SAN ANTONIO -- We're still more than a couple hours away from our first semifinal between Memphis and UCLA, but there's plenty of buzz already surrounding the Alamodome as media members and fans start to file in the building for what should be some exciting basketball tonight.
And if you've watched Tyler Hansbrough at all this year, you'll know that there's no one who will be more excited than the North Carolina junior to take the floor for this evening's second semifinal against Big 12 champ Kansas.
SAN ANTONIO -- North Carolina coach Roy Williams knew while his team played Louisville in Charlotte, N.C., last weekend that there was a decent chance he could be facing his former team in the Final Four.
But after Kansas' survival victory over Davidson in the Elite Eight last weekend, that circumstance has now become a reality and Williams has never really totally forgotten about his days in Lawrence, Kan.
SAN ANTONIO -- North Carolina has taken the floor for its open practice here at the Alamodome, and the Tar Heel faithful that have shown up for the session are on their feet and applauding their team.
Stretching, of course, is the first order of business for Roy Williams' players, and after Kansas' Rodrick Stewart fractured his kneecap earlier this afternoon on a dunk attempt late in the Jayhawks' open practice session, you can't undermine the importance of getting those ligaments and tendons all worked out before putting any other stress on the body.
Some newsy notes from today's South Regional final:
Ohio State improved its record to 34-3 with the 92-76 win against Memphis, extending the school's single-season record for victories. The previous mark (27) had been shared by the 1961 and 1999 teams.
The Buckeyes have won 21 games in a row. The school record of 32 was set by the 1960 (five wins to close out the season) and 1961 teams (27 wins to start the season). The current streak began with a 68-66 win over Tennessee on Jan. 13 in Columbus.
Ohio State is now 12-3 all-time against teams from Conference USA.
The Buckeyes are going to the Final Four for the first time since 1999 and the 10th time overall. Ohio State played in the very first NCAA finals in 1939 and finished as runners-up to Oregon.
Thad Matta's record with the Buckeyes now stands at 80-21 in three seasons in Columbus. His overall record in seven seasons is 182-52. This will be his first trip to the Final Four.
Each of Matta's seven teams have won at least 20 games. This is his first 30-win season and he has averaged 26 wins a year.
Matta has taken all six of his eligible teams to the NCAA Tournament, where his record is 11-5.
Mike Conley, Jr., the true freshman who garnered MOP honors for the South Regional, owns the Ohio State single-season records for steals (83) and assists (226).
Ohio State is now 59-4 when ranked No. 1 in the polls.
Ron Lewis is averaging 24.0 points in NCAA Tournament play. He has made 24-of-46 field goal attempts, including 12-of-26 shots from three-point range.
Ohio State is now 22-1 this year when scoring more than 70 points.
The 92 points by OSU is the second-highest point total for the Buckeyes this season, surpassed only by 103 in the season opener against VMI.
Ohio State is Final Four-bound with its 92-67 victory over Memphis in the books. They are handing out the T-shirts, they have set up the podium at center court for the awards ceremony and they just announced the All-Regional team over the P.A. system: Chris Douglas-Roberts (UM), Jeremy Hunt (UM), Greg Oden (OSU), Ron Lewis (OSU) and Most Outstanding Player Mike Conley, Jr. (OSU).
More to come from the post-game pressers, which should get underway shortly.
Memphis used a pair of three-pointers to whittle the OSU advantage down to 78-72. But Chris Douglas-Roberts just picked up his fifth personal foul and the Buckeyes used four free throws to open the lead to double digits again.
The Ohio State fans in the house are starting to sense it: the school's first Final Four appearance since 1999.
Greg Oden's nifty spin move and bucket extended a 17-6 run that has given Ohio State a 71-66 lead. The seven-footer has scored 12 of his 17 points during the second half. The Buckeyes seem be inching toward that Final Four berth.
Just when Oden was really starting to go to work on the offensive end -- with three field goals during the second half so far -- the freshman went to the bench with his third personal foul. Definitely a phantom call but the Memphis fans aren't complaining.
Memphis ended the half on an 8-2 run -- featuring a pair of Willie Kemp three-pointers and an explosive Chris Douglas-Roberts slam dunk -- to close within 41-38.
Jeremy Hunt has been carrying the load for the Tigers with a game-high 16 points while freshman point guard Mike Conley paces the Buckeyes with 11. The interior stars for both sides -- Memphis forward Joey Dorsey and OSU center Greg Oden -- spent a majority of the first half on the bench with two personal fouls apiece.
The lead just changed hands for the fifth time today as Jeremy Hunt buried a three-pointer to open a 20-17 lead for the Tigers. The Memphis native has 13 points this afternoon -- including a 7-for-8 performance from the line so far.
