Saturday was a rough day for local college basketball fans. UConn, Providence and Yale all saw their seasons end in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Only the UConn women, heavily favored to win their fourth consecutive national championship, were able to advance.
In Des Moines, Iowa, the Kansas Jayhawks—the tournament’s overall No. 1 seed—built a 10-point lead, 15-5, just under five minutes into the game, extended that advantaged to 22 at halftime, and cruised to a 73-61 win over the ninth-seeded Huskies at Wells Fargo Arena. It was the 16th straight victory for Kansas.
Wayne Selden led all scorers with 22 points, while Perry Ellis added 21 and Devonte’ Graham threw in 13 for the Jayhawks, who improved to 32-4 and now advance to the Sweet 16, where they will meet the winner of tonight’s Maryland-Hawaii game (7 p.m. ET, TBS) next Saturday in Louisville.
Sterling Gibbs led UConn with 20 points in his last game in a Huskies’ uniform, junior Rodney Purvis added 17 points and sophomore Daniel Hamilton scored 11 for Connecticut, which ended its season 24-11.
Kansas, which built its 22-point lead at intermission via its three-point assault, went cold from beyond the arc in the second half, allowing the Huskies back into the contest. Connecticut crept within nine points, 50-41 on a slam dunk by Purvis with 9:35 remaining in regulation, but then Kansas took over in the paint, and ended the Huskies’ dream of making yet another miracle run in the NCAA’s.
In fact, the game was won on two Kansas runs—one 13-0, the other 17-0—in the first half. That is a 35-point difference to make up. Impossible dream, you say? More like a fantasy.
“It was tough,” said Gibbs. “[We] kinda dug ourselves a hole first half and they’re a good team, so it was tough to get out of that hole.”
“Yeah, it was real tough out there,” added Hamilton. “They denied the pass and they denied us from getting the ball and we kinda got, you know, trying to play one-on-one in the first half. Can’t win like that, so the next half we just tried to guard through it and play together and we fought back.
“But we can’t get down like that to a good team.”
The loss ended UConn’s seven-game NCAA Tournament winning streak.
“I was so proud of the guys that they battled back, but just wasn’t enough,” said Connecticut head coach Kevin Ollie. “Give credit to Kansas. They pressured the basketball from the beginning, took us out of our offense and disrupted our timing. A lot of people had us disqualified after the SMU loss, but these guys stuck together and [were] able to with win the AAC Tournament and get to this second round.”
Ollie was particularly effusive in his praise for the veteran leadership on his team.
“Very proud of my guys, and I thank the seniors for giving me everything they had—Sterling [Gibbs], Omar [Calhoun], Shonn [Miller] and Phil [Nolan]… just really appreciate those guys. They have the heart of a champion and they’re going to have great lives and great playing careers when it’s all said and done after they leave the Storrs campus.” (Editor’s Note: Miller and Gibbs are not seniors, but rather graduate students who had one year of athletic eligibility remaining.)
Connecticut’s second team in the men’s tournament, Yale, fared no better. After upsetting Baylor in the first round, the Bulldogs fell back to earth and dropped a 74-61 decision to Duke at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence in what had been labeled the “egg-head match-up” by the media.
This one looked as if it might be over almost before it began as the Blue Devils hit nine of their first 11 shots from beyond the arc, built a 23-point lead at intermission.
“It’s kind of a tale of two halves,” said Yale head coach James Jones after the game. “I thought our guys got off to a rough start at the beginning of the game, and Duke was on fire. We didn’t keep our composure 100 percent. I thought we took some ill-advised shots, but we got it back in the second half, and our guys fought.”
In the end, the Bulldogs went as far as anyone could have reasonably expected them to go.
“I couldn’t be more proud of what they did, forcing a comeback, and giving themselves an opportunity to win the basketball game, because it was right there,” said Jones after his team refused to pack it in despite trailing by 23 points at halftime. “And I told these guys in the locker room, there are 351 teams that play Division I basketball.”
Indeed, the Bulldogs opened the second half by outscoring the Blue Devils 20-6, cutting the Duke margin to single-digits, 45-54, with 12:38 remaining in regulation. No team in the storied history of the NCAA Tournament had ever rallied from a deficit larger than 25 points to win. Yale was threatening to do just that.
The Bulldogs continued to hold their own against the defending national champions, cutting the Duke advantage to four, 65-61, with just over a minute remaining in regulation. But in the end, the first-half hole the Bulldogs dug proved to be just too deep, and they ultimately succumbed by a very respectable seven points to the West region’s No. 4 seed.
“We made it down to the final 32, and we’re three possessions away from the being in the final 16,” continued Jones. “I couldn’t be more proud of them, especially our seniors who are going to be graduating and have done so much for us over four years. I can’t say enough about their effort and energy and how they matured over that time.”
The Blue Devils now advance to the Sweet 16 where they will face the winners of today’s Oregon-St. Joe’s matchup on Thursday in Anaheim.
