Texas, UCLA Win With Stunning Conclusions

It was a Thursday night of hard-to-believe finishes, as well as the season-enders for J.J. Redick and Adam Morrison, during NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 action.

This story originally published on FrankHoops.com

Ironically enough, the two college basketball players whose accomplishments were linked and charted from nearly mid-November on saw their seasons come to conclusions barely 2 ½ hours apart Thursday night.


If a Hollywood scriptwriter had penned what transpired Thursday night in a couple of NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 semifinals, he or should would have described how J.J. Redick rallied Duke past SLU with a flurry of 3-point shots in Atlanta and, later, detailed Adam Morrison's remarkable play in Oakland as Gonzaga knocked off UCLA to move into a Saturday regional final against Memphis.


But there was no script to what took place in those games. Or, if there was, maybe it was written by a LSU graduate – or, more likely, a UCLA grad.


C'mon, though.


Who could have sat in front of a laptop and created a scenario in which Redick went out for the Blue Devils not with a blaze of jump-shooting glory but a three-of-18 shooting performance in which he was nearly locked down by a red-shirt freshman from LSU, Garrett Temple, during a 64-58 defeat that brought the nation's top-ranked team's season crashing down?


And whose imagination could have conjured up a scenario in which Morrison, after dropping 24 points despite the combined efforts of two of the west's best defenders, Arron Afflalo and Cedric Bozeman, was almost helpless to stave off an 11-0 UCLA tidal wave that enveloped Morrison and his teammates with a little more than three minutes to go – and sent the Bruins to Saturday's regional final and the Bulldogs on their way back to Spokane?


Oh, and by the way: How about that finish in the second game in Atlanta, the one in which the 3-pointer by West Virginia's Kevin Pittsnogle with five seconds to go was trumped by the one fired in by Kenton Paulino of Texas at the buzzer, giving the Longhorns a 71-68 victory that begged the description "stunning" until the events on the West Coast some 20 or so minutes later made "stunning" a relative term?


As for the fourth game played Thursday, it was up to Memphis – all things considered, unless you were turned on by the drama of the other three contests – to turn in the most impressive 40-minute performance of the evening during the Tigers' nearly business-like 80-64 victory over Bradley in Oakland.


The Braves, who mowed down Kansas and then Pittsburgh over a three-day stretch during the first two rounds of the tournament in Auburn Hills, tied the score at 29 late in the first half Thursday night.


But then the shock-and-awe system that Coach John Calipari and his Tigers employ went to work, overwhelming Bradley in much the same fashion as they had 32 previous victims.


Who was the most impressive Tiger Thursday? Uh, where can we start?


It seemed as if Rodney Carney (24 points, three points and, along with Tyrus Thomas of LSU in Atlanta, the most spectacular aerial act of the night), Darius Washington (18 points on mostly come-as-you-will drives to the rim), Shawne Williams (12 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots) and Joey Dorsey (six points and 11 rebounds) took turns making a mockery of the notion that Memphis was "the most susceptible" of the four No. 1 seeds to bite the dust first.


And to think that there were some (gulp!) who thought that Bradley had a decent shot at knocking the Tigers off Thursday night.


At roughly the same time, in Atlanta, Coach John Brady's LSU team was going about the busy of confirming what many had suspected all along: Duke was a squad that needed its stars, Redick and center Shelden Williams, to be at least something approaching sensational in order to knock off a quality opponent.


Williams (23 points, 13 rebounds and four blocked shots) was all of that on an evening when his fellow All-America was anything but while being guarded, for the most part, by Temple.


The supporting cast? It was a collective seven of 29 from the field.


The casual college basketball fan may have heard about Glen Davis, the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year with the goofy ("Big Baby") nickname, beforehand.


But after the Tigers' victory sent the program to a regional final for the first time since 1987, there should be a greater national appreciation for the likes of forwards Tyrus Thomas (nine points, 13 rebounds and five blocked shots in a performance that screeched "lottery pick!"),and Tasmin Mitchell (10 points, 10 rebounds and three assists) and guards Temple (he of the night's, and one of the season's, top defensive efforts) and Darrel Mitchell (14 points, six rebounds and five assists).


Before Paulino's shot from the left wing after a pass from freshman A.J. Abrams rendered the Mountaineers' long-range performance moot, it appeared as if West Virginia's 15 3-pointers might get John Beilein's program into a regional final for the second year in a row.


But one thing is certain about what took place in the Texas-West Virginia clash: If LaMarcus Aldridge (26 points and 13 rebounds) hadn't put on a full-blown demonstration as to why he is expected to be the first selection in the June 28 NBA Draft, the Mountaineers would be the ones preparing for a game with LSU on Saturday.


And then there was the game that had the latest (approximately 9:30 Pacific Time) and most startling conclusion.


Gonzaga, despite its 20-game winning streak, was the consensus underdog going into its game with the Bruins – in large part because of what was viewed as a suspect defense.


But Coach Mark Few, mixing man-to-man and zone defenses, with a smattering of soft full-court pressure tossed in for good measure, got a sensational effort from his team, which led by as many as 17 points late in the first half and as many as 14 with a little more than 11 minutes remaining in regulation.


After Morrison's two free throws gave his team a 71-62 advantage, all that separated his team with a Saturday rematch with the last squad to beat the Bulldogs (83-72, in Memphis, on Dec. 27) were three minutes and 27 seconds against the Bruins, who had never gained any offensive continuity to that point and were playing with all of their timeouts burned up.


But, after Ryan Hollins' two free throws cut UCLA's deficit to a point, came the sequence of events – Bozeman deflecting the ball away from J.P. Batista, Jordan Farmar retrieving it for the Bruins and passing to Luc Richard Mbah a Moute for the go-ahead layup with 10 seconds remaining, and Mbah a Moute slapping the ball loose from Derek Raivio on Gonzaga's ensuing possession – that led to UCLA's 73-71 victory that will still be difficult to believe years from now.


It was the stuff of a screenwriter with a vivid imagination – and a UCLA rooting interest.


Inducted into the USBWA Hall of Fame last April, Frank Burlison is Scout.com's national basketball expert and is also a columnist for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at frank.burlison@presstelegram.com. Read more of Burlison's pieces at www.frankhoops.com

Scout NY Preps Top Stories