Just seconds after throwing down a vicious two-handed dunk to give Ohio State a 17-15 advantage, Greg Oden was whistled for his second personal foul as play broke for the 12-minute media timeout. Wouldn't be surprised to see the freshman watch the last 9:14 of the first half from the bench.
Memphis senior Jeremy Hunt has scored eight straight points (one three-pointer and five more from the charity stripe) to turn a 9-2 deficit into a 10-9 advantage -- the first Memphis lead of the game with 12:25 remaining in the first half. We've got ourselves a game.
Memphis has looked a little bit rattled by the magnitude of the situation during the first few possessions. The Tigers missed their first seven shots, turned the ball over three times and allowed Ohio State to open an 8-0 lead before Antonio Anderson's transition lay-up got the Conference USA champs on the board. The count is 8-2 at the 16-minute media timeout.
The first spot in the Final Four will be filled this afternoon when Ohio State and Memphis clash in a showdown between the region's top two seeds.
With about 90 minutes to go until the tip (3:40 p.m. local time), about 200 fans have trickled into the cavernous Alamodome. The announcer is testing the P.A. system, an invisible band member from either school is tuning his or her trumpet and the hungry media contingent is feasting on an elaborate spread featuring tricked-out salad and fajita bars.
The Buckeyes and Tigers have not lost in a combined 169 games (winning a combined 45 contests over that span) but something's got to give today. Who's going to blink first?
Waiting for the Memphis starters and John Calipari to take the dais for off-day presser just moments after hearing from Thad Matta and the Ohio State camp. Here are a couple notes from last night's thrilling results:
Last night marked the first Sweet 16 doubleheader in NCAA Tournament history that saw both games decided by a single point.
Ohio State rallied from a 49-29 deficit with 35 seconds remaining in the first half for a one-point victory -- the biggest comeback in Sweet 16 history.
The Buckeyes advanced to a regional final for the first time since the 1992 NCAA Tournament. (Ohio State's Final Four appearance in the 1999 tournament was vacated.)
Thad Matta's club improved to 21-1 when scoring more than 70 points.
Tennessee put down 16 threes to break the program record for three-pointers in an NCAA Tournament -- a mark that the Volunteers established in their first-round victory over Long Beach State (14).
Memphis extended its school-record winning streak to 25 games, the longest active run in the country.
The Tigers have advanced to the Elite Eight for the fifth time in school history (1973, 1985, 1992, 2006 and 2007).
Memphis has won 11 straight NCAA Tournament games in the state of Texas and is 11-1 all-time. The program's only loss in the Lone Star State was an 87-83 setback against Creighton during the 1962 NCAA Tournament.
The only other time Memphis trailed at the half this season was against Tennessee in Knoxville on Dec. 6, 2006. The Tigers went on to lose that contest by a score of 76-58.
Texas A&M ended its season with a school-record 27 victories.
The combined margin of TAMU's last six losses was just 11 points. The Aggies finished the campaign with a 3-6 record in games decided by five points or less. The average margin of victory in Texas A&M's seven losses this year was 3.3 points, the second-lowest mark in the nation.
The Aggies were making their third Sweet 16 appearance in school history. A&M also reach the Sweet 16 in 1969 and 1980.
The Aggies slipped to 1-1 all-time at the Alamodome.
Mike Conley made the first of two free throws with six seconds remaining to give Ohio State an 85-84 lead. But when the Indianapolis native missed the second and Ramar Smith grabbed the rebound, Tennessee had one final chance.
Smith drove the length of the court, hesitating for a split-second about 40 feet from the goal before committing to a drive, but Greg Oden rejected a potential game-winning lay-up and Ohio State escaped with their second nail-biting victory in as many tries.
The Buckeyes will meet second-seeded Memphis for a trip to the Final Four on Sunday at 4:40 p.m. ET.
Two one-point decisions tonight at the Alamodome -- does it get much better than that? (Well, maybe if you're Texas A&M or Tennessee.)
Ron Lewis canned a three-pointer to give Ohio State an 82-79 advantage with 2:07 to go -- but 10 seconds later Chris Lofton responded with an equalizer from long range to silence the many Buckeyes in attendance.
A pair of Oden free throws at the 1:38 mark have given State a two-point advantage.
Just when Tennessee seemed to have lost control of this game: Ryan Childress buried a three-pointer to cut the Ohio State lead to a single point, Ramar Smith grabbed a defensive rebound after an OSU miss and assisted on a JaJuan Smith three-pointer that gave Tennessee a 74-72 advantage.
