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March 20, 2008

South notes: Austin Peay not afraid of Texas

MORE: Rivals.com NCAA Tourney Central

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. Austin Peay coach Dave Loos didn't bother showing "Glory Road," "Miracle" or any other recent inspirational sports movies to get his team ready for its opening-round game with No. 2 seed Texas.

He instead reached for a classic.

Loos motivated the Governors (24-10) for their South Regional showdown by having them watch highlights of Austin Peay's 68-67 opening-round upset of No. 3 seed Illinois in the 1987 Southeast Regional.

"The first thing they noticed was how short the pants were," Loos said. "But after we got over the initial shock of the difference in the way people wore their uniforms, I think they responded. We had a great practice that day, I know that."

Austin Peay certainly won't be in awe of the Longhorns (28-6). The Governors already faced No. 1 seed Memphis on Nov. 27. Although Austin Peay lost that game 104-82, it gave the Governors an idea of what to expect in the NCAA Tournament. Now they'll try to deliver the kind of upset that can rank alongside that 1987 shocker in Austin Peay lore.

"I told them this is living proof that anything can happen in this tournament," Loos said. "It depends on whether you believe it can happen or not. They got a big kick out of watching it."

They'd get a better kick out of repeating it.

STEVE MEGARGEE

HE DIDN'T MEAN IT

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. Texas coach Rick Barnes was joking earlier this week when he suggested that he might seek a buyout of next year's Texas-Arkansas game if the Little Rock crowd didn't treat his team well. But that didn't prevent his comments from creating an uproar within some segments of the Arkansas fan base.

Barnes reiterated Thursday that he didn't mean any harm and apologized to anyone who might have taken offense.

"I didn't in any way want to offend anybody about it because I wouldn't do that,'' Barnes said. "Because as proud as we are of our tradition at Texas, the state of Arkansas and University of Arkansas have that same type of pride in their teams. And, again, I hate that it was taken out of the way I meant it to be."

If nothing else, Barnes' comments assured that the majority of the crowd will be cheering for the underdog Friday when Texas faces Austin Peay.

"They'll probably be rooting against us now for what he said," Texas guard A.J. Abrams said. "That's just the coach. That's his sense of humor. That's how he gets his laughs."

STEVE MEGARGEE

PRESSURE? WHAT PRESSURE?

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. Memphis guard Chris Douglas-Roberts said he doesn't feel any pressure even though his team is playing close to home as a No. 1 seed.

Douglas-Roberts pointed out that any pressure disappeared as soon as various prognosticators started predicting Memphis (33-1) would be the first No. 1 seed to get eliminated.

"Of all the No. 1 seeds in the tournament, we have the least pressure on us because everybody's saying we're going to be the first one to lose," Douglas-Roberts said. "We're just having fun."

Memphis coach John Calipari said he wasn't using the forecasts downplaying the Tigers' chances as a motivational ploy.

"I've never been one to say it's us against the world," Calipari said. "They hear it. In this information age, if it's on the Internet or it's on TV or radio, they'll hear something.

"If that inspires them, great, but we don't have to bring it up. The statement we make is how we play, how hard we try to play and how unselfish we try to play."

STEVE MEGARGEE

WHY NOT US?

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. No 16th-seeded team has ever upset a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but UT Arlington isn't conceding anything as it heads into a first-round matchup with Memphis.

The Mavericks (21-11) already made history once before by becoming the first team to earn an NCAA bid in the school's 49 years as a Division I member.

"There wasn't any precedent for our university winning the Southland Conference championship, and we motivated ourselves to do that," junior forward Anthony Vereen said. "We don't really need to watch any (motivational) tapes or do anything like that. You've got to look at yourself, look at your teammates.

"We set goals at the beginning of the season to win 20-plus games, win the Southland championship and also to win games in the NCAA Tournament, and we're at the end of the road."

STEVE MEGARGEE

SHOWCASE FOR GORDON

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. Mississippi State junior guard Jamont Gordon can't wait to shed his label as perhaps the best upperclassman who hasn't played in the NCAA Tournament.

Gordon considered turning pro after his sophomore season but decided to return, in part, because he wanted to get a taste of the NCAA Tournament.

