As UConn learned, the little guys are closing the gap
Posted: Saturday March 18, 2006 12:35AM; Updated: Saturday March 18, 2006 2:28AM
Jim Calhoun (right) told Will Allen after the game that his 16th-seeded Albany team was "something special."
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PHILADELPHIA -- History was in the making, and when Albany's Jamar Wilson hit a runner to put the Great Danes up by 12 over UConn with 11 minutes and change remaining, the possibility of a 16-seed beating a No. 1 for the first time seemed like a reality. Albany was taking it to UConn and a nation cheered for a school that only officially entered Division I in 1999.
This wouldn't have been a mere bracket buster -- just how many people had UConn winning it all? I did -- it would have been the biggest upset in college basketball history. After all, entering the game 16-seeds were 0-87, and UConn has two national championships to its credit and hails from the power Big East. Albany is in the weak America East and was making its first NCAA tournament appearance.
Alas, when UConn finally got things together and started playing, the disparity in talent was obvious. Albany showed tremendous heart, but thanks to Marcus Williams, UConn was able to escape with a hard-fought 72-59 victory.
It was quite a day for the little guys. Northwestern State, a No. 14 seed, shocked third-seeded Iowa on Jermaine Wallace's ridiculous fallaway 3-pointer with 0.5 seconds remaining; 13th-seeded Bradley knocked off No. 4 Kansas; and 11th-seeded George Mason sent No. 5 Michigan State packing. With each victory, the lesser known schools are proving that these victories are no flukes.
Back in Philly, when the final buzzer sounded, UConn coach Jim Calhoun breathed a big sigh of relief and congratulated his counterpart, Will Brown. "I hugged Coach Brown, who I don't even know, and said, 'You guys are something special.' They shocked us and put us in a situation where I think I witnessed our poorest offensive effort in close to 20 years at UConn. I have incredible praise for Albany. They made us look like we've never looked this season."
Sure, UConn came out flat in the beginning of each half, but Albany had such intensity and will that it caught the Huskies off guard. "We knew we were a 1 and they were a 16, but they didn't give us anything," said Williams. "You could tell that they expected to win. We never lost our poise, though. We knew that if we got stops and played like we were capable of playing, we'd be all right because we've been in these situations before."
It was Williams' leadership and sharpshooting -- he scored a game-high 21 points and was 5-of-7 from 3-point range -- along with some stellar defense from reserve guard Craig Austrie that allowed UConn to come back and eventually pull away. And although the Huskies escaped, they know that they have to play for 40 minutes instead of 10 if they are going to make it to Indy.