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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE BASKETBALL

The Sweet 16 is full of big dogs and some roaring 'Cats

The four top-seeded teams are still going, as is Arizona, which is thinking of 1997 again.

March 23, 2009|CHRIS DUFRESNE

FROM MINNEAPOLIS — The Heimlich maneuver that took Arizona from the last NCAA at-large team admitted to the Sweet 16 sums up a first weekend that had people shredding brackets and squirming the way USC Coach Tim Floyd did Sunday on the Metrodome court after no foul call was made on Daniel Hackett's drive.

You could try to make this stuff up.

Missouri held Marquette off with help from a "pinch-shooter" off the bench, Michigan State got 18 totally unexpected points from Travis Walton, the Big Ten defensive player of the year, and Cole Aldrich recorded the first triple-double at Kansas since anyone who doesn't remember Wilt Chamberlain could remember.

And we're just getting the ball rolling.

James Harden, Arizona State's star guard and a likely NBA lottery pick in a few months, made three of 18 shots in two tournament games. Arizona State lost to Syracuse on Sunday and is headed back to Tempe while Tucson prepares next week's game plan.

Sixth-seeded UCLA complained about home-field disadvantage after getting Josh shipped to Philadelphia, which almost assured the Bruins a second-round loss to Villanova.

UCLA played accordingly in a 20-point, jet-lagged, effortless rout.

Note: The Bruins have had some breaks through the years, winning national titles in 1968 and 1972 at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.

Six Pacific 10 Conference teams entered the tournament and Arizona is the last cactus left standing?

USC got burned for 18 points by a 41% shooter in Sunday's tough-luck loss to Michigan State.

California bowed out to Maryland in the first round and Washington to Purdue in the second.

But Arizona lives to play Louisville this week in Indianapolis . . .

It smells as if someone spiked the NCAA punch bowl, and now everyone's thinking crazy thoughts.

Arizona finished tied for fifth in the Pac-10 this season and lost to Arizona State three times but is advancing to the round of 16 to play the top-seeded school in the field.

Arizona finished 19-13, got bounced out in the Pac-10 tournament by its in-state rival and was widely ridiculed for receiving the school's 25th straight NCAA bid at the expense of St. Mary's, Creighton and Davidson.

Arizona is coached by a guy, Russ Pennell, who was doing radio commentary for Arizona State basketball last year. He got the Arizona job only when Lute Olson was forced to resign for health reasons just days before the start of the season.

And now the Wildcats are purring, and thinking anything is possible.

"I told my team I want to be in the national championship," Arizona guard Nic Wise said after Sunday's win over Cleveland State. "That's the way we're playing. We know we can be there and have the talent to do it. We're proving it now, and we're peaking at the right time."

Before someone hands Wise an oxygen mask, consider some eerie similarities.

The Wildcats won their only national title, in 1997, after finishing fifth in the Pac-10.

Arizona finished fifth this year.

Arizona won in 1997 by defeating Roy Williams and Kansas, the top-seeded team in the tournament, in the Southeast Regional semifinals in Birmingham, Ala.

On Friday the Wildcats face Louisville, the top-seeded team, in the regional semifinals.

We'd like Arizona's chances better if Miles Simon and Mike Bibby were still on the roster, but who's to say impossible can't happen twice?

Arizona, at No. 12, is the lowest-seeded school left in the tournament -- by a long shot.

Arizona as "Cinderella" seems so . . . weird.

The 15 other Sweet 16 schools are No. 5 or better -- including the Four Tops: Louisville, Connecticut, Pittsburgh and North Carolina.

Only three of the remaining 16 are mid-majors -- Memphis, Xavier and Gonzaga -- although none of those teams are strangers to deep tournament runs.

We must look back before we spring forward.

We rehash the near-misses and the unsung players and shots that beat the buzzer -- and some that didn't.

Who were these guys?

Gonzaga defeated Western Kentucky on freshman Demetri Goodson's running bank shot with 0.9 of a second remaining.

Ever hit a shot like that before?

"Back in like, the fifth grade," Goodson said.

Ronald Moore, Siena's seldom-shooting guard from Conshohocken, Pa., knocked Ohio State out with two three-point bombs.

Half of Fargo moseyed on down I-94 to see North Dakota State guard Ben Woodside play his last collegiate game -- a 37-point effort that fell just short of toppling mighty Kansas.

There were highs, and lows, by the same player.

USC center Taj Gibson went 10 for 10 against Boston College on Friday and then, two days later, fouled out with no baskets in Sunday's loss to Michigan State.

Cal State Northridge might have become the fifth No. 15 to take down a No. 2 had Roburt Sallie of Memphis, averaging 4.5 points per game, not made 10 three-point shots.

"You don't expect much from Roburt in a morning game like this," Memphis Coach John Calipari said.

Really?

Maryland guard Greivis Vasquez, well, he should have kept his mouth shut. He said Memphis would have a losing record if it played in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Final tally: Memphis by 19 over the Terrapins.

If it makes you feel any worse, Maryland fans: Duke is back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2006.

--

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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