NCAA Tourney Late Thursday Analysis

Two mild upsets, but a whole lot of shakin', and Frank Burlison sorts out the Thursday NCAA first-round night session.

As was the case during the morning and afternoon games, the first-round NCAA tournament games played Thursday night provided few true "upsets."

Only two lower-seeded teams, No. 11 Alabama-Birmingham (82-68 over LSU in Boise) and No. 9 Nevada (61-57 against Texas in Chicago), survived and advanced to Saturday from the eight late games.

That doesn't mean that things were rather predictable Thursday night. Far from it, in fact.

The No. 1 overall seed, Illinois (which tops the Chicago region), was anything but overwhelming – just as Washington (No. 1 in the Albuquerque region) wasn't in a mostly sluggish effort during a 88-77 victory earlier Thursday in Boise.

The Illini led Fairleigh Dickinson by just a point at intermission and, despite moving out to a 15-point advantage, never could knock the 16th seed into oblivion before settling for a 67-55 victory.

Nevada will present a myriad of more problems, especially in the form of a skilled and tall frontline that is led by Nick Fazekas and Kevin Pinkney, and an underrated (at least, nationally) freshman guard in Ramon Sessions.

Arizona trailed Utah State 29-26 at halftime in Boise and looked as if it was going to become the second victim of a Big West Conference team. Big West member Pacific had knocked off Pittsburgh 79-71 Thursday morning in Boise.

But the Wildcats, playing as solid (at both ends of the floor) a 20 minutes of basketball as they've turned out this season, pulled away to win 66-53 behind center Channing Frye's outstanding stat line of 17 points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots.

Things usually turn out A-OK for Arizona's offense when Frye gets the ball passed to him often.

Wake Forest's Demon Deacons looked like they needed a caffeine jolt in the first half (trailing by as many as eight points) before Chris Paul & Co. got to wheelin' and dealin'.

Paul was suspended for Wake Forest's ACC tournament loss to North Carolina State. If it wasn't obvious in that 16-point defeat on March 11 in Washington, D.C., it should have been Thursday night when Paul had 20 points and six assists: the Demon Deacons aren't nearly the team without Paul in their lineup as they are when he's on the floor. Duh!

The evening games in Tucson produced two of the eight or nine best individual performances of the 16 contests play across the four regions Thursday.

One of those was by sophomore forward Adam Morrison, who had 27 points, six rebounds, five assists, two steals and a blocked shot in Gonzaga's much-tougher-than-generally-anticipated 74-64 decision against Winthrop.

Two and a half-hours later, senior guard Ronald Ross dropped 28 points on one UCLA freshman guard (Arron Afflalo) while holding another (Jordan Farmar) to just a three-point field goal while leading Texas Tech past the Bruins 78-66.

UCLA Coach Ben Howland elected to keep his team in a man-to-man defense the entire game, with usually unfavorable results as the Red Raiders hit .615 from the field.

The guess here is that Gonzaga will play a great deal of zone Saturday. But the rangy 6-8 Morrison, a player with whom NBA scouts, general managers and personnel directors continue to fall in love, will provide a much tougher defensive task than anyone from the Bruins presented Texas Tech with Thursday night.

Recently elected to the USBWA Hall of Fame, Frank Burlison is's National Basketball Expert and also covers college basketball for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at

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