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March 14, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

The Morning Dish – Friday, March 14th, 2003

by Jon Gonzalez

Steve Lavin’s hair displayed a shine seldom seen this season as his Bruins, along with a few other underdogs, pulled off some major upsets Thursday.

If the season was any indication of how the Arizona-UCLA Pac-10 Quarterfinal was going to turn out, by 3:30 pacific time Lavin would be waving to the Bruin faithful for the final time and No.1 Arizona (25-3) would be marveling over its 35 point victory. But a funny thing happened at the Staples Center, UCLA (10-18) actually showed up to play.

Paced by Jason Kapono’s 26 points, the Bruins played with an urgency that had been missing for most of the season. They looked like a team trying to save the job of their coach. Down 15 with under 15 minutes to play, it looked as if UCLA would fold yet again. But the Bruins played with poise and hit clutch shot after clutch shot in the second half. Despite Kapono missing a chance to win the game in regulation, the Bruins would eventually take the game in overtime 96-89. Was the win good enough to save Lavin’s job? Well, no, but if he can string together eight more of those, you never know.

While UCLA’s win over ‘Zona was shocking, an upset in the C-USA tourney was just downright crazy.

The UAB Blazers stole one from No.6 Marquette, literally. The Blazers (18-11) stole the ball from Marquette 20 times en route to an 83-76 upset win. The 20 steals is a tournament record. Marquette (23-5) set a tournament record of its own, turning the ball over 30 times. Not only did the Blazers do it on defense, they also did it on offense, hitting on 51 percent of their shots, the best shooting percentage against Marquette all season. C-USA Player of the Year Dwyane Wade had 10 turnovers himself, also good for a conference record. Next up for UAB: St.Louis. The Billikens upended Southern Mississippi 69-56.

The final major upset of the day, albeit a little less shocking than the previous two involved another pair of Pac-10 teams squaring off in the Pac-10 quarters.

USC took a cue from its southern cal brethren UCLA as the Trojans knocked off second-seeded and 13th ranked Stanford (23-8) 79-74. The Trojan victory ensured that the top two seeds in the Pac-10 Tournament would be on the outside looking in. More importantly, it officially turned the Pac-10 tourney into anyone’s game. Desmon Farmer led the Trojans (12-16) with 24 points. Could the fact that the Pac-10 tourney is being played in LA have anything to do with USC and UCLA’s success?

Elsewhere on Thursday, FSU knocked off Clemson 72-61 in their annual first round ACC match-up. Will Larry Shyatt ever get out of the ACC first round? The Tigers next take on top seed Wake Forest.

In a rematch of last year’s Big Ten Championship game, Ohio State beat Iowa 66-64 in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. Brent Darby hit the game winner with 1.8 seconds left in regulation.

Temple kept its NCAA hopes alive with a 66-52 win over Richmond. The Owls have won a record six A-10 titles and will have to win this year’s event to earn a bid to the big dance.

Side Dishes

Pop Goes the Bubble: For some teams, the first round of their conference tournaments could have been the difference between an NCAA and an NIT bid. Several teams did nothing to help themselves earn an NCAA bid on Thursday, but everything to gain an NIT invite. St. Johns, Rhode Island, Providence, Minnesota and Alabama all probably saw their NCAA aspirations go poof with loses on Thursday. While St. Johns’, Providence’s and Rhode Island’s losses were expected, Minnesota and Alabama losing to Northwestern and Vandy, respectively, is nothing short of absurd. The season is on the line, and you go out and lose to a sub.500 team, by double digits no less. It was bad enough that Minny and Bama both lost to bottom-feeders, but to get plastered by them, that’s another story. See you at the NIT, boys.

Staying Alive: No, I am not referring to Jason Kapono’s attempt at a disco career in an interview following the Bruins’ win (by the way, what in God’s name was that), but the teams stayed alive for NCAA bids with wins on Thursday. Texas Tech, Iowa State, St. Louis and Indiana all kept NCAA hopes alive with wins, while Colorado, Boston College, LSU and Oregon probably did enough to solidify berths in the big dance. Oregon and LSU were most likely locks regardless of Thursday’s results, but can breath easy as it is almost a guarantee they will get in.