In Raleigh, NC, Providence was seeking to avenge a 79-77 second round loss to the Tar Heels in the 2014 tournament. Alas, it just wasn’t in the cards as the Tar Heels thoroughly outplayed the Friars and took home an 85-66 victory. UNC’s Brice Johnson led all scorers with 21 points, and pulled down 10 rebounds for the game’s only double-double.
The Friars were in foul trouble for most of the game, with NBA-bound Kris Dunn spending a good chunk of time in the first half sitting on the pines after picking up his second foul with just over 11 minutes remaining until intermission. The Tar Heels, meanwhile, fully took advantage of the Friars’ fouls, converting 19 of 21 from the charity stripe.
“We got in foul trouble, and I think [North Carolina] took advantage of that,” said Dunn, the former New London High star and likely lottery pick in this year’s NBA Draft. They made a couple of runs. In the first half I thought we withstood it. Once I got in foul trouble, the guys they kept fighting. They kept being resilient. Everybody was making plays. Once Ben had foul trouble, they took another run. We tried to withstand it but we were overmatched.”
North Carolina was led by forward Brice Johnson who finished with 21 points on lights-out, 7-for-9 shooting from the floor. Joel Berry II added 15 points, and Marcus Paige scored 12 for the Tar Heels, who improved to 30-6. Carolina dominated in the paint where they outscored the Friars 46-18, and won the battle of the boards, 42-24.
Still, the Friars, who ended their season at 24-11, managed to stay within striking range until midway through the second half. Dunn led the way for Providence, leading all scorers with 29 points even while playing much of the second half with four fouls, while Ben Bentil added 19 before fouling out of the contest.
Carolina, the East’s No. 1 seed, now heads to the City of Brotherly Love where they will take on No. 5 seed Indiana in the Round of 16. It will mark the 33rd time in their illustrious history that the Tar Heels will play in a regional semi-final. UNC has registered 29 straight NCAA Tournament games played in the state of North Carolina. For anyone interested, the Tar Heels are 33-1 in-state in NCAA tournament play.
The Friars end their season at 24-11, but with three consecutive NCAA appearances—the most in 50 years (1964-66), Providence head coach Ed Cooley, who grew up in Providence and went to Central High, has certainly turned a once-moribund program around.
“You know, I think today just came down to they played well, we didn’t,” said Cooley, who came home to Providence after posting a 92–69 record in five seasons as head coach at Fairfield University. “We didn’t make shots. We had some foul trouble. But overall, you look at the big picture, and you hurt for the players.
“You want to win so bad for them,” continued Cooley, who has led the Friars into postseason play for four straight seasons. “I thought we played really, really hard. I thought we played together. But you got to make shots, you got to make plays. I thought North Carolina played really well. They made shots and we didn’t, and I think that was the determining factor.”
UConn Women Roll
On the bright side, the UConn women have given no indication that they are not up for the challenge of entering history should they win their fourth consecutive NCAA championship, which would be unprecedented in women’s basketball and would put the Huskies in the hierarchy of collegiate basketball excellence along with UCLA.
On Saturday, the Huskies, who have been ranked No. 1 every week of the season, scored early and often, and routed Robert Morris 101-49 at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs. It was the 70th straight victory for Connecticut.
The Huskies had this one chalked up in the “W” column by the end of the first quarter, in which they led by 37 points. By halftime, the Husky lead had grown to 49 points, and by the end of the third quarter, they held a 61-point advantage.
”When it comes to NCAA Tournament time, you don’t have to get anyone up for a game,” said two-time defending National Player of the Year Breanna Stewart. ”Everyone is ready to play and we came out looking like we came ready to play.”
UConn was led by freshman Katie Lou Samuelson who scored 22 points, followed by Stewie with 18. Stewart added eight steals and three blocked shots to her stat line. The Syracuse native who is a sure bet to be selected No. 1 in the upcoming WNBA Draft (a position held by the Seattle Storm) now has 398 blocked shots in her illustrious career. Moriah Jefferson and Kia Nurse each scored 14 points while combining for 11 assists. Morgan Tuck added 13 points and eight rebounds.
Anna Niki Stamolamprou led Robert Morris, who end their season at 20-13, with 11 points. It was the final game in Robert Morris coach Sal Buscaglia’s career. Buscaglia is retiring after his 38th season.
Next up for the 33-0 Huskies, who advance to the second round for the 23rd consecutive season, will be Duquesne who defeated Seton Hall, 97-76, in their first-ever NCAA tournament game. It will likely be their last, as well—certainly for this season. Assuming Connecticut takes care of Duquesne in the second round, also at Gampel, (Monday night, 9 p.m. tip-off, ESPN2), the road to the Final Four will continue in the Nutmeg State as the Huskies will play in the Bridgeport Regional at the Webster Bank Arena next weekend.
“This team is pretty locked in,” said UConn coach Geno Auriemma. ”They are pretty focused on what we are trying to do, what the task ahead of us is.”