N.C. (AP)- Sean Ogirri threw down a slam, then ran by the Wichita State
fans with his arms extended as if to announce, "Here I am." He might as
well have been talking for the Missouri Valley Conference.
had 23 points and hit six 3-pointers to lead Wichita State past Seton
Hall from the vaunted Big East, 86-66, Thursday in the first round of the
Washington Regional, giving the mid-major conference an impressive debut
after hearing plenty of criticism about its haul of four NCAA tournament
really proud of what we've done, and we weren't going to let a bunch of
people around the country who haven't seen us make us feel any
different," Wichita State coach Mark Turgeon said of the conference.
know what we have and it's pretty special."
Miller scored 15 points for the seventh-seeded Shockers (25-8), who
face Tennessee in Saturday's second round.
Wichita State's first NCAA win since reaching a regional final in 1981
and its first tournament game since a 83-62 first-round loss to DePaul
win also provided the MVC a quick bit of vindication after the league
raised eyebrows with four bids, the same as the Atlantic Coast, Big 12
and Pac-10 conferences.
criticism included CBS analyst Billy Packer grilling selection committee
chairman Craig Littlepage over the selections, which clearly bothered
coach insisted his team- which won the regular-season title but lost in
the league tournament- belonged in the NCAA tournament. He said the
Shockers were eager to play a Big East school. He was proven right on
Wichita State led just about the entire way, getting a strong first half
from Ogirri and Miller to build a 20-point lead late in the half and
lead by 16 at the break. Tenth-seeded Seton Hall (18-12) never got
closer than 11 in the second half.
Pirates were the lowest seeded team among a record eight NCAA bids for
the Big East. And even though they were the lower seed in this matchup,
their players sure talked like a favorite from the bigger conference,
with Donald Copeland making that mind-set clear by promising Wednesday
that the Pirates wouldn't underestimate the Shockers.
N.C.- RJ. Couisnard stepped back from the defender and launched a
straightaway 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down. As soon as the
ball swished through the net, Couisnard pointed triumphantly to Wichita
State's rowdy fans.
The message was clear. The team from that pesky midmajor conference was
on its way to the NCAA's Round of 16 for the first time in 25 years (video).
Karon Bradley hit a go-ahead jumper with about two minutes left while
Couisnard followed with that big 3 to help Wichita State beat
second-seeded Tennessee 80-73 Saturday in the Washington regional,
giving the Missouri Valley Conference's regular-season champions a
second straight win over an opponent from a power conference.
Now the seventh-seeded Shockers (26-8) are experiencing all the March
magic they could only imagine while languishing through an 18-year NCAA
"This is one of those moments I'm never going to forget," said Paul
Miller, who had 10 points and 8 rebounds. "It's just something that you
never understand until you're actually there. You see it on TV and you
see teams going to the Sweet Sixteen and winning big games in the NCAA
Tournament, and to be a part of it means a lot
"It's just been an amazing weekend. This is my all-time favorite moment,
Wichita State opened the Tournament with an 86-66 win over Seton Hall,
silencing those who wondered why the MVC got four tourney bids. But
beating the Volunteers (22-8), the Southeastern Conference's East
division champion, means so much more.
Couisnard finished with 20 points on 6-for-7 shooting for Wichita State,
which used a late 7-0 spurt to break a 65-65 tie and advance to face the
winner of today's George Mason-North Carolina game.
When the horn finally sounded, coach Mark Turgeon pumped his right fist
in the air while fans began chanting "MVC!" and "Sweet Sixteen!"
"I kept saying we weren't any good when practice started, and now we're
part of the Sweet Sixteen," Turgeon said. "We just keep getting a little
The Volunteers ended their first season under coach Bruce Pearl on a
disappointing note after exceeding expectations all year behind an
up tempo attack and pressure defense. Still, it was a significant step
forward for a program that had gone 61-59 in four seasons since last
making the NCAA's in 2001.