As we approach the four-minute media timeout, this one appears to be headed down to the wire.
Whether Thad Matta handed out NoDoz during the break or just gave his Buckeyes an old-fashioned ear-chewing, Ohio State has sprinted from the locker room with a 12-2 run -- including a pair of Ron Lewis buckets and an Ivan Harris three-pointer -- to whittle the 17-point deficit down to a managable 51-44 margin.
Tennessee goes to the locker rooms with a 49-32 lead. Sure, the Volunteers have benefited from their blistering shooting performance during the first half -- connecting on 9-of-15 (60.0 percent) from beyond the arc and 19-of-34 (55.9 percent) overall -- but what is going on with Ohio State?
Just four days after the Buckeyes should have been scared straight in a second-round win over Xavier -- a victory which required a controversial non-call and an overtime period -- the South Region's top seed has appeared flatter than a month-old Pabst during the first 20 minutes of tonight's nightcap. I'm talking catatonic. With the way Tennessee has been shooting the rock and outplaying the favorites -- from the floor, on the boards and as far as taking care of the ball -- the Buckeyes don't have much margin for error if the Big Ten champs hope to make up a 17-point deficit in the second half.
In one of those very Tennessee sequences, Ryan Childress drained a three-pointer -- his side's seventh longball in the first nine-and-a-half minutes -- and the quick full-court pressure saw Ramar Smith steal the ball from Ohio State's Jamar Butler and deposit a lay-up while getting fouled.
Smith completed the three-point play after a break in play to open a 29-16 advantage to the delight of the very vocal Tennessee fan section to my direct rear.
The fifth-seeded Volunteers have staked a 20-14 advantage at the 11:40 mark of the first half thanks to some blistering perimeter shooting in the early going. Tennessee has connected on 6-of-8 three-point attempts -- with junior sharpshooter JaJuan Smith having put down each of his three shots from beyond the arc.
At least a third -- and probably closer to half -- of the nosebleed seats that had been packed tight with maroon-clad Aggies for the first game are empty.
Head official Karl Hess issued a statement to the media -- through USBWA pool reporter Tony Barnhart of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution -- on the semi-controversial decision to reset the clock from 3.1 seconds to 2.0 seconds prior to the final play:
"After the free throw the clock did not start when the ball touched the player. When you look at the monitor the (Memphis) kid touches the ball. The ball hits the court and then went out of bounds. I put it on the stop watch and it comes out to 1.1. And that's the time we took off the clock."
Can't wait to see the tape (a million times this week one would imagine) to see if the statement checks out.
With the Tigers through to the Final Eight, I'm starting to hope that the Volunteers can take care of business against top-seeded Ohio State so casual basketball fans can discover just how much Memphis and Tennessee hate one another. Nothing like an I-40 regional final to stoke the flames of one of the nation's most underappreciated rivalries.
Meanwhile, we're still waiting on Antonio Anderson, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Jeremy Hunt in the press room. Guess Coach Cal is making sure that the chip is still firmly implanted on his team's shoulders.
After the officials reviewed the inbounds pass on video replay, the clock was reset to 2.0 seconds. Dominique Kirk received the inbounds pass about 45 feet from the basket, dribbled toward the goal and lofted a desperation three-pointer that didn't hit the rim.
The Tigers are through to the Elite Eight for the second straight season -- and thousands of Texas A&M fans are quietly filing toward the concourse as Ohio State and Tennessee take the floor for lay-up lines.
The Aggies inbounded the ball from beneath their own basket. The pass was off target and actually pretty terrible yet the result was anything but -- as the ball went out of bounds off a Memphis player. That means TAMU will be inbounding the ball close to midcourt trailing, 65-64. The Aggies have a much better chance at a clean shot from this approach.
Trailing by a single point with just over a minute remaining, Memphis just turned the ball over without getting off a shot attempt. Texas A&M has possession with a 64-63 lead and Billy Gillispie has just called a twenty-second timeout to talk it over.
Just moments ago, Chris Douglas-Roberts had a chance to put TAMU on the ropes but missed the front end of a one-and-one to give the Aggies life.
Joseph Jones just tied the score on a lay-up but came up gimpy. The junior forward was grabbing his right ankle throughout the subsequent defensive possession before asking Billy Gillispie for a puff. The trainer is working on Jones as I write.
With just under four minutes remaining and the score knotted at 61-61, the Aggies need Jones to return as soon as humanly possible.
Two interior buckets over the last 34 seconds -- Jones and Sloan -- have given Texas A&M its first lead in the last nine minutes at 59-58.
