After a rather routine Friday the hope was that Saturday would provide even more surprises. But few people had in mind what the Northern Iowa Panthers did in Oklahoma City when it came to the shocker of the day. The Missouri Valley champions got off to a quick start early and did not let up until the game was decided, knocking off the top overall seed 69-67 to move on to the Sweet 16 next week in St. Louis. Ali Farokhmanesh led the way with 16 points, knocking down what has to be the shot of the Tournament thus far to give Northern Iowa a 66-62 lead with 34 seconds remaining. After a Kansas surge via the full court press cut the lead to one, UNI broke the press and Farokhmanesh had a decision to make with the ball deep on the right wing and Tyrel Reed backing off into the paint.
"I was just open on that side," said Farokhmanesh of the shot. "So they were trapping, and it came up to me. And I was going to go and Johnny was on the other wing. I was going to see if I could drive it. The he backed off so far that I thought I might as well just shoot this one." It was one of those "no, no, YES!" shots that tend to make heroes out of players this time of the year, legendary figures in their school's history books and the focus of stories to be rehashed for years. But this was more than just a feel-good story; on Saturday the team that played better won the game.
The Panthers forced fifteen Kansas turnovers and point guard Kwadzo Ahelegbe, who made just one of eleven field goal attempts, limited Sherron Collins to 10 points, four assists and five turnovers on 4-for-15 shooting from the field. The senior rose to the challenge, and without his defense on one of the nation's best point guards it's likely that the Panthers would be headed home. "I think Kwadzo was looking forward to that challenge," remarked UNI head coach Ben Jacobson. "He knew it was going to be a big challenge, but he was looking forward to it. He competed awfully hard."
Given the nature of college basketball Bill Self's team now has to answer questions despite going 33-3 on the season. Did they recorgnize the urgency of the moment from the opening tip? You can argue that they didn't, but to do so risks taking away from what UNI was able to do for forty minutes. Jordan Eglseder and Lucas O'Rear played well inside while brothers Adam and Jake Koch made their contributions as well. In a game that many expected the Kansas depth to be their downfall, a number of players stepped up for the Panthers and while they all may not have impressive stat lines they got the job done. And as a result, UNI will be back in the city in which they won the MVC Tournament crown two weeks ago.
New Orleans: Kentucky rolls into the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2005. Wake Forest went into their game with Kentucky boasting a deep frontcourt and a point guard in Ishmael Smith who could match the speed (if not the skill) of John Wall. But it didn't take long to see that they were fighting an uphill battle against a team that may be light on experience but heavy on talent, and the game was essentially over by halftime. In the 90-60 victory, Kentucky 60.3% from the field (73.8% 2PT) in practically getting whatever shot they wanted against the Demon Deacons' defense. Darius Miller (20 points, nine rebounds) and DeMarcus Cousins (19 points, eight rebounds) led four starters in double figures while Smith managed just two points (1-9 FG) in his final collegiate game.
With Kansas falling are the Wildcats the favorite? That's likely but with a team so young head coach John Calipari is going to do his best to limit the distractions that surround them. By all accounts they didn't watch any of the Kansas game before their game and with a team so young that's a good route to take. "We're still a bunch of freshmen and sophomores," said Coach Calipari. "Our second NCAA Tournament game. They've never played in any other games. The guys that we're playing have never played in it. So all we're going to worry about is us." But if they play like they did in New Orleans this weekend, this is going to be one tough team to knock off in Syracuse next week.
Oklahoma City: Kansas State uses defense and Jacob Pullen to defeat BYU. Jacob Pullen and Jimmer Fredette was expected to be one of the best individual matchups of the day. And while Fredette did finish with 21 points, in all honesty it wasn't much of a contest. Pullen and company harrassed the scoring phenom all game, and Kansas State's junior guard scored 34 points while also picking up four steals in the Wildcats' 84-72 win over BYU to advance to their first Sweet 16 since 1988. BYU jumped out to a 10-0 lead but once K-State was able to apply the clamps defensively their taking control of the game became a matter of "when" instead of "if". Denis Clemente added 19 points and the Wildcats out-rebounded BYU 39-29.
Dominique Sutton also saw some time guarding Fredette but once the Cougars went to a taller lineup the need was there to put the junior on BYU's top scoring threat and he rose to the challenge. On falling behind early Pullen noted that "it was our lack of energy. We weren't in passing lanes. They were passing the ball around, making a dribble move, kick out [for] wide open threes. No one has done that really except for the games we lost this year. So we figured either we going home and they're going to shoot 3s or we're going to step up our defensive principles and really guard the ball." They've got the ability to put points on the board, but when they defend the Wildcats are a definite threat to get to Indianapolis.
