Get inside March Madness with SI.com's Luke Winn in the Tourney Blog, a daily journal of college basketball commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
3/25/2006 08:40:00 PM
The Hulk And The Hops
Davis and Thomas: The most unstoppable front line in the nation.
ATLANTA -- Glen Davis is a monstrosity, and he was seemingly everywhere in the minutes after the buzzer sounded to put the cap on LSU's incredible run to the Final Four: Standing in front of the Tigers' fan section, screaming his lungs out after the 70-60, overtime win over Texas; doing a version of the Electric Slide near center court; and hugging his mother, Toyna, who had made her way onto the floor. But Davis' energy level finally reached a point when, while the rest of his teammates were on the awards stage, mugging for the cameras, the Big Baby had to rest. With a yellow boa dangling around his neck, he lowered his 6-foot-9, 315-pound frame to the stage, and yelled to anyone within earshot, "Man, I'm tired!" And then he sprawled out, looking up to the Georgia Dome roof, and said it again.
What Davis had just done was more than a day's work. He scored 26 points in 39 minutes -- including an unlikely 3-pointer with 3:07 left in OT -- and held Longhorns star center LaMarcus Aldridge to four points on 2-of-14 shooting. "I just played a game and overtime, and I was up there dancing. I was just trying absorb it all," Davis said later. "I'm exhausted."
Meanwhile, the other half of the unique front-court duo that powered the Tigers to their first Final Four since 1986 was still going strong, wildly waving his arms to the crowd and telling his teammates, "Let's go cut down the nets!" Tireless Tyrus Thomas, the 6-9 gazelle who scored 21 points, grabbed 13 boards and blocked three shots en route to being named the regional's Most Outstanding Player, is the above-the-rim complement to Davis' substantial presence in the post. Thomas, a redshirt freshman with a jaw-dropping vertical leap, slammed home three alley-oops -- the first coming on Texas' initial switch to a 2-3 zone, with 11:51 left in the first half -- and has a propensity for making plays, said LSU coach John Brady, that "can somewhat demoralize the other team."
Thomas and Davis, LSU's Mr. Hops and Mr. Hulk, respectively, each made their share of demoralizing plays against Texas. After the 'Horns jumped out to a 9-2 lead to start the game, Thomas' follow slam of a Darrel Mitchell miss with 16:16 on the clock kick-started a 10-0 LSU run that set the tone for the rest of the game -- by annoucning that the Tigers weren't going to lose the battle inside. Davis hit numerous clutch shots down the stretch, the biggest of which was a turnaround J with the shot clock expiring to put LSU up 52-49 with 1:05 left in regulation. It was the cushion the Tigers needed to survive the Daniel Gibson 3-pointer that sent the game to OT. And on defense, Brady said, "Glen fought [Aldridge] off the post and made him catch the ball where he wasn't used to catching it." Judging from the box score, it worked.
LSU truly did survive on the strength of its frontcourt; it may have lost the rebounding battle, 45-42, but Davis and Thomas outscored Texas' 4 and 5 players, Brad Buckman and Aldridge, 47-17, and outshot them 63.6 percent to 21.7 percent. The post-dominated Tigers reached Indianapolis with a formula that flies in the face of traditional tournament thinking, relying very little on their backcourt -- or the 3-pointer -- for offense. "I said yesterday, 'If our perimeter can hold up, we have a chance to win this game,'" recalled Brady. And LSU's guards did just that; Garrett Temple, the defensive hero of the semifinal win over Duke, scored four points but committed only one turnover, and Mitchell had five assists and just two turnovers. LSU gave the ball away 10 times all afternoon.
The fourth-seeded Tigers may have an abnormal approach, but they shouldn't be regarded as a novelty in a Final Four that could be otherwise populated with 1s and 2s. LSU never rose above a No. 18 ranking in the regular season, and was the underdog in its past two games, but really, can anyone shut down the Tigers' titans at this point? Davis may have been fatigued in the postgame, but he and LSU will be riding a wave of confidence -- and will be energized by the support of an entire region of embattled survivors of Hurricane Katrina -- when they head to Indianapolis. And one gets the notion that their success story is not ready to end in the semifinals.
