Thanks are in order for Kansas and Michigan State. They gave viewers the lone bit of drama on this night.
Kansas, in a 180 of their first meeting this season in East Lansing, got out to the early lead and led for most of the game. But the Spartans were able to pull even at 60 with 1:46 to go thanks to a Raymar Morgan dunk. That set the stage for Kalin Lucas, who made up for a cold night from the field (5-for-15) with a three-point play to put the Spartans up for good with 48 seconds to go. The final score: 67-62 Michigan State, ensuring college basketball of a new national champion.
Sherron Collins (20 points) led the way for the Jayhawks, but in one trend that did carry over from the first meeting the junior point guard had three assists and six turnovers. Cole Aldrich (17 points, 14 rebounds) played well but he was equaled by Goran Suton, who led Michigan State with twenty points and nine rebounds. The senior center also had five of Michigan State’s thirteen steals, contributing to the Jayhawks’ tournament-high of nineteen turnovers.
Kansas shot better from the field and outrebounded the Spartans by four (31-27) but when you lose turnover margin by six and have that poor of an assist-to-turnover ratio (11 assists to 19 turnovers), most likely those woes will catch up to you. Michigan State, who didn’t exactly value the basketball themselves in the first half with ten turnovers (Kansas scored 15 points off turnovers), handed the ball to Kansas just three times in the final twenty minutes and that made all the difference.
“I think they had 16 or 18 points on our turnovers the first half, two the second,” said head coach Tom Izzo. “That was probably the difference in the game. We did a better job taking care of the ball.”
Michigan State was also +5 from the foul line, making sixteen of seventeen shots from the charity stripe. Kansas showed well in that department as well (11-13; 84.6%), but the team that paid more attention to detail is the one that moves on to Sunday’s regional final. Meanwhile, the young Jayhawks have the look of a team that should be back in this position next season. Tonight becomes a learning experience that they can look back to in 2009-10.
“So, you know, when you're in the game, it hurts, but can we learn from it in the future,” stated head coach Bill Self. “If we're able to keep these guys together, I believe this can be a special group based on how much they improved over the course of this season.” Here’s a recap of Friday’s action.
1. Blake Griffin is an outstanding player. But when Tony Crocker gets hot, Oklahoma can be nearly unstoppable.
The younger Griffin finished with thirty points and fourteen rebounds. While it isn’t fair to diminish a line as pedestrian, that’s just how good the likely consensus National Player of the Year has been for Oklahoma. But Tony Crocker had been with his shot, so his going off for a career-high twenty-eight points is a great sign for Jeff Capel’s team. With the talk regarding perimeter shooting focused on Syracuse’s Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins (Syracuse went 0-for-10 from three in the first half) leading into Friday night, Crocker hit six of eleven shots from behind the arc. That’s just over fifty percent but there was a period in the second half where the junior didn’t miss.
Despite Crocker’s issues shooting the ball before tonight, Coach Capel never thought of giving up and benching him. And that faith was rewarded in Memphis. “He [Capel] has faith that I can make shots whenever I get open ones,” said Crocker. “They just didn't fall last time. He's been there encouraging me and asking what he can do to help throughout the whole season really.” Given the fact that Capel endured his own struggles (and subsequent scrutiny) as a player at Duke, maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that the coach knew just how to handle this situation.
“I know what Tony was going through, and it wasn't because of lack of effort or he didn't want to,” said Capel. “Crock's a kid -- he wants to play really well. He wants to be good. I just think sometimes if I would have sat him or benched him that could have destroyed him where you don't get him back. So we stuck with him because I believe in him.” A decision to stick with a guy a few weeks ago could end up with a nice reward for the Sooners: a trip to Detroit.
2. North Carolina dominates from start to finish in beating Gonzaga.
Offensively this looked like a good matchup; Gonzaga had a nice arsenal of its own. But they had no answer for Ty Lawson in the first half and things went from bad to worse as the Tar Heel big men asserted themselves in the second half. The end result: a 98-77 North Carolina beating that gave the remaining teams a frightening prognosis on Lawson’s troublesome big toe: he’s OK, especially when he gets some rehab time in the pool.
