn’t score again.

How can that be? How can a team of Gonzaga’s caliber, a team led by a talent as great as Morrison, go the last 3:27 of a game they led by 11 without scoring?



Here’s how: A fumble out of bounds by Jeremy Pargo. A missed fallaway jumper by Morrison. A missed three-pointer by Derek Raivio. A rebound and miss by Batista. A missed runner in the lane by Morrison. A missed fallaway jumper by Morrison. And then the steal, or as they’ll no doubt start calling it around Westwood, The Steal.

With point guard Raivio standing wide open a few feet away, Batista waved the ball around in a double-team until Farmar stole it.

“I thought they fouled me, but hey, they didn’t call it,” Batista said.

“We had control of that game for most of the game,” added a red-eyed Morrison. “It just happened in a blur. That’s the way the game works. If you don’t execute down the stretch you pay for it. We just had a few missteps. You gotta to take your hat off to UCLA.”

The Keystone Kops had a few missteps. This was a riot of errors. It was the loss Gonzaga has been flirting with down the stretch of its season and through the conference and NCAA tournaments.

Choke is kind of a dirty word in the sports world, but let’s call it what it is. Hats off to UCLA for taking advantage, but Gonzaga kicked this game away.

As great as that finish was, the best game of the night, start to finish, was LSU-Duke. The Tigers’ shot blockers, especially Tyrus Thomas, changed shots they didn’t block, and an active double-team held star guard J.J. Redick to 11 points on 3-for-18 shooting on the way to the upset.

Though LSU led most of the way and was clearly quicker and faster than the Blue Devils, this just had the look of a Duke win as the clock wound down. Until the end, when Duke failed to block out on missed free throws and let the Tigers close out the win. A great tournament upset.

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Coach K missed the memo [PERMALINK]

Did you notice Duke’s Shelden Williams getting his fourth foul with just under eight minutes to go in the loss to LSU? Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski left him in.

But Coach K, aren’t you supposed to sit your best player on the bench for the next four minutes?

That Krzyzewski guy ever won anything?

Williams committed what looked like a foul on Tyrus Thomas with 3:03 to go, so Krzyzewski had gotten five minutes out of him, one more than if he’d sat his star down until the next TV timeout.

Fortunately for Duke, Greg Paulus had reached in on Thomas a millisecond before Williams fouled him. So Coach K actually got eight minutes out of his best inside player instead of four.

And see what happened? Duke lost. What a dope that Krzyzewski is.

Previous column: Sweet 16 preview

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