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InsideHoops [NCAA Home]

NCAA Tournament Best Games





/ Mar. 24, 2005

From 64 (well, 65) teams, we're now down to 16. The first two rounds of the 2005 NCAA Tournament are in the books. Below is a quick review of the teams that are still alive, followed by recaps of the best games that took place.

Who’s Still Alive:

Chicago Region: Illinois, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Arizona, Oklahoma State

Albuquerque Region: Washington, Louisville, Texas Tech, West Virginia

Syracuse Region: North Carolina, Villanova, Wisconsin, North Carolina State

Austin Region: Duke, Michigan State, Utah, Kentucky

Best Games of First Two Rounds:

Wake Forest vs. West Virginia:

111-105. Two overtimes. A buzzer-beating block. Two last-effort three-pointers to keep the game alive. Six players fouling out. A seven beating a two. An NCAA Tournament classic.

If you happened to miss Saturday night’s incredible battle between the Demon Deacons and the Mountaineers, then you missed the game of the tournament so far. Wake Forest led by as much as 14 points in the first half, and by 13 at halftime, as Justin Gray hit a three-pointer as time expired in the first half to give Wake full momentum heading into the locker room. The fact that West Virginia had the poise and ability to stick around and chip away at the lead in the face of what appeared to be a much stronger opponent makes their comeback even more impressive.

At the end of regulation, after West Virginia took the lead on a beautiful back-door lay-up, and then added free throws to eventually take a three-point advantage into the final seconds, Wake Forest senior guard Taron Downey hit a clutch three-pointer while falling down to tie the game and send it into overtime.

West Virginia played like the higher seeded team in overtime, though, by not backing down against the Deacons. Mountaineer junior Mike Gansey scored 10 points in the overtime period to seemingly lead his team to the win. But after West Virginia took a three-point advantage into the last 15 seconds of overtime, Downey, again, hit a tremendous three-pointer to tie the game. The senior truly left all he had on the court. West Virginia had a chance to win it at the buzzer, but they tried the same back-door play that got them the lead at the end of regulation, and Wake center Eric Williams was ready for it, and came up with a tremendous block on the game-winning attempt.

In double overtime, with stars Chris Paul and Justin Gray fouled out, Wake simply lacked the star power and scoring ability to keep up with West Virginia and the white- hot Gansey, who added nine more points in the second overtime. Downey’s last-ditch efforts to lead his team came up a little short, and the heroics of Gansey, Kevin Pittsnoggle, and Joe Herber gave the Mountaineers the unbelievable upset.

West Virginia vs. Creighton:

The West Virginia Mountaineers must be out on a mission to have a full day of ESPN Classic dedicated to them. Prior to their second-round shocker, they played another incredible game with the Creighton Blue Jays. All tied up in the waning seconds, the Mountaineer defense forced a long three-point attempt that was partially blocked by Tyrone Sally and fell way short and into the hands of Pittsnoggle. He threw an outlet pass to Gansey who launched a pass the remaining length of the court to a streaking Sally, who threw down a dunk with about two seconds to go for the 63-61 win. The game started out as a game of runs. Creighton came blazing out of the gates, scoring the first 10 points of the game. West Virginia took a timeout and responded with 10 of its own. Creighton threw down five straight points, and then West Virginia answered with an 11-0 run. The playing field became a little more level after that. In the last 6:21 of the game, neither team held more than a three-point advantage. The slam-dunk finale was just a cherry at the top of the sundae.

Syracuse vs. Vermont:

In hindsight, it really couldn’t have happened any other way for the Vermont Catamounts. The squad entered the final season for long-time coach Tom Brennan, and senior stars Taylor Coppenrath and T.J. Sorrentine, without an NCAA Tournament win in the school’s history. If Vermont was ever going to grab that elusive tournament victory it was going to be with this squad, and they did so in impressive, overtime fashion, with a 60-57 win over the heavily favored Syracuse Orange. The fierce Catamount defense kept Syracuse out of rhythm, forcing 24 turnovers, and sharp-shooting Gerry McNamara had one of his worst games, shooting 4-18 from the field for only 11 points. Hakim Warrick played well, scoring 21 points and grabbing 12 rebounds, but the Syracuse senior could not lift his team the way the two Vermont senior stars and virtually unknown senior Germain Mopa Njila did, as he led Vermont with 20 points. As insane as it sounds, the senior trio of Coppenrath, Sorrentine, and Mopa Njila along with sophomore forward Martin Klimes accounted for all of the 60 points, and all but three of the team’s shots.

The signature play in the game came in overtime, as Sorrentine dribbled the ball about seven feet behind the three-point line at a point straightaway from the basket with just over a minute remaining in the extra session. When it seemed like he would call a play or set up the offense, Sorrentine lived up to his reputation as a shoot-it-from- anywhere guy, and swished the preposterous 25-footer to give Vermont a four-point lead and kill the Orange’s spirits (and a boatload of office pool brackets).

Boston College vs. Wisconsin-Milwaukee:

This was the NCAA’s version of WWE’s Hell In A Cell match. There were countless elbows to the face, players diving all over the place, even a crotch-shot, and two rosters full of battered, drained bodies. All that was missing was Stone Cold Steve Austin running out onto the court, flicking off Craig Smith, and then delivering a Stone Cold Stunner.

B.C. jumped out to an 11-0 lead, and it looked like UWM’s win over Alabama was a fluke. Then the Panthers busted out with a ferocious pressing defense that caused B.C. to turn the ball over 23 times, and completely turned the game around. Joah Tucker scored 23 points for the Panthers and Ed McCants added 18, as the Panthers advanced to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in school history.

This game was as physical as it gets, with kids risking their bodies for the chance to add points to the scoreboard. B.C.’s Jared Dudley went to the free throw line 21 times. UWM, as a team, went to the free throw line 22 times. Even when B.C. rallied late and took a five-point lead with just under two minutes remaining, part of you knew that UWM had it all the way. There was no lack of hustle in B.C., but the Panthers ran faster and dove farther for all the loose balls, and just wanted it more all game long. Looks like the Cinderella stagecoach has taken a detour to Milwaukee.

Kansas vs. Bucknell:

This one had a little bit of history attached to it. Kansas’ first first-round loss since 1978. Bucknell’s first- ever tournament win. The first 14 seed to win a game since 1999. Shock value? Plenty.

Few people gave the Bucknell Bison a chance in their first-round match-up against the mighty Jayhawks. To be fair, the Bison had already won tough road games at Pittsburgh and at St. Joseph’s this season, and were not going to back down from the challenge. The trio of juniors Kevin Bettencourt and Charles Lee, and sophomore Chris McNaughton scored 19, 15, and 14 points, respectively, to lead the Bison in the bracket- busting shocker.

This game was very close throughout, with Kansas holding a three-point edge at halftime. The Bison seized the lead with about 14 minutes remaining in the game, and held that lead until there was about a minute remaining with the team up by five. Kansas hit six free-throws in a row, though, the last two hit by senior Keith Langford, to give Kansas the lead with 30 seconds to go. However, McNaughton banked in a jump-hook with about 10 seconds to go to give Bucknell a 64- 63 lead. Wayne Simien, who played like a star for the Jayhawks, scoring 24 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, had a final shot to give Kansas the win. He caught a full-court inbounds pass from Michael Lee, turned at the free throw line, and shot the ball, a play eerily similar to Christian Laettner’s famous 1992 game-winner. Unlike Laettner’s attempt, though, Simien’s hit off the right side of the rim as the buzzer sounded, sealing the most shocking game in the tournament so far.

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