Sunday, March 17, 2002

Southern Illinois crashes the party

The Associated Press

        Southern Illinois hasn't been big on the national scene since Walt Frazier led it to the 1967 NIT championship, but the Salukis are building momentum. Undaunted by an early 19-point deficit, 11th-seeded SIU came back to stun No. 3 Georgia 77-75 in the East Regional Sunday.

  Friday, Syracuse, N.Y.

  • Maryland (28-4) vs.
Kentucky (22-9)
  • Sou. Illinois (28-7) vs.
Connecticut (26-6)

  Thursday, Lexington, Ky.

  • Duke (31-3) vs.
Indiana (22-11)
  • Kent State (29-5) vs.
Pittsburgh (29-5)

  Friday, Madison, Wis.

  • Kansas (31-3) vs.
Illinois (26-8)
  • Oregon (25-8) vs.
Texas (22-11)

  Thursday, San Jose, Calif.

  • UCLA (21-11) vs.
Missouri (23-11)
  • Oklahoma (29-4) vs.
Arizona (24-9)

        Southern Illinois joins Missouri (12th in the West) and Kent State (10th in the South) to put three teams with double-digit seedings in the final 16, the same total as in 2001.

        The only other time the Salukis made the round of 16 was 1977 — when just 32 teams participated. That was also the only other time SIU won an NCAA tournament game.

        The Salukis got 25 points from Jermaine Dearman and advanced to play No. 2 Connecticut, which got past North Carolina State 77-74 behind Caron Butler's 34 points and nine rebounds.

        “They were the aggressor early. We became the aggressor, and then Jermaine got us back into to it,” SIU coach Bruce Weber said. “We set a goal — it sounded crazy back in the spring — to make the Sweet 16.”

        The Big 12 leads all conferences with four teams (Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri) — up from one last year — while the Pac-10 has three still in it (Oregon, Arizona, UCLA). The ACC, Big Ten and Big East each have two.

        In a smaller-scale surprise, sixth-seeded Texas let a 23-point lead shrink all the way to two before beating No. 3 Mississippi State 68-64 in the Midwest Regional. Texas next faces No. 2 Oregon.

        Also in the Midwest, fourth-seeded Illinois topped Creighton 72-60, with Frank Williams scoring 20, all in the second half. The Illini move on to play No. 1 Kansas.

        The East's No. 1, Maryland, had no problem at all with Wisconsin, setting a school mark for NCAA tourney margin of victory by winning 87-57. Juan Dixon's 29 points allowed him to break two school career records held by Len Bias: most points in the NCAAs (197) and overall (2,172). Maryland plays No. 4 Kentucky next.

        In the West, eight-seeded UCLA will play Missouri after knocking off top-seeded Cincinnati 105-101 in two overtimes,, and second-seeded Oklahoma advanced to a matchup with No. 3 Arizona by defeating Xavier 78-65.

        And in the South's lone game Sunday, third-seeded Pittsburgh held California scoreless for about 10 minutes and won 63-50. The Panthers will play Kent State.

        The other third-round matchup in the South features No. 1 Duke and fifth-seeded Indiana, which both won Saturday.

        “We've been up and down all season,” said UCLA forward Matt Barnes, who scored all 17 of his points after halftime and had 11 assists. “Especially with the high expectations we've had. But we usually get hot at tourney time.”

        UCLA heads to the round of 16 for the fifth time in six years, and its next opponent is Missouri. The Bruins were led Sunday by Dan Gadzuric's career-high 26 points, while Jason Kapono added 19.

        “That's as talented an eight seed as there's ever been in the history of the tournament,” Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins said.

        “They're terrific.”
        Sunday games:

        Texas 68, Mississippi State 64 - Texas (22-11) was up 34-11 about 7 minutes before halftime, but the Longhorns didn't put away the Bulldogs (27-7) until Deginald Erskin's three-point play with 1:52 to go. Texas is in the final 16 for the first time since 1997.

        At Chicago Illinois 72, Creighton 60 - Williams, 7-of-10 in the second half, also had five assists and five rebounds for the Illini (26-8), who are 16-6 at the United Center since it opened in 1994. Creighton (23-9) — which shocked Florida in double overtime in the first round — never has won a second-round NCAA game.

        Maryland 87, Wisconsin 57 - The Terrapins (28-4), a Final Four team in 2001, reached the third round for the sixth time in nine years. All-American guard Dixon was 10-for-19 from the field, including 4-for-7 from 3-point range, and 5-of-6 on free throws.

        Charlie Wills scored 17 for Wisconsin (19-13), which tied for the Big Ten regular-season title.

        Connecticut 77, North Carolina St. 74 - Butler was 10-for-13 from the field and 12-for-12 on free throws for UConn (26-6), the 1999 national champion. Anthony Grundy had 17 points on 5-for-17 shooting for the seventh-seeded Wolfpack (23-11), who were making their first NCAA appearance since 1991.

        Pittsburgh 63, California 50 - Pitt (29-5) held California (23-9) without a point for 9 1/2 minutes during a decisive 16-0 run. Julius Page scored seven of his 17 points during that spurt.

        Sixth-seeded Cal shot 31 percent overall.


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