"We'll be back," Pearl said. "I'm very, very proud of these young men."
Tennessee led 63-58 on a pair of free throws from Watson with 5:42 left,
but the Shockers rallied to tie it at 63-63 on a 3-pointer from Ogirri.
After the teams traded baskets, Bradley drained a jumper from just
outside the lane for a 67-65 lead with 2:12 left. Couisnard followed with
the stepback 3 over Dane Bradshaw for a 70-65 lead with 1:05 left
(AP)- Lamar Butler dribbled out the final seconds of George Mason's
latest improbable win, then dropped the ball and wagged eight fingers
toward a TV camera. As in, "Round of eight, here we come!"
hopped and skipped to the locker room, yelling over and over: "We're not
even supposed to be here!"
Playing a short drive from George Mason's campus, Folarin Campbell
scored 16 points and the 11th-seeded Patriots used a shutdown defense to
beat seventh-seeded Wichita State 63-55 Friday night in a mid-major
matchup, moving within one victory of the Final Four.
been trying to prove ourselves all year. We heard what the critics were
saying- that we didn't belong in the tournament," senior guard Tony
confidence level has risen, and we've gotten a chance to show the
country what we're capable of."
Plenty, such as denying the ball to Missouri Valley Conference player of
the year Paul Miller, who led the Shockers with 16 points and nine
rebounds, and Wichita State's second-leading scorer, Sean Ogirri, who
had all of four points on 1-for-8 shooting.
Wichita State finished 20-for-64 on field-goal attempts, including a
startling 3-for-24 on 3-pointers.
tone was set early, as George Mason broke out to a 9-0 lead and took a
35-19 edge into halftime, thanks in large part to Wichita State's
9-for-30 shooting from the field to that point, 1-for-11 on 3s.
hard as I tried," Shockers coach Mark Turgeon said, "I couldn't get them
out of that funk."
unexpected was George Mason's giddy, bracket-disrupting run through the
NCAA Tournament? The Patriots didn't receive a single vote in this
season's final AP Top 25 and never had won a single game at the NCAA
Tournament until last week. But they stunned sixth-seeded Michigan State
and No. 3- seeded North Carolina, the defending national champion.
Mason's defense was superb in those games, too, as was Campbell, a
6-foot-4 sophomore who, like the rest of the Patriots' starting five,
hails from nearby Maryland. He averaged only 10.7 points this season,
but that's up to 17.4 in the tournament.
fitting: An unheralded player lifting an unheralded team.
time we go out there," Butler said, "we feel we have something to
and Skinn added 14 points apiece for the Patriots (26-7), who will meet
top-seeded Connecticut or fifth-seeded Washington in Sunday's Washington
Regional final. Those teams played in Friday night's second game.
Whoever George Mason's next opponent is will have to figure out a way to
dent the Patriots' tough D. They tied for eighth in Division I this
season by holding opponents under 39 percent shooting and shut down
Michigan State and North Carolina for long stretches.
"They're very well-coached. They've caused a lot of problems for a lot
of teams," said Wichita State's Kyle Wilson, who scored 12 points and
helped his team make the final score respectable.
Wichita State (26-9) just couldn't put the ball in the bucket often
enough to make a real game of it.
Mason led by as many as 19 in the second half, and Wichita State's
offense never got going consistently.
sequence, with about 2½ minutes left, captured the Shockers' rough
night: They got three straight offensive rebounds, but the first two put
backs were strongly contested and didn't fall, and on the third, P.J.
Couisnard simply missed an open layup.
Wichita State started hitting some shots late, getting as close as
62-55 on Wilson's 3-pointer with 23 seconds left. But that was it, and
George Mason "held on despite shaky foul shooting, then jumped on each
other, shouted and pointed to their vocal cheering section.
Noah never stopped hopping. Not after he'd blocked six shots, setting
NCAA tournament and championship-game records. Not after he'd devoured
the rim, to say nothing of UCLA, with a procession of ferocious dunks.
