What We Learned
Watch the fatigue, wait for the fat lady
By Tim Crothers, Sports IllustratedGREENSBORO, N.C. -- There was only one last-second finish among the four NCAA first-round games at the Greensboro Coliseum Thursday. Missouri's rousing finish against Georgia and Utah State's overtime upset of Ohio State were the highlights for the day. This is what we learned:
1. Beware of the fatigue factor
When UCLA struggled offensively against Hofstra and fell behind 33-29 at the half, Bruins coach Steve Lavin calmed his troops during halftime by reminding them of the "fatigue factor."
UCLA has come to rely on the effects of 40 minutes of fullcourt pressing to wear down its opponents late in games and it worked to perfection on Thursday. Hofstra coach Jay Wright admitted after the game that his players became "mentally drained" by the Bruins' pressure which helps explain why the Pride scored only fifteen points in the second half, including just five in the last 13 minutes and zero over the final 3:08. Hofstra had no field goals in the last 9:13 of UCLA's 61-48 victory.
The press doesn't come naturally to Lavin, who was trained on hard-nosed halfcourt man-to-man defense. But Lavin says that his team's defense was so porous early in the season that in a fit of rage at halftime of the North Carolina game on Dec. 23, he ordered up the press and the Bruins rallied from a 19-point deficit to take a lead before eventually tiring in an 80-70 loss. UCLA has run the press for every minute of every game since then and the Bruins have won 18 of 22 games.
Wright tried to prepare for the UCLA press by running his five starters against as many as seven defenders in practice. Alas, those defenders were mostly 5-foot-11 walk-ons, which hardly simulates UCLA's attack.
"We know we have to be patient with the press because it has a devastating cumulative effect," UCLA forward Matt Barnes said. "We knew we'd drain them eventually. We saw it in their eyes. As soon as we sensed they were tiring we put the dagger in them."
2. What about Bobb?
With Utah State trailing Ohio State 51-46 with just over six minutes remaining in the game, Aggies senior forward Curtis Bobb was 0-for-5, hadn't scored a single point and found himself planted on the USU bench.
Bobb had every reason to lack confidence in his jumpshot, having made only 18 of his last 64 three-point attempts. Bobb settled himself down the best way he knows how, by fidgeting with his tongue ring, while he gave himself a stern pep talk. "You're a senior," Bobb told Bobb. "You're not going out this way."
Bobb, one of four Aggies who acquired tongue rings during this season, re-entered the game moments later and forced a five-second call on defense that jumpstarted him. His 3-pointer from the top of the key with 5:05 left pulled the Aggies within a point, 52-51. He sank another trey at the 3:32 mark to give Utah State a 56-54 lead.
The Buckeyes then rebounded to take a 60-56 lead with 1:04 left, prompting Ohio State forward Boban Savovic to tell Bobb, "You guys are going home early again this season."
Bobb actually replied, "It's not over 'til the fat lady sings."
The Aggies clawed back to force overtime and Bobb scored eight points in the extra period as the Aggies won 77-68, the program's first NCAA tournament victory since 1970. Bobb crossed paths with Savovic in the waning seconds of overtime and said, "I believe the fat lady's singing for you."
3. Jason Williams is (still) healthy
The burning question before Duke's opener with Monmouth concerned the health of Jason Williams' ankle which he sprained in the ACC Tournament final on Sunday. Williams appeared to emphatically answer that question by scoring 14 points in the first nine minutes against the Hawks and producing a total of 20 in the first half on 6-of-8 shooting from behind the arc.
Then with 14 minutes remaining in the second half, Williams was knocked to the floor and Duke reserve center Matt Christensen's foot stomped on Williams' bum ankle. Fortunately for Williams, he shifted his foot just in time to avoid serious injury, a maneuver that Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski later called Williams' best move of the game.
Still, Williams limped off the court and sat out the rest of Duke's 95-52 blowout, which meant that the burning question after the game still concerned the health of Williams' ankle. Williams responded by hopping from one foot to the other in hopes of persuading the ever-skeptical press that he was indeed OK.
"I was more scared than hurt," Williams said afterward. "Whenever a 260-pound guy lands on your foot, that can shake you up a little."