"I hadn't had the experience my first two seasons at Mississippi State," Gordon said. "I wanted to come back, get that chance, get my team the experience and get myself that experience."

Mississippi State's presence in the tournament will give the rest of the nation a chance to see a player whose outstanding career has gone relatively unnoticed outside the Southeast. Gordon is the only non-senior in the Division I ranks with at least 1,500 career points, 650 career rebounds and 450 career assists.

"I think he's one of the most versatile players in the country," Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. "He's a guy who can do a little bit of everything. He's not your typical point guard who's going to come down and pass and screen. That's not who he is. He's a point guard in a fullback's body, about 6-3 and 230. He's got that same kind of mentality. He's going to use that body. He's in attack mode at all times.

"His first year-and-a-half, that got him in trouble. He never saw a shot he (didn't) like. He never thought there was anybody he couldn't beat. He tried to do too much. To his credit, his last year-and-a-half he's settled in and understands, 'I don't have to score every possession to be a good point guard.' "

STEVE MEGARGEE

THEY DIDN'T KNOW JACK

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. One of the most inspirational stories in the South Regional involves Miami guard Jack McClinton.

"His high school coach told him he'd probably be a Division II player," Miami coach Frank Haith said.

Lightly recruited out of Baltimore Calvert Hall, McClinton spent a year at prep school in South Kent, Conn., and one season at Siena before transferring to Miami. McClinton, a 6-foot-1 junior, led the Atlantic Coast Conference this season in 3-pointers (2.9 per game) and ranks sixth in the nation in free-throw percentage (.908).

McClinton is the major reason Miami tied for fifth place in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Before the season, ACC coaches predicted that the Hurricanes would finish last in the 12-team league.

"I saw Jack in prep school and thought he'd be a real good player," Haith said. "I can't tell you I thought he'd be as good as he's been. He's exceeded my expectations."

STEVE MEGARGEE

DOES EXPERIENCE COUNT?

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. Oregon returns four starters from a team that reached a regional final last season. Senior forward Charles Rhodes is the only Mississippi State player with any NCAA Tournament experience.

Oregon forward Maarty Leunen believed that experience factor could make a difference when the teams meet Friday.

"I think it's pretty huge, especially when you get to this point in the season," Leunen said. "It's kind of a new season for everybody because everyone starts out 0-0. It's one-and-done. We've kind of been through it. Most of our guys have been through it last year, know the pressure and jitters of the first game, just trying to get that out of your system."

But Oregon coach Ernie Kent wasn't so sure the Ducks' tournament experience would make that much of a difference.

"It might be important during the buildup of the game, dealing with the media, walking to the floor with the open practice and the one-and-done mentality of the tournament and everything else," Kent said. "But when the ball goes up in the air and the people are in the building, players play. And that's when I think all that goes out the window. It really comes down to which team is prepared, which team is on its game and has its confidence built up."

STEVE MEGARGEE

UNFAMILIAR SITUATION

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. Not every player in the NCAA Tournament grew up humming "One Shining Moment." Saint Mary's freshman guard Patrick Mills admitted Wednesday he had never even heard of the NCAA Tournament until a couple of years ago.

STEVE MEGARGEE

NO. 4 PITT 82, NO. 13 ORAL ROBERTS 63

DENVER All that energy, physical and emotional, expended in winning four games in four days in the Big East Tournament figured to set up Pittsburgh for some first-round danger here Thursday. Or not.

The Panthers just keep rolling. And if Levance Fields is going to shoot the ball like this, Bob Knight's prediction of a Pitt national title might start to draw more copycats than chuckles.

"We're still coming," said Pitt big man DeJuan Blair after the Panthers blasted Oral Roberts, setting up a Saturday game with fifth-seeded Michigan State.

"The best is yet to come." Oral Roberts coach Scott Sutton said Pitt was "better than I expected. We've played some great teams the last two years in the tournament, Memphis being the No. 1 seed two years ago, then Washington State, a '3' seed (last season). I think this is the best team we played."

Fields was the catalyst on this day, scoring a game-high 23 points on 8-for-15 shooting, to go with seven assists. Fields was 4-for-7 from 3-point range.

