March 21, 2008

MORE: Megargee: Miami's McClinton shines on biggest stage | NCAA Tournament Central

NO. 1 MEMPHIS 87, NO. 16 UT ARLINGTON 63

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Chris Douglas-Roberts scored 23 points to lead five Memphis players in double figures as the top-seeded Tigers pulled away from the pesky Mavericks in a South Regional first-round game Friday night.

"This is the type of game we needed in the first round because this shows how the rest of the tournament's going to be," Douglas-Roberts said.

"The next game is going to be an even tougher game. I'm glad they came out and challenged us. They really did compete out there."

Antonio Anderson and Derrick Rose each added 17 points for Memphis, Robert Dozier contributed 12 points and Doneal Mack had 10 points.

Memphis (34-1) set a school single-season record for victories and meets eighth-seeded Mississippi State in the second round.

TIGERS MUST IMPROVE: Memphis was never in any danger of losing Friday, but the Tigers also didn't exactly resemble championship contenders for much of the night. The Tigers allowed UT Arlington to shoot 52 percent in the first half and occasionally allowed the Mavericks' smaller post players to control the paint. Memphis will have to play better defense Sunday against Mississippi State. "The time off and the body-to-body contact we hadn't done in five days, it showed," Memphis coach John Calipari said. "I think our inside people kind of got mushed a little bit, but I think they realize if they do that the next game, it's been a heck of a year and it's not going to extend."

FREE-THROW WOES: Memphis has received plenty of criticism for its poor free-throw shooting, but UTA was the team regretting its lost opportunities from the foul line Friday. UT Arlington played well enough to go into the locker room trailing only 45-31, but the Mavericks really could have given Memphis reason to worry if they hadn't gone 2-for-7 from the line. UT Arlington finished 11-for-21 from the line, while Memphis was 22-for-35.

PROVING THEY BELONG: UT Arlington couldn't pull off an upset for the ages in its first NCAA Tournament appearance, but the Mavericks also didn't show any signs of stage fright. UT Arlington trailed 27-13 with 9 1/2 minutes remaining in the first half, but the Mavericks actually played Memphis even for the next 17 1/2 minutes before running out of gas. "We brought our program to the forefront," said Anthony Vereen, who led the Mavericks with 20 points. "A lot of people didn't know there was a UTA or a Texas-Arlington, but I think with the way we played and how we competed, we had good sportsmanship and showed a lot of heart. Hopefully, we earned a lot of respect for ourselves." UTA won the Southland Conference tourney as the No. 7 seed.

ROSE IN BLOOM: Memphis freshman guard Derrick Rose didn't seem awed in his NCAA Tournament debut. He shot 6-for-10 and had three assists and three steals to go along with his 17 points. "He doesn't really have a freshman body," Douglas-Roberts said. "His body enables him to take the contact and makes it an easier transition for him. He can take the contact of physical games because his body isn't like a freshman's."

— STEVE MEGARGEE

TEXAS 74, AUSTIN PEAY 54

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Texas coach Rick Barnes insisted Thursday that Austin Peay's lack of height could cause his team serious matchup problems, but that's not quite the way it worked out. Austin Peay, which doesn't start a player taller than 6 feet 5, shot just 28.8 percent as Texas led from start to finish. "When we play somebody of this caliber, as I told our players I sometimes lay awake at night wondering how we're going to score against people of that size," Austin Peay coach Dave Loos said. A.J. Abrams scored 26 points and shot 6-for-10 from 3-point range for the second-seeded Longhorns (29-6). Abrams had gone 2-for-17 from 3-point range during a three-game stretch late in the season, but he has broken out of that slump by going 16-for-33 from beyond the arc in his past three games. "Now's not the time to change anything," Abrams said. "Coach (Rick Barnes) gave me some confidence when I talked to him. My teammates have always been confident in me and told me to keep shooting, so that's what I'm going to do."

NO ADVANTAGE FOR TEXAS? The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee's decision to have Texas play in Arkansas as a reward for its No. 2 seed may have backfired on the Longhorns. A crowd that featured a significant number of fans in Arkansas gear heartily booed the Razorbacks' former Southwest Conference rivals for much of the day. "This time of year, when you're a higher-seeded team, you can expect somewhat to know that the house is going to go against you," Barnes said. "That's pretty much the history with this tournament." Barnes didn't help matters by joking early in the week that he would seek a buyout of next year's scheduled game with Arkansas if the Little Rock crowd didn't treat his team well, even though he apologized Thursday to anyone who might have misconstrued his comment. Texas should play in front of a much friendlier crowd next week if it wins its second-round game with Miami: The South Regional semifinals and championship game will take place in Houston.