And not even after the effervescent Florida center had joined his Gators
teammates on the victory stand at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis on Monday
night. As Noah jumped up and down-a dozen, two dozen, three dozen
times-he took his rightful place as the Most Outstanding Player of the
2006 Final Four and perhaps the long-sought solution to America's energy
crisis. "This is better than sex!" Noah exclaimed, then clarified in
case anyone forgot that he's half-French. "And trust me, I'm doing it
right." The Gators, 73-57 victors over the Bruins, had more than a few
reasons to go orgasmic on everyone. Maybe it was the three straight
three-pointers to start the second half, two of them by guard Lee
Humphrey, which blew open the game and staked Florida to an 18-point
lead. Or maybe it was the lockdown defense that forced the cowed Bruins
into 36.1% shooting. Or maybe it was just the Gators' remarkable journey
from being unranked in the preseason to the pinnacle of college
end, though, it all came back to Noah, who lorded over the title game
with 16 points, nine rebounds and those six blocks. Early in the first
half he set the tone by rejecting the Bruins' 7-foot center, Ryan
Hollins, and then luring guard Arron Afflalo into a traveling violation
and some serious smack talk. "I knew I was getting into his head," Noah
would say later. "When he traveled, I told him he was scared. He said he
was going to f-- me up. Well, guess who won?" Frustrated all evening,
Afflalo ended up shooting just 3 for 10. And Noah was so confident that
he began winking and blowing kisses at the UCLA cheerleaders ... with
nine minutes left in the game.
really long, and he doesn't go for shot fakes," UCLA guard Jordan Farmar
said of the Bruins' tormentor after the game. "A lot of bigs leave their
feet because they want to block shots. He just uses his length to his
advantage. And he changed about 10 more shots than he blocked."
any college player ever improved more between his freshman and sophomore
years than Noah? "He just went out there and worked every single day,"
Florida coach Billy Donovan said on Monday night. "You could see him
getting better and better and better."
winning his first national championship, the 40-year-old Donovan finally
shed the nickname Billy the Kid, showing just how much he had changed in
the six years since he led the Gators to the title game in the same
building (where they fell to Michigan State). Part of his evolution has
been personal. Once a notorious workaholic, Donovan now takes a couple
of hours every night, even during the season, to chill out at home in
Gainesville with his wife, Christine, and their two sons (Billy, 14, and
Bryan, 9), two daughters (Hasbrouck, 12, and Connor, 4) and three dogs,
including a black Labrador retriever named Alli Gator. He goes to his
sons' basketball games, finds time to attend some of Hasbrouck's horse
shows and brings his dad, Bill, a former player at Boston College, on
the team plane to road games.
was also there for his family after Christine had a miscarriage on the
eve of the 2000-01 season, staying home from work for a week. "Billy was
a huge support system," she says. "Every time I'd had a kid, he hadn't
stayed home for more than an hour."
some ways, of course, Donovan is still the same old Billy D (minus the
slicked-back Eddie Munster coif). "I would say my personal habits have
always been a little bit bizarre," he says with a chuckle. A fitness
fanatic, he's just as likely to go on a four-mile run at midnight as at
5 a.m., and he often sleeps as little as two hours a night. After
Donovan threw out his back jumping to his feet during a win at Kentucky
last month, he ignored his trainer's commands to take it easy. Says
Christine, shaking her head, "I had to put his shoes on for him every
morning, and he's still going and working out!"
