Saturday, March 21, 2009

For the first time in four years, the Final Four won’t include UCLA.

Third-seeded Villanova beat the sixth-seeded Bruins 89-69 on Saturday to keep them from the what would have been the fourth-longest consecutive Final Four streak in college basketball history.

The Bruins are one of eight teams that reached three in a row. UCLA holds the record of 10, the first nine from 1967 to 1975 under coach John Wooden, while Cincinnati (1959-1963) and Duke (1988-1992) both had runs of five straight years.

Darren Collison and Alfred Aboya were the only players to appear in all three Final Fours in the run that just ended. The Bruins lost to Florida in the 2006 title game, and to the Gators and Memphis in the semifinals the next two years. Including this year’s first-round win over Virginia Commonwealth and the loss to Villanova, the Bruins are 14-4 in the NCAA tournament since 2006.

“I’m disappointed that this is our last game of the year. It’s not the way we would like to have gone out,” UCLA coach Ben Howland said. “I’m still very proud of our team overall, and especially of our seniors and everything they’ve meant to this program. These kids have been in four straight NCAA tournaments, three Final Fours, three PAC-10 championships. So it’s really tough to be saying goodbye to them today from their careers at UCLA.”

The three runs to the Final Four all went through the West Regional. This year there was a cross-country trip and a second-round game against Villanova about 20 miles from its campus.

“It’s obviously an advantage to be in your familiar, backyard surroundings, there’s no question about that,” Howland said. “Whether the game would have been any different if it had been played anywhere else is something we’ll never know. It was played here today. They played great. We didn’t.”


ZAGGING BACK:@ Gonzaga’s 83-81 victory over Western Kentucky on freshman Demitri Goodson’s driving layup with less than a second left put the Bulldogs back in a round of the tournament that was an annual trip for them at the turn of the century.

In 1999, the Zags lost to Connecticut in the regional finals and they reached the round of 16 the next two years.

Then came a stretch where Gonzaga made it to the tournament’s second weekend just once (2006) in seven years.

The fourth-seeded Bulldogs will face top-seeded North Carolina in the regional semifinals in Memphis.


BLAKE’S LAW:@ Blake Griffin is a national player of the year candidate for a season in which he ranks 13th nationally in scoring (21.9), first in rebounding (14.3) and third in field-goal percentage (63.5).

He kept those numbers up in Oklahoma’s two NCAA tournament wins over Morgan State and Michigan, averaging 30.5 points and 15.0 rebounds while shooting 78.1 percent (25-for-32).

Sooners coach Jeff Capel credited Griffin for allowing Oklahoma to handle the different defenses Michigan used in 73-63 victory.

“Blake has great hands and he’s really good,” Capel said. “I mean, he shot over 60 percent all season long. So if he catches the ball, and he usually catches the ball, something good is going to happen. Usually he scores or he gets fouled. Lot of times you have both of them happen. And it’s because he’s really good.”


SEC GONE:@ North Carolina’s 84-70 victory over LSU in the second round made the Southeastern Conference the second multi-bid league to have all its teams eliminated from the tournament.

On Thursday, Mississippi State, which won the conference tournament for the automatic bid, lost to Washington 71-58. On Friday, Tennessee lost 77-75 to Oklahoma State.

LSU, the SEC regular-season champion and its highest seed at No. 8, beat Butler 75-71 in the opening round.

The Mountain West, which had two teams, was the first multi-bid league to be eliminated when BYU and Utah lost in the first round.

Halfway through the second round the Big East has the most teams remaining with six and four of those _ Louisville, Marquette, Pittsburgh and Syracuse _ play Sunday. The Big 12 has four left, and the Pac-10 and Big Ten three each. The Big 12 and Pac-10 both have three teams playing Sunday, while the Big Ten has two. The Atlantic Coast Conference has two teams left and both of them _ North Carolina and Duke _ have already advanced to the regional semifinals.


REBOUND REBOUND:@ North Carolina entered Saturday’s game against LSU outrebounding its opponents by an average of 42.8-35.4 for the season.

Things were really wrong off the boards for the Tar Heels against the Tigers, as they were being outrebounded 31-17 at one point and the game was close _ much too close for the Carolina faithful in the Greensboro Coliseum.

The Tar Heels turned it around, however, and closed the game by outrebounding LSU 15-2 on the way to an 84-70 victory.

“In the first half we know they got seven points off offensive rebounds, and we wanted to limit them to one bad shot,” North Carolina’s Danny Green said. “We needed the stops, but we got the stops we needed, but we needed to finish by boxing out. So we needed to box out. And make sure they didn’t get any offensive rebounds or extra shots on their offensive end of the floor. So we did what we needed to do on the defensive end of the floor, and got the rebounds we needed.”


SALLIE MAY:@ Memphis’ Roburt Sallie followed his 10-for-15 effort from 3-point range in an opening-round win over Cal State Northridge by going 3-for-4 in an 89-70 victory over Maryland on Saturday.

The 13-for-19 long-range run in the two games has Sallie, a reserve guard, shooting 68.4 percent from beyond the arc, just off the top 10 performances in NCAA tournament history, with at least one more game to play.

The best performance on 3s happened when Ranzino Smith of North Carolina made all six of his attempts over four games in 1987. Tenth on the list is Darnell Archey of Butler, who went 11-for-16 (68.8 percent) over three games in 2003.

“You know who else I was proud of?” Memphis coach John Calipari asked after the win over Maryland. “Roburt Sallie. How about having to follow up that performance?”


FOLLOW-UP:@ Connecticut’s 103-47 win over Chattanooga in the first round on Thursday was the third-largest margin of victory in NCAA tournament history. The Huskies followed that win in more impressive fashion than the two teams above them on the list.

In 1963, Loyola of Chicago beat Tennessee Tech 111-42 for the largest margin, and Kansas beat Prairie View 110-52 in 1998.

Connecticut beat Texas A&M 92-66 on Saturday in the second round.

Loyola, on the way to the national championship, followed its big win with a 61-51 victory over Mississippi State, while Kansas couldn’t sustain any momentum, losing 80-75 to Rhode Island in the second round.


DIFFERENT START:@ Texas A&M had about as different starts to games as possible in the first two rounds of the tournament.

On Thursday, the Aggies hit their first 10 shots from the field in taking a 22-7 lead on the way to a 79-66 victory over BYU.

On Saturday, the ninth-seeded Aggies missed their first five shots and eight of their first 10 in falling behind 12-4 in a 92-66 loss to top-seeded Connecticut.

“We were a little intimidated early,” Texas A&M coach Mark Turgeon said. “We didn’t do what we were supposed to do early and got behind. I thought they were great and we weren’t as good as we’re capable of being.”


TOPPING THIRTIES:@ The constant competition between Duke and North Carolina continued off the court Saturday at the Greensboro Coliseum.

North Carolina’s 84-70 victory over LSU gave the Tar Heels a 30-4 record and lifted coach Roy Williams into a tie with Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski for the most 30-win seasons in Division I at nine.

Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils took the court about 30 minutes later and when they beat Texas 74-69, it gave them a 30-6 record and put Krzyzewski back on top of the list alone with 10.

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