Four teams advanced to the Elite 8 (Great 8?) last night in the NCAA Tournament. The first two games of the evening featured Xavier vs. West Virginia and North Carolina vs. Washington State. Let’s take a look at what went down:
(7) West Virginia vs. (3) Xavier:
Xavier jumped out to an early 8-0 lead and with a barrage of three pointers that lead stretched to 18 points with around nine minutes left in the first half. It was not looking good for WVU. Xavier was hitting everything and had complete control of the game. However, Mountaineer forward Wellington Smith went on a run of his own scoring eight unanswered points to pull within ten. WVU was able to cut the lead to seven at the half.
The Mountaineers continued their comeback in the second half and were able to pull within one point 41-40 with around 15 minutes left in the game. The game stayed tight the rest of the way. With 14 seconds left in the game, WVU forward Joe Alexander kissed a shot off the glass while getting fouled. The basket tied the game up and with one free throw left he had a chance to put his team up by one. His free throw went long hitting the back of the rim and when Xavier guard Drew Lavender’s shot missed the other way, the two teams headed into overtime.
In the extra session, WVU jumped out to a 71-65 lead within the first minute and a half, but a resilient Xavier team went on a 10-3 run led by B.J. Raymond’s back-to-back three pointers. With Alexander on the bench with five fouls, West Virginia was not able to recover and the Musketeers prevailed 79-75. Senior forward Josh Duncan led Xavier with 26 points and teammate C.J. Anderson added 12 points and 10 rebounds. Joe Alexander finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Mountaineers. OTR is hoping that Alexander returns for another season at WVU, because we have enjoyed watching him develop into one of the best college players in the country. If you get a chance, ESPN’s Dana O’Neil wrote a great piece on Alexander that is worth reading.
(4) Washington State vs. (1) North Carolina
Washington State plays great defense and they were able to hold UNC to 68 points on 43% shooting, but it was not enough. They forgot to score points. 47 points and only making 31% of your shots is not going to win you basketball games this deep in the tournament. Did anyone really think the Cougars had any shot at winning this game anyway? UNC hasn’t been tested yet and they weren’t last night in their 68-47 victory. All-American forward Tyler Hansbrough didn’t have his best shooting night, but his 18 points and 9 rebounds led his team in both categories. Junior Danny Green contributed 15 points off the bench. Junior center Aron Baynes played well for the Cougars, but foul trouble plagued him all game. He finished with 14 points on 6-8 shooting. That’s about it for this game. It really wasn’t an exciting game. All fifteen players played again for UNC for the third straight game.
The later games featured Tennessee vs. Louisville and UCLA vs. Western Kentucky. Let’s take a look:
(2) Tennessee vs. (3) Louisville
Tennessee went up 7-6 early in the game when forward Duke Crews made a two-point basket, but that was the last lead they held the whole game. The next time down the court Louisville’s Juan Palacios nailed a three pointer and the Cardinals never looked back. The Volunteers were able to pull within one point 37-36 during a 6-0 run to begin the second half; however, Louisville was able to take control and outscored Tennessee 42-24 the rest of the way. Louisville shot 52% from the field and were led by sophomore Earl Clark (off the bench) who dropped in 17 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. Four other players contributed with ten or more points in a very balanced effort for the Cardinals. Senior guard Chris Lofton, who may have been ailing from an injury, had a horrible shooting night (3-15), but went 7-7 from the stripe to lead all Volunteers with 15 points. Louisville advances to play North Carolina in the East regional finals. The Big East is 2-0 against the ACC in this year’s tournament, but UNC will have something to say about that on Saturday.
(1) UCLA vs. (12) Western Kentucky
How good is UCLA freshman Kevin Love? Good to quite good is the answer. Love scored 29 points on 10-14 shooting and pulled down 14 rebounds to lead his UCLA Bruins to an 88-78 victory. Western Kentucky never held a lead in this game, but did pull within four points 61-57 with seven minutes left in the game. Western Kentucky senior guard Tyrone Brazelton played a great game in their defeat. He led all scorers with 31 points and added five assists. UCLA’s James Keefe also had a solid game off the bench with 18 points and 12 rebounds. UCLA will now play Xavier in the West regional finals.