it's Donovan's approach to recruiting that has undergone the most
striking transformation. In 2000 his team was a reflection of its era, a
hoops version of the brash late-'90s Internet start-ups: The Gators
defied tradition, hoarded top talent from across the nation and achieved
near-instant success-mostly at the expense of a suspicious (some would
say jealous) Establishment. But during 2000, in Gainesville as in
Silicon Valley, the bubble burst. The Gators were stung by early
departures for the NBA by Mike Miller, Donnell Harvey and Kwame Brown,
who stayed a combined three seasons at Florida. (Brown, the No. 1 pick
of the 2001 draft, committed to the Gators but never even made it to
campus.) In each of the five years following the 2000 title-game run,
Florida lost to lower-seeded teams during the first weekend of the NCAA
perception surrounding our program was that we had these high-powered,
overly talented basketball teams, and I didn't think I'd done a very
good job of recruiting," Donovan explained during a quiet moment in his
Indianapolis hotel room last week. "Guys were only staying one or two
years, and I don't think I was prepared for that. The trick in college
coaching now is being able to get those next-tier guys who are ranked in
the top 25 to 100 of their class, who love the game, are highly
competitive and have a good work ethic. As a coach you don't want to
just win the battles in July [during the recruiting season]. You want to
win the battles in March."
Donovan's 2000 team featured four McDonald's High School All-Americans,
his 2006 champions had only one, sophomore swingman Corey Brewer, and
yet his four-man 2004 recruiting class will now go down as the most
storied in Florida basketball history. After Donovan lost his top three
players from last season- David Lee, Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh-the
onus fell on the Oh-Fours: Brewer, point guard Taurean Green and big men
Noah and Al Horford. Roommates since their first day on campus, they
developed a chemistry that's remarkable in today's college game. "I
remember meeting these guys, and the first thing they said was, Let's go
to the gym," recalls Horford. "I was like, Damn, they're already
thinking about playing. When you hear that, you know you're with guys
who want to win."
effect on their coach has been startling: Donovan now sounds like an
Internet-bust survivor who figured things out in the new economy, and
the Gators look like the Google guys of college basketball. "The more I
do this, the more I believe if you're building a successful company or
program, so much of it comes down to the makeup of the people, from your
coaches to your players," says Donovan. "What sets these kids apart
isn't their talent. They all complement each other so well."
Oh-Fours all have their roles within the group. Brewer, a high-flying
6'8" matchup from hell, exudes a laid-back cool beneath his headband.
Green, the son of former NBA player Sidney Green, yaps back and forth
with the voluble Noah and wears a point guard's chip on his shoulder.
Meanwhile, Horford, the 6'9" son of former NBAer Tito Horford, brings a
sage, almost regal, unifying force to the quartet. "I feel like I'm
probably the father figure," says Horford, who Donovan says is one of
the smartest players he has ever coached. "We run a lot of stuff on
offense," the coach says, "and Al could probably tell you what all five
guys should be doing."
the supernova of the entire tournament was Noah, who went from playing
only two minutes total in last year's NCAAs to assuming a dominant role
this season, averaging 14.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.4 blocks. Ranked
only No. 68 in his high school recruiting class, the 6'11", 227-pound
Noah rose to potential NBA-lottery status in the past month by showing
off a nonstop motor and a forcefulness around the basket that belied his
nickname, Stickman (hung on him by Tyrone Green, his former
summer-league coach in New York City, on account of his once-frail
frame). So, Joakim was asked last week, is it time to abandon your
handle now that you're filling out? "Nah, I'm always going to be Sticks,
even if I get buff," said Noah, who likes to adorn his autographs with a
ponytailed Noah was also the MVP of the interview room last week,
whether he was speaking in French to a reporter for L'Equipe, recounting
his vomit-inducing workouts last summer "when I could have stayed in bed
all cozy with my girlfriend" or laughing about the picture of him, which
has been widely circulated on the Internet, wearing a sort of giant
full-length blue muumuu on campus. Cecilia Rodhe, Noah's Swedish-born
mother, likes to call her son an "African Viking," owing to his exotic
bloodlines. His globe-trotting French-Cameroonian father, Yannick Noah,
the tennis Hall of Famer, is now a pop star in Europe. And although
Noah's parents divorced in 1989, his family contingent in Indy-his
sister, Yelena; his paternal grandmother, Marie-Claire; Yannick; and
Cecilia-watched together from the stands last week. They all had their
own special memories of Joakim's meteoric rise to hoops stardom. When
Joakim hugged his mother (a former Miss Universe finalist) after winning
the Most Outstanding Player award at the Minneapolis Regional, she
teared up thinking back to the days in New York City's Hell's Kitchen
when her son was in the seventh grade and she walked with him in the
cold to enroll him in a Police Athletic League basketball program.