The Aggies could have opened that lead to three points when a Memphis defensive lapse gave Jones a chance for an open lay-up, but the 6-foot-9 forward drew contact (but no whistle) on the play as the shot skipped out of the cylinder. TAMU fans as irate as would be expected.
Memphis has answered every challenge Texas A&M has put forward since taking the lead with Jeremy Hunt's three-pointer at the 14:30 mark.
The Tigers opened their largest lead of the game at 53-48. And when the Aggies got buckets from Kirk and Kavaliauskas to close the margin to one, Robert Dozier tipped in a miss to open a 55-52 lead.
On the ensuing possession, Law canned a three-pointer from the top of the key to tie the score and ignite the anxious crowd. But before the TAMU fans could take their seats, Jeremy Hunt answered with a three to re-open a three-point advantage just 12 seconds later
The pace is starting to catch up with the Aggies, who appear to be losing their legs.
The pace has not slowed down in the second half as Texas A&M clings to a 48-46 lead at the 16-minute media timeout. During one sequence, the Aggies and Tigers traded scores on four possessions in succession -- Antonio Anderson lay-up, Marlon Pompey jumper, Robert Dozier jumper and an Antanas Kavaliauskas conversion off a nifty Dominique Kirk assist.
The Aggies look more composed on the offensive end and would seem to have the edge considering the home-court advantage. But there's no question in my mind that this pace within a 40-minute context benefits the Tigers, who are more accustomed to playing in these kinds of track meets. It's also worth noting that the closest thing the Aggies have to a weakness is their depth. This is a team with just seven players who see regular minutes. Not saying that Gillispie's charges aren't conditioned for a game like this -- but this could be the night when that conditioning is put to the test.
Aggies are ahead at the break, 42-37. Acie Law leads all scorers with 13 points on 4-for-9 shooting while Memphis guards Chris Douglas-Roberts and Jeremy Hunt have logged 11 apiece.
While Texas A&M doesn't employ a slow-down offense by any stretch, Billy Gillispie's team has played its games at a slower-than-average pace throughout the season in averaging around 65 possessions per contest. Conversely, the Tigers averaged closer to 70 possessions -- preferring to run at a pace that plays to their athleticism and overwhelms their opponents. So while the contrast in styles might not be particularly dramatic, it's there.
But the pace through the first half has been fast even for Memphis standards as each team exhausted 36 possessions. Texas A&M's scoring output (42 points) translates to 116.7 points per hundred possessions -- a gaudy rate that's about their season average. But Memphis has been considerably less efficient than usual -- their 102.8 points per hundred possessions in tonight's first half is about 13 below their season-long rate.
A pair of no-calls on Memphis blocked shots have drawn the ire of the overwhelming Texas A&M contingent -- as I imagine home viewers can pick up over the telecast -- and a vicious Joey Dorsey dunk on the ensuing series has tied the score at 35-35.
With 22-and-a-half minutes remaining, everything about this one screams barnburner.
Josh Carter's three-pointer at the 7:31 mark capped an 8-0 run for the Aggies, opened a 29-24 advantage and came close to blowing the top off this place. Memphis point guard Jeremy Hunt would answer with a jumper to close the lead and quiet the crowd -- for now.
Doneal Mack just canned a three-pointer to give Memphis a 21-19 lead. The 6-foot-5 freshman, who first signed an NLI with Florida before an eleventh-hour switch to the Tigers, is sporting one of the more colorful haircuts I've seen in this year's tournament. The swingman Mack isn't alone -- backcourt mate Andre Allen (below on the right) took the plunge as well.
Texas A&M coach Billy Gillispie just got whistled for a technical foul after play had broken for the 16-minute media timeout with the score tied at six apiece. Dumb technical.
The NCAA allots 1,250 tickets to each participating school for the Sweet 16 and the tickets are some of the best seats in the house: the four sections in the lower level behind the team benches and the scorer's table. (From left to right: Memphis, Tennessee, Ohio State and Texas A&M.)
Thing is, TAMU's section isn't limited to Section 103. Outside of the occasional blotch of orange or scarlet, maroon spreads all around the lower bowl -- and really all around the cheap seats in the upper decks. So while every score by the Tigers incites a concentrated blast of sound from behind the Memphis bench, Texas A&M baskets provoke an all-around eruption that turns the cavernous Alamodome into an airplane hangar.
The home-court advantage for third-seeded Texas A&M is everything that was expected and then some. I'll take a minute during a break in play to explain how the layout provides a particular benefit for the Aggies.
Tip goes to Memphis who gets a quick score from Willie Kemp. But TAMU point guard par excellence Acie Law ties the score almost immediately to deafening cheers from all around. A Memphis turnover on the subsequent possession further pumps up the volume.