Friday, March 21, 2003

Three upsets and four that were close



By Jim O'Connell
The Associated Press

Central Michigan, Arizona State and Tulsa provided the first-round upsets Thursday. Holy Cross, Utah State, Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Colorado State all came oh-so-close to knocking off a favorite in the NCAA tournament.

By the looks of many of the first-round games, other players and coaches better brace themselves for thrillers of their own.

The West Regional had two of the double-digit seed wins as No. 11 Central Michigan beat No. 6 Creighton 79-73 and No. 10 Arizona State defeated No. 7 Memphis 84-71.

Tulsa pulled off the biggest upset, according to the seedings, as the Golden Hurricane, No. 13 in the Midwest, beat No. 4 Dayton 84-71.

Holy Cross was the most expected of the near-upsets as the 14th-seeded Crusaders lost 72-68 to third-seeded Marquette in the Midwest Regional.

Two years ago, Holy Cross put a scare into No. 2-seeded Kentucky and did the same to top-seeded Kansas in 2002.

Kansas was a No. 2 again this season and this time Utah State provided the scare before losing 64-61. The 15th-seeded Aggies had two chances to tie the game in the final 10 seconds.

Notre Dame had an even closer finish as the fifth-seeded Fighting Irish beat No. 12 Wisconsin-Milwaukee 70-69, with the Panthers missing a layup with 3 seconds to go.

Duke beat Colorado State 67-57, but the Blue Devils were up just two points with 1:25 to play.

The 2003 tournament had as many close calls in the first few games as in all of last season's opening round.

The first five games this year were all decided by five points or fewer, matching the number from last season's 32 first-round games, and the total later went to eight. In 2001, there were 12 first-round games decided by five points or fewer.

On Thursday, the other close games were: Missouri 72, Southern Illinois 71; Gonzaga 74, Cincinnati 69; California 76, North Carolina State 74 in overtime; Illinois 65, Western Kentucky 60; and Connecticut 58, BYU 53.

Two of the games that weren't close featured No. 1 seeds: Arizona beat Vermont 80-51 and Oklahoma downed South Carolina State 71-54. Also, Stanford beat San Diego 77-69 and Wisconsin downed Weber State 81-74.

When the Connecticut-BYU game ended, the big sigh everyone heard came from the tournament selection committee, which had mistakenly placed BYU in a bracket that had a Sunday regional final.

The Mormon-owned school cannot play on Sunday, so the NCAA agreed to move the Cougars to a different region if they advanced past the second round.

In Salt Lake City, Central Michigan (25-6) won an NCAA tournament game for the first time since 1975, despite having a 26-point lead dwindle to two late in the game. The Chippewas, who took advantage of 25 percent shooting and 13 turnovers by Creighton in the first half to build the big lead, became the fourth Mid-American Conference team in the last five years to win a first-round game.

"I could never imagine being in this stadium, beating a good team like Creighton," said Mike Manciel, who led Central Michigan with 29 points. "We continue to believe in one another. It's still not over."

In Oklahoma City, Arizona State (20-11) rode Pac-10 freshman of the year Ike Diogu, who was 9-for-11 from the field, had 22 points and prevailed in the second half of the big matchup inside with Memphis' Chris Massie. The Sun Devils' win made the Pac-10 4-0 Thursday.

"I'm disappointed, but I'll be honest with you, they played well," Memphis coach John Calipari said. "When they shoot 70 percent in the second half, it's going to be a hard game to win."

In Spokane, Wash., Jason Parker scored 24 points on 10-of-13 shooting, Dante Swanson was 8-of-15 for 24 points and Kevin Johnson added 16 points on a 7-of-10 effort for Tulsa.

Holy Cross, the champion of the Patriot League, was right there until the final minutes against its last three NCAA opponents.

"Our problem is we can't get over that first-game hump," Holy Cross coach Ralph Willard said after another fine defensive performance kept his team in the game. "I thought we could be a dangerous team after the first round."

Once again, no one will ever know.

Holy Cross, which last won an NCAA tournament game in 1953, has become this generation's giant-scarers, another Princeton - surprising opponents who were looking further down the bracket.

The Crusaders (26-5) managed to stay close to the Golden Eagles despite missing 10 free throws. They did it with team defense that held Conference USA player of the year Dwyane Wade to 15 points, all in the second half, and second-leading scorer Robert Jackson to four.

But Holy Cross couldn't stop everyone, and 6-foot-1 guard Travis Diener had a career-high 29 points.

"I got a few looks and I took them," said Diener, who was 6-for-7 from 3-point range. "It's not like I was looking to take bad shots. They just came."

Marquette (24-5) won a first-round game for the first time since 1996.

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Jim O'Connell has covered college basketball for The Associated Press since 1987. He was presented the Curt Gowdy Media Award by the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002.




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Three upsets and four that were close
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