Combine that production with double-figures efforts from teammates Sam Young (14), Keith Benjamin (12), Gilbert Brown (12) and Ronald Ramon (10), and the Panthers were way too much for Oral Roberts.

Fields missed 12 games this season after fracturing the fifth metatarsal on his left foot in a Dec. 29 loss at Dayton. He returned Feb. 15.

OUTSIDE SHOT: Oral Roberts figured it had one chance in this game, and that was to catch fire from outside.

The Golden Eagles did OK there hitting 9-for-22 from 3-point range. But they were just 13 of 41 on two-point attempts. And that included numerous blown chances at the rim when the game was still competitive in the first half. An 18-0 Pitt run ended this game before halftime.

"At that point, we just didn't compete the rest of the half," an agitated Sutton said. "I don't know, I'm disappointed in our guys. We had certain guys that didn't show up."

JOE REXRODE

NO. 5 MICHIGAN STATE 72, NO. 12 TEMPLE 61

DENVER Michigan State coach Tom Izzo has said many times this season that his most talented players are his young players freshman guards Kalin Lucas, Chris Allen and Durrell Summers and sophomore forward Raymar Morgan.

Those four are the Spartans' next-level performers, but they haven't always performed like it this season.

Morgan, the team's leading scorer, has been up and down. Lucas has emerged as a future star as the team's starting point guard, but Allen and Summers have had their minutes limited by defensive lapses.

In Thursday's win over Temple, those four played huge together, so huge that senior guard Drew Neitzel's five-point, 2-for-11 day didn't matter.

Morgan led MSU with 15 points, hitting seven of nine shots. The three freshmen combined for 28 points 12 for Allen and eight apiece for Lucas and Summers. Lucas also had seven assists and one turnover. And all three defended.

"They did play very well," Izzo said of his freshmen. "You know, for Allen and Summers, those guys haven't been stalwart defenders. I thought they did a better job. Maybe they got the message we gave them and (our veterans) gave them it's one-and-done time, and things have to change."

UNHAPPY CHRISTMAS: Temple's leading scorer, Dionte Christmas, was the key to the Owls' run to the Atlantic 10 Tournament title. But he had his worst game of the season against Michigan State, missing 11 of his 12 shots and scoring three points.

Morgan and MSU reserve guard Travis Walton, a two-time Big Ten All-Defensive Team member, combined for a very Grinchy effort on Christmas.

"That's probably the toughest defensive team I played all year," Christmas said, "all my career. That was one of the most physical teams I've played against, ever."

JOE REXRODE

NO. 3 STANFORD 77, NO. 14 CORNELL 53

ANAHEIM, Calif. Forget the final score, because that's what Stanford coach Trent Johnson apparently did in assessing the Cornell basketball team.

"They understand how to play,'' he said. "They have a high basketball IQ.''

If only their shooting percentage had been as impressive as their basketball IQ.

You don't have to be smart enough to get into Stanford or Cornell to figure out what happened. In the first half, both teams took 36 shots from the field. That's where the symmetry ended. Cornell made five of their shots. Stanford made 16 of theirs.

Halftime score: Stanford 38, Cornell 17.

It was more than a sufficient cushion as the Cardinal handed the Ivy League school its first loss in 16 games. Stanford emptied its bench in the second half, and 11 of its players logged 10 or more minutes. Brook Lopez and Robin Lopez, Stanford's 7-foot twins, should be fresh for the Cardinal's second-round matchup Saturday against Marquette. Brook played for only 15 minutes and Robin played for 23 minutes.

Last year Stanford was on the wrong end of a first-round rout, losing to Louisville by 20 points.

"Nobody likes to mention it, but that was in the back of our minds,'' Robin Lopez said. "We knew we needed to come out there and impose our will, or else there would be a good chance for an upset.''

Well, if you say so, Robin.

Cornell's Ryan Wittman, son of former NBA player Randy Wittman, entered the game shooting better than 46 percent from 3-point range. Turns out its easier to shoot over Ivy League defenders than Stanford's. Wittman was 2-for-11 from the floor and made two of his seven 3-point attempts.

JOSH PETER

MORE: Rivals.com NCAA Tourney Central



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