"I looked at Glen [after the press conference] and said, 'You know, this is nice, but for some reason, I feel like this is not over,'" Brady said. "Before this happened, I thought I'd react differently, but for some reason I'm not [going crazy]. I feel like there's something else we need to do."
Davis said the secret to making it this far was, simply, "Believing." This weekend in Atlanta, the Tigers won over a wealth of new believers, who are now aware that for this team, another net-cutting ceremony is well within reach.
Rodney Carney and Memphis have cruised into the Elite Eight.
(UPDATE: This forecast was way off the money. But I'll leave it up, just so you can take shots at me ...)
The Elite Eight is set, with two more No. 1 seeds emerging out of last night's chaos, and an 11 seed, George Mason, on the verge of the greatest mid-major Cinderella story in NCAA tournament history.
I began the tournament slotting a Final Four of Texas, Memphis, UConn and Villanova, with a Memphis-UConn title game and the Huskies winning it all -- and I've vowed to live or die with those picks. I'll readily admit, however, that the Huskies no longer look like the squad most likely to win the national championship. So, before two schools book their trips to Indianapolis this evening, I've re-ranked the remaining octet in terms of their title odds:
1. Memphis: John Calipari's Tigers are the only No. 1 seed in the dance that hasn't had to break a serious sweat. One could attribute that to lack of competition (Oral Roberts, Bucknell and Bradley) -- but I think it's a sign they're ready to reach Monday Night in Indy.
2. Villanova: The 'Cats can't possibly have a colder shooting game than they did against BC on Friday -- and they still managed to win.
3. UConn: The Huskies shouldn't take George Mason lightly; the way they're turning the ball over (26 against UW), nothing is a lock.
4. LSU: Vegas says the Tigers (at 10-to-1 odds) are the biggest longshot to win it all other than GMU; I say the way LSU is playing defense, it has a very reasonable chance.
5. Texas: The 'Horns can make it to Indy -- and are capable of beating anyone there -- but they need more consistent play out of their backcourt.
6. UCLA: Are the Bruins, like UConn, destined to succeed after a great escape in the Sweet 16? Maybe ... but I don't think they match up well against Memphis.
7. Florida: The Gators have been the tourney's most impressive young team other than Memphis -- but 'Nova's pressure is going to give them serious trouble.
8. George Mason: GMU toppling UConn isn't far-fetched, but the Patriots beating the Huskies and say, 'Nova and Memphis in a row, is just too crazy to fathom.
(Just for kicks, here's how one sportsbook listed the championship odds Saturday morn: UConn is 1.8/1; Memphis is 4.5/1; Texas is 4.5/1; Villanova is 5/1; Florida is 8/1; UCLA is 9/1; LSU is 10/1; George Mason is 30/1. The real oddsmakers' opinions differ greatly from mine.)
Daniel Gibson and the 'Horns were almost Back In Black.
- Remember Texas' ill-fated experiment with black jerseys in its 31-point loss to Duke on Dec. 10 at the Meadowlands? The Longhorns locked up their dark duds and never wore them again for the rest of the season (they had originally planned to sport them for a number of Big 12 games as well). Well, word has it that, if the 'Horns had been pitted against the Blue Devils in the Atlanta Regional Final, they were seriously considering breaking out the black to make a bold statement in the rematch. The jerseys were shipped along with the rest of the team's gear to Atlanta this weekend, but now that the second-seeded 'Horns are facing LSU, they're forced to wear home whites.
- The NBA exec shown in our cell-phone cam shot from Thursday was none other than Danny Ainge. He was no doubt on a working trip, but it was also four days from the 25th Anniversary of Ainge's full-length drive and layup with three seconds left to lift BYU over Notre Dame -- at the now-demolished Omni in Atlanta. Ainge saw another buzzer-beater on Thursday, with Texas' Kenton Paulino killing West Virginia with a 3 at the gun. Was it a coincidence?