Stone Cold Luck for Cards: Marvin Stone was told by Louisville officials an hour prior to the Cardinals game against Tulane that he could not play in the quarterfinal game. The NCAA is currently investigating Stone’s amateur status and benefits he received from an Alabama business that runs an AAU team. No.15 Louisville didn’t miss Stone much, the Cards beat Tulane 82-66.

Basketball on Nickelodeon? Due to the threat of war, CBS may have to move coverage of the NCAA Tournament to fellow Viacom owned networks TNN and Nickelodeon. There has even been talk of moving games to ESPN, although that complicated scenario seems unlikely. If CBS had to air games on different cable stations, it wouldn’t be able to provide the popular split-screen live look-ins of other games.

New Bonnie in Charge: Former St. Bonaventure player Paul Grys was named interim athletics director on Thursday. Grys, a retired IBM executive, replaces Gothard Lane, who was placed administrative leave pending the schools investigation into the men’s basketball program.

Tonight’s Menu

After almost a whole year of mostly unsavory Friday action, this Friday’s menu has a slate of games you can really sink your teeth into.

&#8226 The real meat of the ACC Tournament kicks off on Friday as the usual suspects step onto the court. FSU/Wake Forest looks to be a wash. UNC/Maryland may seem like another wash given the fact the Terps squashed the Heels in their last meeting. But don’t discount the Heels. UNC is coming off a huge win against Duke, and as Thursday taught us, no team is immune to an upset. The two games to keep an eye on Friday are NC State/Georgia Tech and Duke/Virginia. The Pack may need a win or two to sew up an NCAA berth. While a 9-7 record in the ACC should get you in the NCAA’s, the consensus is that NC State needs one or two ACC tourney wins because of their low RPI. The upset special of the day could come when Duke plays UVA. Sure, the Cavs have struggled mightily down the stretch, but UVA cannot be taken lightly. The Cavs have some of the best talent in the league and when they want to, they can play with anybody. Also, the momentum from the Maryland game will help them. If I were Coach K, I would be a little leery right now.

&#8226 The Big East moves closer to crowing a champion as the semifinals begin on Friday. Boston College takes on Pitt in one semifinal, while Syracuse takes on Connecticut in the other. All teams are in the big dance, so a win is not necessarily crucial for any of them. But if either Pitt or the ‘Cuse should advance all the way to the Big East Championship, a number one seed in the big dance could be the reward. Look for that scenario to play out as the Panthers and the Orangemen are primed for a Saturday night showdown.

&#8226 The Big Ten, Big 12, SEC, Pac-10 and C-USA Tournaments all continue on Friday and all offer some interesting match-ups. Over in the Big Ten, Indiana/Michigan could be the game of the day in Chi-town, while Michigan State/Purdue could feature the Spartans clinching an NCAA bid. In the Big 12, Texas/Texas Tech will be a good one as Bob Knight tries to keep the Red Raiders in line for an NCAA bid. The most intriguing game of the day may be Colorado/Oklahoma. Can the Buff’s David Harrison take advantage of OU’s Ebi Ere’s absence. Over in Conference USA, semifinal action reigns supreme as Louisville/Memphis takes center stage. In the other semifinal, surprising UAB, fresh off upsetting Marquette, takes on St. Louis. Can the Billikens duplicate their C-USA championship run of a few years ago? The wide-open Pac-10 tournament continues with the semifinals. UCLA looks for another upset, this time against Oregon, while Cal and USC square off. One thing is for certain, Cali will be represented in the finals. Finally in the SEC, Kentucky will obliterate Vandy yet again while LSU looks to give Florida a hard time. Elsewhere, the battle of Mississippi features Miss State against Ole Miss. Wonder how Georgia would have done if they could have played?

Take care everyone and don’t be a reckless basketball watcher today. At least spend 2-5 minutes with loved ones. I am outta here.

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