AS GOOD AS MEMPHIS? Texas' one-sided victory brought more speculation about a potential showdown with No. 1 seed Memphis in the South Regional final. Austin Peay has a good measure of both teams; the Governors lost 104-82 to Memphis on Nov. 27. Austin Peay swingman Kyle Duncan declined to predict which team would win if Memphis and Texas square off. "It'd be a good game," Duncan said. "(You have) two outstanding guards in Derrick Rose and (D.J.) Augustin. Abrams matches up well with (Antonio) Anderson. It's just whoever wants it bad enough that day."

FRIENDS MEET AGAIN: The Longhorns' victory sets up an intriguing second-round game with Miami that pits Hurricanes coach Frank Haith against his mentor. Haith spent three seasons working on Barnes' staff – including the Longhorns' 2003 Final Four appearance – before taking over Miami's program in 2004. The two remain close. "He's my best friend," Haith said. "I love the guy. I really don't want to play against him, but if we don't win, I want to pull for Texas because of what he's meant to me." Barnes has a similar level of respect: "I told him the other night, 'I'm not looking forward to playing you, but I hope we get the chance' because he certainly is part of what we've done at Texas and I wanted him to win his first-round game."

HEAVYWEIGHT PERFORMANCE: Texas center Dexter Pittman arrived on campus weighing 366 pounds, but he has shed nearly 70 pounds since then and gradually has developed into a more effective player. Pittman, who is 6-10, center came off the bench Friday and had 11 points and 10 rebounds. When Pittman was asked after the game if he was licking his chops because of Austin Peay's lack of size, Barnes broke in and jokingly referred to Pittman's weight history. "Did anyone ever ask you about licking your chops before?" Barnes quipped. "He understands that terminology, believe me."

— STEVE MEGARGEE

MISSISSIPPI STATE 76, OREGON 69

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - The lone Mississippi State player with NCAA Tournament experience made sure the Bulldogs' season didn't end. Charles Rhodes scored a career-high 34 points as the eighth-seeded Bulldogs rallied from a 13-point, second-half deficit to beat the ninth-seeded Ducks. "Our guys were off a little bit in the first half, and I just let them know there's no tomorrow," Rhodes said. "I gave them encouragement because I've been here before. I didn't play a lot when I was here (three years ago), but I know the feeling. I got the feel of it, so I had to let these guys know what the NCAA is really about." Rhodes' 34-point outburst broke the Mississippi State single-game postseason scoring record set 13 years ago by Darryl Wilson, who scored 32 points in a 78-64 second-round victory over Utah. The Bulldogs (23-10) overcame a 22-point performance from Oregon's Malik Hairston.

DOING IT WITH DEFENSE: Mississippi State entered the tournament ranked second in the nation in field-goal percentage defense (.368) and only a shade behind Georgetown (.367) for the top spot. The Bulldogs hadn't allowed anyone to shoot 50 percent against them all season in part because of NCAA shot blocking leader Jarvis Varnado. So it was only appropriate that Mississippi State's stingy defense in the second half helped change the complexion of the game. Oregon shot 25 percent overall and 2-for-21 from 3-point range in the second half after shooting 43.8 percent overall and 7-for-17 from beyond the arc in the first 20 minutes. The Ducks had led the Pac-10 in 3-point field goal percentage (.401) and 3-pointers per game (8.7) this season. Oregon made just three baskets in the game's final 8 minutes, 28 seconds. "I felt like we had some great looks in this game and the ball didn't go down," Oregon coach Ernie Kent said. "Consequently, if you're not making 3s, you're going to have to start driving, and there's that shot blocker in there. We probably didn't do a very good job of attacking in the second half in terms of settling for jump shots, but we had some wide open looks in the second half."

BIG SWING: Mississippi State regained the lead when one of its players finally started to heat up from outside. The Bulldogs missed their first 12 attempts from 3-point range before Barry Stewart hit a baseline jumper with 13:21 remaining. Stewart ended up going 4-for-6 from 3-point range in the final 20 minutes to help the Bulldogs shoot 63.6 percent overall in the second half. "If you're a shooter, you keep shooting," said Stewart, who finished with 16 points. "You don't lose confidence in your shot. I believe every good shooter believes that." Mississippi State won't have a chance of lasting much longer in this tournament unless someone other than Stewart starts making shots from beyond the arc. Stewart has gone 8-for-20 from 3-point range during the Bulldogs' last three games, while his teammates are 6-for-40 during that same stretch.