- SI.com correspondent Lang Whitaker wrote in with an excellent point about George Mason coach Jim Larranaga's use of the Purple Ribbon All-Stars' track Kryptonite to pump up his team. It obviously worked ... but it's also hilarious that a song about, basically, getting extremely high (My blunts I don't be lacin'/I'm on Kryptonite) became the ex officio anthem of the dance's best underdog story. The Patriots: America's Team ... and Amsterdam's Team as well.
- Finally, to bring you some Atlanta culture other than Big Boi (who leads the Purple Ribbon All-Stars), I ventured out to Clarkston, Ga., on Friday morning to pay a visit to ATL-artist-on-the-rise Cooper Sanchez. Back when I still lived in Atlanta, Sanchez had gained underground fame for posting goofy, wooden ape-head cut-outs around the city to promote his day job, Ape Man Landscaping; in the past two years he's done two sold-out shows of far more elaborate work in the city. The photo below shows Sanchez on the left with a Ralph Steadman-esque depiction of a '70s cowboy; a large piece from his "Sanctuary" show in the middle; and on the right, a replica of the old Atlanta (and Milwaukee) Braves logo that hangs in the corner of his barn/studio.
One year ago on the same Friday of the dance, 'Nova's Allan Ray was in disbelief.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
These two games may not have been exactly alike, but does anyone else see the parallels?
No. 1 North Carolina 67, No. 5 Villanova 66 Sweet 16, Syracuse Regional March 25, 2005
'Nova, like Washington, an underdog five-seed facing the favorite to win the national championship, was within three points of the Tar Heels -- at 66-63 -- with under 10 seconds to go. Wildcats guard Allan Ray drove into the lane, drew a whistle after being bumped by UNC guard Melvin Scott, and sunk a leaning shot. Scott gestured to the ref -- who had yet to signal anything -- that the "foul" occurred on the ground ... only to have the zebra call traveling on Ray.
No foul. No bucket. No chance to tie the game on the free throw. 'Nova lost, 67-63; Ray's travel went on to be known as "The Call" in Main Line lore; and the Heels won the title 10 days later in St. Louis.
Brandon Roy and Rudy Gay went toe-to-toe during their double-technical in the second half.
No. 1 UConn 98, No. 5 Washington 92 (OT) Sweet 16, Washington D.C. Regional March 24, 2006
The West Coast Huskies had UConn frazzled (26 turnovers!) and on the ropes (10 points down in the second half). Washington blew its lead, getting taken to overtime on Rashad Anderson's dagger 3 with 1.8 seconds left in regulation, and going on to lose by six in the extra period. But two key calls had a major impact on the game: The first, a double-technical on Brandon Roy and Rudy Gay with 13:48 left in the second half, resulted in Roy being assessed his third (a regular personal while guarding Gay) and fourth (on the T) fouls -- and UW's All-America guard being forced to sit for more than seven minutes.
The second, a non-call on a goaltend by UConn's Hilton Armstrong with 1:47 left in overtime and UW trailing 88-87, would have given Washington its first lead of the extra period. On top of this, the free-throw disparity was enormous: As UConn's Craig Austrie stepped to the line with one second left in the game, he was shooting his team's 46th and 47th free throws of the evening. Washington attempted just 23, and had five players (including four starters) foul out.
Let's be clear: UConn was not handed this game as some sort of conspiracy (and nor was UNC in '05). Coach Jim Calhoun's team rallied back, nailed huge shots down the stretch and scraped out a 98-92 victory in what point guard Marcus Williams called "probably the toughest game I've ever played in." It was also of this tournament's most entertaining and controversial contests. Washington fans aren't going to let this one go lightly; it will be painful for them to tune in on Sunday and see Anderson and Co. squaring off against 11th-seeded George Mason for a trip to the Final Four.
Is it UConn's destiny, like it was UNC's, to emerge from a contentious Sweet 16 game and go on to win the whole tournament? Or are the East Coast Huskies simply playing too sloppily to string together three more wins? They can't continue to tempt fate like this (or like they did against Albany and Kentucky) and expect to win a national title.