NCAA Tournament Round Of 32, Day 1: Favorites Prevail
The VCU Rams' Magic Runs Out
Last tournament, led by then 33-year-old coach Shaka Smart, VCU produced four upsets and made a trip to the Final Four before losing to fellow Cinderella, Butler. This season, VCU added another upset win to its legend, but could the Rams do it again? The No. 4-seed Indiana Hoosiers certainly hoped not.
The 12-seeded Rams were feeling confident. VCU opened up a 42-33 lead, but Indiana’s Christian Watford scored eight consecutive points to close the half, trimming the Rams’ lead to one point.
In the opening half, Watford and Cody Zeller combined for 21 first half points to keep the Hoosiers close. For the Rams, Bradford Burgess contributed 12 points in the first half, but struggled in the second half, where he could only muster three points.
The end of the game can accurately be described in one word: “madness.” Leading 61-58 with 59 seconds remaining, Burgess missed both of his free throws. Indiana’s Victor Oladipo then made a layup, got fouled and converted the three-point play. In the process, Juvonte Reddic fouled out for the Rams. The score was tied.
After Troy Daniels missed a three for VCU, Oladipo rushed down the court to attempt a layup. His shot was blocked, but the deflected ball landed in the hands of teammate Will Sheehey, who sank a short two-point jumper with 11 seconds left. Finally, as time expired, Rob Branderberg missed an open three-pointer that would have given the Rams the victory. Instead, Indiana escaped with a 63-61 victory.
The Rams’ pressure defense forced 22 turnovers in the game, but they got into trouble by firing too many three-point attempts. In fact, by game’s end, the Rams had attempted 30 three-pointers. Zeller, who recorded 16 points and 13 rebounds, undoubtedly powered the Hoosiers to victory.
Midway through the second half, VCU extended its lead to 57-48, but the Rams scored just four points in the final 12:20 of the game. Over that same stretch, the Hoosiers scored 15 points. In other words, Tom Crean’s Hoosiers finished the game on a 15-4 run, earning a trip to the Sweet Sixteen, where they will take on the Kentucky Wildcats. On December 10, the Hoosiers defeated the Wildcats thanks to a buzzer-beating three from Christian Watford.
Top-Seeded Wildcats Score Big
The Cyclones only led once all game and that lead came in the first minute of the game. With that said, the Cyclones undeniably put forth a tremendous effort that merely fell short.
Iowa State had a couple big runs in the game, but Kentucky always had an answer. As soon as Iowa St. drew within two points at 13-11, Kentucky finished the half on an 8-1 run, giving the Wildcats a double-digit halftime lead.
To begin the second half, Iowa St. roared back into the game with a 15-4 run, which was powered by Royce White and Scott Christopherson. The two combined for 12 points in the first three and a half minutes of the half. However, the Wildcats would answer once again. What was once a 42-42 tie quickly turned into a one-sided affair as the Wildcats defense clamped down and their offense exploded.
Kentucky’s offense scored 49 points in the second half and 45 points in the final 16 minutes, alone. In all, the Wildcats totaled 87 points on 55.4 percent shooting. Despite only committing seven turnovers, the Cyclones were outclassed from three-point range, where the Wildcats made 10 of 20 attempts, compared to just 3 of 22 for the Cyclones.
Talented sophomore Anthony Davis played the entire game and rattled off 10 points and 8 rebounds in the opening half. He finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds. His teammate Marquis Teague scored 13 points in the first half and finished with a game-high 24. Wildcats guard Doron Lamb made five of seven three-point attempts.
In the losing effort, Cyclones forward White played very well. He posted 23 points and nine rebounds and converted 9 of 12 shot attempts. He also added four assists and three steals.
Heslip and Jackson Lead Bears to Sweet 16
For an 11 seed out of the weak Pac-12, the Colorado Buffaloes turned in another impressive performance Saturday night. To their credit, so did the Baylor Bears.
Unlike its win in the Round of 64, Baylor did not fall behind early this time. Rather, the Bears led for the majority of the game, but Colorado was typically not too far behind. The Bears finally began to pull away for good with just under 8 minutes remaining.
The Bears helped their cause considerably by raiding the offensive glass to the tune of 13 offensive rebounds. The offensive boards enabled the Bears to take 13 more field goal attempts than their opponents. Even more importantly, Baylor guard Brady Heslip was unconscious from the perimeter. Believe it or not, the sophomore made nine of 12 from three-point range after making five of 10 in the previous round.
Defensively, Baylor’s zone defense harassed Colorado, who was stranded at 60 points for more than five minutes and only scored three points in the final 7:50.
Although Bears guard Pierre Jackson only made five of 16 shots, he contributed 10 key assists and six steals.
With the win, Baylor will head to the Sweet 16, where it will await the winner of tomorrow’s Xavier-Lehigh game. Regardless of who wins tomorrow, No. 3-seeded Baylor will be heavily favored to win it next contest.
In last year’s Round of 64, Rick Pitino’s bunch was bounced from the tournament by the Morehead State Eagles as a result of a 62-61 defeat. This tournament, Louisville also came in as a No. 4 seed, but desperately hoped to avoid a similar fate.
Matched up with the Mountain West Conference Champions, the New Mexico Lobos, the Cardinals led narrowly, 26-25, at halftime. It’s unclear what coach Pitino said at halftime, but whatever he said, it must have worked. The Cardinals opened the second half with an 18-4 run. The run gave the Cardinals a 15-point cushion with which to work, a lead they would never relinquish.
UCLA transfer Drew Gordon had been a key ingredient in the Lobos’ success throughout the season. The Lobos experienced quite a scared when their 6-foot-9 forward hyperextended his knee in the closing minutes of the first half.
However, Gordon would return to open the second half, and “return” would be an understatement. Down the stretch, Gordon looked uninhibited by the knee injury and heroically scored 15 of his team’s final 21 points. Although the Lobos would ultimately limit the Louisville lead to 53-51, Gordon’s effort just fell short as the Cardinals earned the hard-fought win.
Louisville’s vaunted defense held New Mexico to 39.7 percent shooting and 21.7 percent from beyond the arc. The win launches the Cardinals into the Sweet 16, where they will meet the winner of Sunday’s Michigan State-Saint Louis matchup. With the New Mexico loss (along with the Gonzaga and Colorado losses), no schools from west of the Rocky Mountains remain in the tournament.