Yannick, for his part, had sat angst-ridden in a Paris TV studio at 4
a.m. and watched the live broadcast as Florida clinched its Final Four
berth. Last week in Indianapolis he thought back to the trip he and his
father, Zacharie, had made to see the Gators play two home games in
March. "It was good to be the three Noah boys again," said Yannick,
whose dad hadn't seen his grandson since Joakim's visit to Cameroon last
summer. "Our flight was late, so when we arrived, the game had already
started. There was a timeout, and my dad let go with a big whistle. Even
with 14,000 people there, Jo looked up and raised his fist. That was
too, naturally, were the scenes in Indy. In their 73-58 semifinal win
over George Mason, the Gators abruptly ended the greatest Cinderella
story in NCAA tournament history without a shred of remorse. So skilled
were Noah and Horford that they put the lie to the adage that guards
rule the NCAA tournament. "In March you need playmakers and decision
makers, and most of the time those guys are your guards," says Donovan.
"It's a little bit different for us because the decision makers in a lot
of what we do are Horford and Noah. A lot of our offense runs through
those guys." Time and again last Saturday, Horford and Noah pulled down
rebounds, only to forgo outlet passes and dribble to the front of the
Gators' fast break.
Florida fans were partying in the lobby of the Omni Severin hotel in
downtown Indy just three hours after the win over George Mason, Donovan
and his staff gathered one floor below in a windowless basement bunker
to cram for UCLA. Assistant coach Donnie Jones edited clips of UCLA's
offensive and defensive sets as the rest of the staff watched tape of
the Bruins' tournament games. Standing before a massive dry-erase board,
Donovan began drawing plays from the Bruins' screen-and stagger-heavy
offensive sets, focusing on how to defend Farmar on pick-and-rolls. "You
can have two guys go out and play Farmar, but that will leave one of
their bigs wide open, and that's exactly what they want," Donovan said.
"You want to make [Farmar] turn the corner and take it to our bigs and
throw it out. Don't run two guys at the ball."
Florida's strategy worked to a tee against the Bruins. Farmar's high
pick-and-rolls were harmless, and to stymie UCLA's three-point threat,
Donovan sicced the 6'8" Brewer on Afflalo, who finished with only 10
points. Green went 1 for 9 from the floor, but he provided a dangerous
spark all night. "Taurean was the one who ignited everything because he
forced them to put two guys on him," Donovan said, "and we threw the
ball back to Jo, who was really able to put the ball down and create."
though Yannick's 1983 French Open championship took place two years
before he was born, Joakim has seen the tape of his father's victory
more than a dozen times. Whenever he watches, he'll replay the
triumphant scene in which his grandfather Zacharie leaps out of the
stands onto the Roland Garros clay and embraces Yannick before an
adoring French crowd. "Every time I watch, it gives me shivers," Joakim
said last week. "It's pure, raw emotion. There's nothing fake about it."
Twenty-three years later, another touching championship moment between
Noahs took place in the RCA Dome. In the delirium after the final horn,
as a paper rainbow fell from the rafters, Joakim climbed into the
Florida cheering section. He hugged his mother first, then his sister,
and then his father pulled him close until the two men were cheek to
cheek. "Je suis fier de toi," Yannick whispered in his ear. "Merci,
merci." ("I am proud of you. Thank you, thank you.")
t'aime," Joakim replied. ("I love you.")
Europe they have a way to hail transcendent performances, whether they
take place in an opera house or a sports arena. So bravo, Joakim. Bravo,
Oh-Fours. And bravo, Gators. You are the 2006 national champions, and
there's nothing fake about that.