DOING IT ALL: Mississippi State point guard Jamont Gordon didn't score in the second half, shot 2-for-14 from the floor and finished with only eight points, but that doesn't necessarily mean he had a poor game. Gordon showed off his versatility by nearly recording a triple-double, as he compiled 11 rebounds and nine assists. Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury also praised Gordon's defense on Hairston down the stretch. "He got scored on when that game wasn't on the line," Stansbury said, "but when it got tight, Jamont stepped up and took the challenge defensively."

— STEVE MEGARGEE

ATTENTION DEFICIT

DENVER – Michigan State coach Tom Izzo is 11-2 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, and the two losses came to No. 1 seeds playing near home – Texas in 2003 in San Antonio and North Carolina last year in Winston-Salem, N.C..

The key? Mind the attention spans, Izzo said.

He and his staff give the players small doses of film study and walk-throughs, mixed in with meals and breaks. Michigan State studied Pittsburgh intently but not exhaustively on Thursday night and Friday in advance of Saturday's second-round game between the South Region's No. 4 seed Panthers and No. 5 seed Spartans.

"When you get to this time of the tournament, poor players, they're kind of worn out, so they don't have as long an attention span," Izzo said. "I think these 10-, 15-, 20-minute deals, that's when we kind of do our most damage. It's been successful for us."

Michigan State also has one of the most sophisticated scouting set-ups in college basketball - a $500,000, NBA-quality system built into its basketball facility. MSU's players get DVDs to pop into their laptops, so they can study the opponent overall and the players they'll be matched up against.

"This is kind of his time where he can stay up until 2, 3, 4 (a.m.), go home, watch film all day, prepare," Michigan State junior guard Travis Walton said of Izzo. "This is like a challenge to him."

- Joe Rexrode, Special to Yahoo! Sports

THE SINGING 7-FOOTER

ANAHEIM, Calif. - During most interviews, Stanford's Brook Lopez and Robin Lopez are as engaging as mannequins. But on Friday, a couple of their teammates claimed there is an unseen – and unheard – side of the 7-foot twins.

Such as?

Stanford's Taj Finger and Anthony Goods played tag team for the inquiring minds among the media during a question-and-answer session.

Finger: "Robin loves to sing off the court.''

Goods: "Yeah, he does. Robin loves to sing. Brook loves to tell Robin to shut up.''

Reporter: "What do you think of the singing?''

Finger: "Really good.''

Goods: "It's an acquired taste.''

Reporter: "What does he sing?''

Goods: "Mariah Carey, Michael Jackson… just depends on what he feels like at the time.''

Depends on what he feels like, huh? Something tells us Robin Lopez is going to feel like wrapping masking tape about his teammates' mouths. But Goods might have saved himself from punishment later in the interview when asked what it was like to play defense with the two 7-footers.

"It's kind of a luxury,'' he said. "It's like going into a fight with your older brothers behind you. "Usually we try to pressure the guards and if they happen to get by us, it's definitely nice to know you've got 14 feet in the paint willing to come and help out and block shots and what not.''

- Josh Peter, Yahoo! Sports

PERFECT FIT

DENVER – Pittsburgh forward Sam Young was MVP of the Big East Tournament, averaging 20.0 points and 7.0 rebounds in four games. And in the fourth game, he did it without his shoes.

Young left his shoes, size 15, on the bus, as he tends to do at times. The best he could do on short notice was borrow a pair from injured center Austin Wallace. Problem was, Wallace wears a size 16.

But Young laced 'em up tight and went for 16 points and six rebounds in a win over Georgetown.

"They were a little bit uncomfortable," Young said of the shoes. "But I had to get used to it."

- Joe Rexrode, Special to Yahoo! Sports

PERCEPTION VS. REALITY

DENVER – The Michigan State and Pittsburgh coaches and players received a lot of questions about physicality and toughness. Both programs have a reputation for playing grinding, pounding basketball.

"I think it's a story that kind of builds upon itself," Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon said of the idea that Michigan State and Pittsburgh resemble football teams in shorts.

"I think you know, this probably is getting a little blown out of proportion," MSU coach Tom Izzo said near the end of a very repetitive news conference. "I don't think it will be quite the slugfest everybody thinks. It won't be Woody Hayes against Bo Schembechler, 3 yards and a cloud of dust."

Still, toughness is a big theme for both coaches and programs. And there will be some physical confrontations Saturday night.

"I doubt they're going to back down, and I know we won't back down," Dixon said. "I think that's probably been indicative of both of our programs over the years."

- Joe Rexrode, Special to Yahoo! Sports

MORE: NCAA Tournament Central




 

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