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March 29, 2003 Columns No Comments

The Morning Dish – Saturday, March 29th, 2003

by Phil Kasiecki

Thursday night’s games were a tough act to follow, but the teams in action on Friday night sure did a good job.

In San Antonio, the first South regional semifinal was a dandy between No. 1 Texas and No. 5 Connecticut. Behind the home crowd coming from about 80 miles away, Texas led for most of the game, including stretches where they took over the game and opened the lead up to double digits. They frustrated Ben Gordon, the Huskies’ leading scorer, for most of the night, as he wound up with 16 points on 6-15 shooting.

But Gordon and the Huskies didn’t throw in the towel. Texas scored six straight to open the lead to 62-48, but the Huskies roared back. They scored 11 straight as part of a 26-9 run to eventually take a 74-71 lead on a three-pointer by Gordon. The run was aided by T.J. Ford having to sit for five minutes after picking up his fourth foul, as the Huskies had cut the lead to 62-55 when he picked up the foul and took the lead just after he returned.

In the final minutes, Ford (13 points, 9 assists) made the difference as he returned to the game when it was tied at 71. The teams traded baskets until the game was tied at 76. Ford hit James Thomas (13 points, 15 rebounds), who got fouled and made both free throws for a 78-76 lead. At the other end, Taliek Brown (9 points, 7 assists) hit Marcus White for a wide open layup, but Brian Boddicker got there at the last second and got a hand on the ball, lodging it between the rim and the backboard for a jump ball.

Texas got the ball back from the possession arrow, then proceeded to make four more free throws in the closing seconds in an 82-78 win.

The Longhorns (25-6) were led by a career-high 27 points (10-18 shooting) from Brandon Mouton. Emeka Okafor led Connecticut (23-10) with 21 points, 17 rebounds and 6 blocks.

The second game was very similar between two recent national champions, No. 7 Michigan State and No. 6 Maryland. Michigan State lead most of the game, including by double digits well into the second half, but the defending national champs didn’t mail it in. The Spartans broke a 32-32 tie with a 15-2 run, eventually going up 54-40 on two free throws by Allan Anderson (10 points). The Terrapins then ran off 15 straight to take a 55-54 lead.

With 4.7 seconds left and the game tied at 58, freshman Paul Davis (team-high 13 points) worked on the baseline and made a tough shot off the glass to give the Spartans a 60-58 lead. After a timeout, Steve Blake dribbled up the middle and got a clean look at a three-pointer, but it went off the rim as time expired.

Michigan State (22-12) is now the highest remaining seed left in the tournament, not long after they were considered a bubble team. Drew Nicholas had 18 points to lead Maryland as the Terrapins finish their season at 21-10.

In Albany, the early East regional semifinal almost looked like a mismatch. No. 1 Oklahoma won 65-54 over No. 12 Butler, as the Bulldogs couldn’t stop Ebi Ere, who came off the bench to score a game-high 25 points on 11-19 shooting. The Sooners (27-6) also had their way on the offensive glass with 19 offensive rebounds, but Butler (27-6) kept it close for most of the game behind a 21-point, 8-rebound effort from Joel Cornette.

Injured guard Hollis Price had 12 points and 5 assists for Oklahoma, but the Sooners didn’t need much production from him. Ere and the frontcourt did the work.

The second game in Albany saw No. 3 Syracuse with a near-home game against No. 10 Auburn, a surprise entry in the Sweet 16 after upsetting No. 7 St. Joseph’s and No. 2 Wake Forest. Syracuse led throughout the game, including by 17 at one stage, but Marquis Daniels (game-high 27 points, 9 rebounds) and the Tigers stayed within striking distance, getting within three on two occasions in the latter part of the second half.

But Carmelo Anthony came alive in the second half, where he scored all 18 of his points. The Orangemen missed a few free throws, but made enough plays to hold off a late barrage of three-pointers by Auburn in a 79-78 victory to advance to the Elite Eight. The Tigers (22-12) were right there at times, but could never get over the hump against the Orangemen (27-5).

The Big East led the way in the first two rounds, as all four of its teams made the Sweet 16, but the Big 12 rules the Elite Eight as all three of its remaining teams advanced and Syracuse is the only Big East team. In fact, the Big 12 is the only conference with more than one team in the Elite Eight.

Side Dishes

Bogans Questionable: As expected, Kentucky senior Keith Bogans sat out practice Friday after suffering a high ankle sprain in Thursday night’s 63-57 win over Wisconsin. The SEC Player of the Year said there is no way he could have played a game on Friday, but he will try if it heals sufficiently by Saturday’s regional final against Marquette.

Shoulder Surgery Ahead: Purdue guard Kenneth Lowe, the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, will have surgery on his dislocated shoulder next month. He sustained the injury on February 22 against Ohio State, but was able to play in the Boilermakers’ NCAA Tournament games. Lowe was also the team’s second-leading scorer with 11.6 points per game. Purdue head coach Gene Keady expects Lowe to be out of basketball action for four months.

Tar Heels Meet With AD: A group of North Carolina’s players met with athletic director Dick Baddour on Thursday, and they met with him individually on Friday to talk about the program and head coach Matt Doherty. Baddour reiterated that he supports Doherty, and Doherty said he initiated the idea so that players will talk about any concerns internally instead of with the media. The Tar Heels went 19-16 this season, losing in the quarterfinals of the NIT.

Tonight’s Menu:

Two teams will earn trips to New Orleans for the Final Four today.

• In the Midwest regional final, No. 1 Kentucky takes on No. 3 Marquette in Minneapolis.

• The West regional final is a rematch of an earlier game this season, as No. 1 Arizona takes on No. 2 Kansas in Anaheim.

That’s all for now. Enjoy your Saturday and the first two regional finals!

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