Providence: Villanova has no answers for Omar Samhan, falls to Saint Mary's. While the shot of the game is the banked-in three by Mickey McConnell that broke a 65-all tie with 1:17 left in the game, Villanova's fate was sealed by their inability to find an answer for Omar Samhan. The senior big man made thirteen of his sixteen field goal attempts, scoring 32 points while also grabbing seven rebounds and blocking a pair of shots in the 75-68 victory. No matter who the Wildcats put on Samhan once he got the ball inside it was another two points on the board. And once Villanova finally decided to double down his teammates knocked down shots fron the perimeter, making seven of nineteen from behind the arc.
Corey Stokes (15 points) and Maalik Wayns (10) led the way for the Wildcats, but with Corey Fisher and Scottie Reynolds both struggling from the field they were in trouble not counting the Samhan effect. "It's definitely no shock to us how well he's been playing in the post and in games," said forward Ben Allen. "He's absolutely dominant and he creates so much for us when he goes and gets dirty like that, and it frees everyone else on the perimeter." The Gaels weren't expected to survive Providence yet here they are, on their way to the Sweet 16 in Houston to take on Baylor next week. Randy Bennett's got a team that can knock down shots from the perimeter and in Samhan a leader more than willing to take on all comers. That makes for a dangerous team this time of the year.
San Jose: Washington uses a late-first half run to put away New Mexico. If you thought that the Huskies were due for a surprise on Saturday following their dramatic win over Marquette on Thursday then you ignored the fact that they matched up very well with New Mexico. Add in a banged-up Darington Hobson and you had all the makings of a serious whipping, one that gained traction late in the first half and didn't stop until the Huskies won 82-64. Quincy Pondexter led the way with 18 points while Isaiah Thomas added 15, sending the Pac-10 Tournament champs to their first Sweet 16 since 2006. Washington was deeper and better equipped to play at a fast tempo, and this played a major role in their 25-13 finish to the first half to take a 12-point lead into the locker room.
"We did a great job of forcing our tempo on them," said Pondexter. "We knew they were a transition team going into this game, and we wanted to show that we have another level of fast break and defensive intensity. That's what really wore them down and helped us get the win." Add in their defense on Hobson (5-11, 11 points) and Roman Martinez (3-10, 10 points) while limiting the Lobos to 39.4% shooting and you had all the makings for a serious statement. Assisting on 21 of 32 baskets doesn't hurt either. Lorenzo Romar's team may not have lived up to the preseason hype during the regular season but they're making up for lost time now (and last week in Los Angeles). This isn't a team that folks should be lining up to play right now.
New Orleans: Baylor 76, Old Dominion 68 LaceDarius Dunn scored 26 points as the Bears jumped out to a 10-1 lead and held on to defeat the CAA champions. As a team the Bears shot 51.9% from the field in moving on to the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history, and big man Josh Lomers put together one of his best showings (14 points, 12 in the second half) of the season. Gerald Lee and Frank Hassell led the Monarchs with 15 points apiece while Kent Bazemore added 13 and seven assists.
Oklahoma City: Northern Iowa 69, Kansas 67 See above.
Providence: Saint Mary's 75, Villanova 68 See above.
San Jose: Butler 54, Murray State 52 The end-game situation went far differently for the Racers on Saturday than it did on Thursday against Vanderbilt. Thanks to the Butler defense the Ohio Valley champs were unable to get a shot off before time expired, advancing the Bulldogs to next week's regional in Salt Lake City despite Matt Howard being in foul trouble throughout. Ronald Nored led the way with 15 points, six assists and some stellar defense while Isaiah Canaan scored 14 off the bench for Murray State.
New Orleans: G LaceDarius Dunn (Baylor) 26 points and six rebounds (and unfortunately, six turnovers) in the Bears' 76-68 win over Old Dominion.
Oklahoma City: G Jacob Pullen (Kansas State) 34 points (7-12 3PT) and four steals in the Wildcats' 84-72 win over BYU.
Providence: C Omar Samhan (Saint Mary's) 32 points (13-16 FG), seven rebounds and two blocks in the Gaels' 75-68 win over Villanova.
San Jose: G Dairese Gary (New Mexico) Without Gary's efforts (11-20 FG, 25 points) the Lobos would have been beaten far worse than they were, an 82-64 loss to Washington.
1)Kentucky 90, 9)Wake Forest 60
11)Washington 82, 3)New Mexico 64
9)Northern Iowa 69, 1)Kansas 67
6)Tennessee 83, 14)Ohio 68
10)Saint Mary's 75, 2)Villanova 68
3)Baylor 76, 11)Old Dominion 68
2)Kansas State 84, 7)BYU 72
5)Butler 54, 13)Murray State 52