- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 16, 2008

Villanova was a surprise pick for the NCAA tournament Sunday and joined Temple and Saint Joseph’s in the 65-team field, putting three Philadelphia teams in the tournament for the first time since 1999.

“It makes Philadelphia better. It makes the Big 5 better,” Owls coach Fran Dunphy said.

The Owls earned the automatic berth with a 69-64 victory over St. Joseph’s in the Atlantic 10 tournament title game Saturday night.

Temple will play in the tournament for the first time since 2001, when it lost in the regional final. That ended a string of 12 straight tournaments under Hall of Fame coach John Chaney, though he never took the Owls to the Final Four.

The Hawks and Wildcats each earned at-large bids.

“We’re just thrilled to be in. It’s great for us and our young team,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “I felt good about how we’ve been playing and I thought it was possible we would get in, but also possible that it wouldn’t happen. It was exciting, but I wouldn’t want to go through it again.”

The Owls cheered wildly at a watch party near campus when they found out they’ll play Michigan State on Thursday.

“I had no expectations,” Dunphy said.

Temple fans chanted “The Hawk is Dead!” when Saint Joseph’s was announced in the field. But when the Owls came on the screen, players, coaches and about 200 students and fans roared in jubilation at a local bar.

The 12th-seeded Wildcats will play No. 5 Clemson in the Midwest. The Owls also earned a No. 12 seed and play No. 5 Michigan State in the South. The Hawks are a No. 11 seed and play No. 6 Oklahoma in the East.

Dunphy led Penn to nine trips to the NCAAs before he left for Temple in 2006. The Quakers went 1-9 under Dunphy in the tournament, with their lone win coming against Nebraska in 1994.

The Wildcats made their fourth straight NCAA tournament while the Hawks are back in for the first time since reaching the regional final in 2004.

“The guys were all nervous. I couldn’t sleep last night,” Wildcats forward Dwayne Anderson said. “We just erupted. I still can’t feel my stomach right now.”

WEST COAST POWER: Saint Mary’s joins WCC tournament winner San Diego and regular-season champion Gonzaga in the tournament, the first time the conference has placed three teams in the NCAAs.

The little-heralded WCC got in a higher percentage of teams than traditional power conferences such as the Big Ten and the ACC.

That probably riled up a few teams, considering the three WCC teams to make the tournament were the only ones in the conference to finish in the top 150 in the RPI.

“Based on their seedings, Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga were clearly not bubble teams,” incoming commissioner Jamie Zaninovich said. “Because of the great schedules they played and the great results they had, they should have been in and I’m glad the committee recognized that. There’s no better time to be involved with the WCC.”

ONE YEAR LATER: A year ago UConn failed to make the postseason for the first time in 20 years.

“I had no interest at all last year in Selection Sunday,” UConn guard A.J. Price said. “It’s a different feeling this year, totally different. We’re very excited. We have the chance to do something special, and we’re going to make the most of it.”

This season, the No. 15 Huskies (24-8) have been slotted as the fourth seed in the NCAA’s West Regional. They’ll play 13th-seeded San Diego (21-13) in Tampa, Fla., on Friday.

The Toreros upset Gonzaga to win the West Coast Conference tournament championship last week.

Forward Jeff Adrien said he knows almost nothing about the Huskies’ opponent, and doesn’t stay up late enough to watch West Coast basketball on TV.

“I sleep,” he said. “I get to sleep really early.”

Last year, the Huskies were 17-14, lost 13 of their final 19, went 6-10 in conference play, barely made the Big East tournament as the No. 12 seed and lost in the opening game to Syracuse. This year, the Huskies were 13-3 to end the season.

“If you can win 13 out of 16 every year at the end, we’re going to be going to a lot of NCAA tournaments and probably win a lot of games,” Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said.

LOOSE BALLS: Arizona made the NCAA tournament for the 24th straight year. The Wildcats had to sweat out the release of the bracket as they were only 19-14. They are a 10-seed in the West Region and will play No. 7 West Virginia in the first round. … Pittsburgh was only a No. 7 seed in the Big East tournament, but the Panthers are a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament.?

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