“Last night he was able to get in the pool,” said head coach Roy Williams. “We got him in there this morning, and that was really helpful to him. When he came for shootaround, he thought it felt better, and he was going to go and get back in the pool again.” It’s not feasible for opponents to drain every pool in Memphis (or Detroit next week), so whoever beats North Carolina will succeed in both slowing Lawson down and holding their own in the paint. Josh Heytvelt did finish with fourteen points, but to expect the Bulldogs to hang with Carolina when he grabs zero rebounds is unrealistic. Austin Daye grabbed eleven boards but as a team Gonzaga was -11 in rebounding margin (they were +3.2 on the season).
It didn’t help matters that Matt Bouldin wasn’t 100% going into the game, but when North Carolina’s starting guards combine for fifty-one points (and Hansbrough adds 24) you’re going home. The Tar Heels were outstanding against the nation’s second-best defensive team when it comes to field goal percentage, shooting 52.9% from the field and racking up twenty-three assists to just nine turnovers. An outstanding performance by the top seed in the South with one of the nation’s best point guards leading the way.
3. Arizona’s run ends with a thud.
The prevailing opinion was that the Wildcats would have to play a perfect game in order to have a chance at knocking off Louisville. Not win, but have a chance. Well, they didn’t while the Cardinals put together their best performance of the tournament in a 103-64 beating in Indianapolis. Arizona had fourteen turnovers, which isn’t a terrible number when going up against the vaunted Cardinal press. But for Louisville to score twenty points off turnovers and shoot 57.6% from the field made the task nearly impossible for Arizona.
“Offensively they were just really precise tonight,” said Arizona head coach Russ Pennell. “When they play like that, they're going to be really difficult to beat, which obviously I think that's their 31st victory. They've only been solved five times. I think it's a pretty good indication of how good they are.” Louisville also outscored Arizona 40-26 in the paint and held the twelve seed to 38.1% shooting from the field. Five players reached double figures in a game that was essentially over from the ten minute mark…of the first half.
Chase Budinger (22 points) shot well from the field but the Cardinals made life tough for sidekicks Nic Wise and Jordan Hill. Hill picked up three fouls in the first half, and once he sat down the game got out of hand. From there the Wildcats had their zone picked apart to the tune of twenty-nine assists. Don’t expect Michigan State to throw a zone at Louisville on Sunday. “People look at us and say, ‘Let's zone [them], they're not the greatest shooters in the world.’ We actually play very well against zone,” said Coach Pitino after the game. That’s an accurate assessment.
4. Friday Superlatives
Player of the Night: Oklahoma F Blake Griffin (30 points, 14 rebounds)
Team of the Night: Louisville
Clutch Performances of the Night: Oklahoma G Tony Crocker (career-high 28 points) and Michigan State C Goran Suton (20 points, 9 rebounds and five steals)
Quote of the Night: “This has been an incredible year. And the guys did exactly what I asked them to do: to put all their own agendas on hold for 2008/2009. And I did the same thing. What we need to do is enjoy the season for a day or two and then we'll all move forward and see where that takes us. But right now, the last thing I'm thinking about is any job [other] than the one I just finished.” - Arizona head coach Russ Pennell
Midwest Region (Indianapolis)
#1 Louisville 103, #12 Arizona 64
#2 Michigan State 67, #3 Kansas 62
Regional Final (Sunday): 2:20 PM
South Region (Memphis)
#2 Oklahoma 84, #3 Syracuse 71
#1 North Carolina 98, #4 Gonzaga 77
Regional Final (Sunday): 5:05 PM
Lastly, if you’re on Facebook take some time to support Wilson’s “Every Pass Counts: Ultimate Assist” program that supports Coaches vs. Cancer. For every “pass” you send to a friend Wilson will donate ten cents to Coaches vs. Cancer.