Thursday night was a bad time to be the higher seed. In three of the four games, the lower seed won. Only Illinois, toppermost of the top seeds, escaped, beating Wisconsin-Milwaukee, but not without a little sweat. The Panthers hung in there for a while thanks to the almost single-handed offensive effort of Joah Tucker.
In the other early game Washington became the first No. 1 to fall, falling hard to Louisville, the 4-seed in the Albuquerque Region, 93-79. Then, in two terrific late games, No. 7 West Virginia beat 6-seed Texas Tech in Albuquerque and No. 3 Arizona got an off-balance, game-winning jumper by Salim Stoudamire with 2.8 seconds left to beat No. 2 Oklahoma State in the Chicago.
Following Stoudamire's shot, then a timeout and a foul, John Lucas got a decent look at a game-winner for the Cowboys, but his 3-pointer from the corner was long.
When Stoudamire rose up for his would-be game-winner, I said, "No way" and it went in. When Lucas caught a pass and twisted himself into the air for his, I said, "Uh-oh" and it rimmed out. Shows what I know.
I meant uh-oh in the generic sense, by the way. I had no rooting interest, having cleverly picked Oklahoma State in my bracket but Arizona in Thursday's column. I couldn't lose! I also couldn't win.
Louisville got Washington into foul trouble early and then ran 'em out of the gym, or at least shot them out of it. The key foul was the third on Nate Robinson, Washington's best player. Garcia, wanting to post up, lowered his right shoulder into Robinson like a fullback, then curled around behind him, hooked an arm around Robinson's torso and pulled him to the ground. Foul on Robinson.
Washington was leading 23-16 with 8:51 left in the half. At halftime, Louisville had outscored the Huskies 31-12 with Robinson sitting on the bench, leading to this question for Washington coach Lorenzo Romar: Lorenzo, what were you saving Robinson for?
To keep Robinson from picking up his fourth foul, which would have hurt Washington's chances of winning, Romar kept him on the bench for almost nine minutes, long enough for Louisville to build a 12-point lead, which devastated Washington's chances of winning. It made no sense. In the second half, the Huskies never got closer than six points.
Having said that, Louisville just keeps looking better and better. The Cardinals can run, shoot and defend, and they're playing well. As long as those 3-pointers keep falling -- Garcia and Taquan Dean hit five each Thursday night -- the Cardinals can go all the way.
To get to the Final Four they'll have to beat West Virginia, which knocked Bob Knight's team out in a hard-fought grinder of a game. In the end the Red Raiders had no answer for center Kevin Pittsnogle, who scored 22 points on 7-of-13 shooting, 2-of-3 from beyond the arc. He also made a couple of big free throws to seal the win.
Louisville should have an answer for him.
In the Chicago Region the Elite 8 game will be Illinois vs. Arizona. It should be a good one. Stoudamire is a wonder, not just as a shooter but as a passer too. If center Channing Frye, who sometimes disappears or plays soft, asserts himself against Illinois' front line, which is its weakness, relatively speaking, Arizona has a chance. But Illinois' trio of guards is probably too much to overcome.
Here's a look at Friday's Sweet 16 games:
1) Duke vs. 4) Michigan State
7:10 p.m. EST
Duke is in the Sweet 16 for the eighth straight time. The Blue Devils beat the Spartans in November, for what that's worth. More importantly, they've won their first two games, over Delaware State and Mississippi State, with shutdown defense. Those two States have shot a combined 34 percent. This one will have to shoot better than that.
State is deep and experienced, with nine players averaging 10 minutes or more, none of them near 30, and three of those guys are seniors, including leading scorer Alan Anderson.
The Spartans can't match up with the talent of Duke stars J.J. Redick, Shelden Williams and Daniel Ewing. But the Blue Devils are thin, so if Michigan State can get them running or into foul trouble, there might be some hope for an upset. It would be a big upset.
2) Kentucky vs. 6) Utah
9:40 p.m. EST
Utah dispatched Oklahoma in most impressive fashion in the second round because the Utes' best player, 7-footer Andrew Bogut, did very little scoring. He took seven shots, instead using his passing ability to feed teammates. Justin Hawkins scored 20 points, Mark Jackson 17, Bryant Markson 16. Bogut also took out Oklahoma center Kevin Bookout by getting him in foul trouble, and hurt the Sooners with his defense in the paint.
Kentucky is a solid defensive team led by frontliners Chuck Hayes and Kelenna Azubuike. Freshman Rajon Rondo is a good and improving point guard, but the Wildcats rely pretty heavily on Patrick Sparks, a 3-point shooter who can go cold. In all five of the Wildcats' losses this year, Sparks hoisted at least six threes, never hitting more than one. On the other hand, he's done that in three wins as well.
Kentucky has a way of coming apart in the Tournament in recent years, and Utah is playing well. I had Kentucky losing this game to Oklahoma in this round in my bracket. To be honest I can't really think of a good reason why I should think the Wildcats are going to beat Utah. And that's probably why I think the Wildcats are going to beat Utah.
6) Wisconsin vs. 10) North Carolina State
7:25 p.m. EST
North Carolina senior Julius Hodge, who is either an NBA prospect or just another college player, depending on what night you watch him, has played well in leading the Wolfpack to a couple of upset wins in the Tournament, a mild one over Charlotte, achieved with a big comeback, and a big one over Connecticut.
As Hodge goes, so goes State. And how State goes is slow. And how does Wisconsin go? Slow. Led by Alando Tucker and Mike Williamson, both good for 14 points and six or seven rebounds a night, the Badgers, like the Wolfpack, grind it out. They're happiest in games that 65 points are enough to win. Not many teams have held N.C. State to 65 lately as the Wolfpack have recovered from a 5-10 midseason swoon by winning eight of their last 11.
If Hodge has a big night, the Wolfpack will move on. If not, not.
1) North Carolina vs. 5) Villanova
9:55 p.m. EST
Almost everybody who didn't pick Illinois to win the Tournament picked North Carolina. And the Tar Heels have done nothing in their first two games, routs over field horses Oakland and Iowa State, to dispel the notion that they can go all the way.
They also may not have done anything to dispel the notion that they can stumble at any time.
Villanova is on a nice run. The Wildcats' only loss in their last 11 games was a nail-biter to West Virginia in the Big East tournament, and we all know how well West Virginia's playing. In the Tournament 'Nova, a 5 seed, has a solid win over New Mexico and a mild upset over Florida. But Curtis Sumpter, the Wildcats' leading rebounder and second-leading scorer, is out with a knee injury. Without him, their hopes go from slim to really, really slim.
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