The real contenders step up, and LeBron can’t lose at home

By: 03.22.09  •  28 Comments
UConn's Hasheem Thabeet

UConn's Hasheem Thabeet

Duke, Gonzaga and Purdue gave us the “Madness” part of March yesterday, but UConn, Memphis and Villanova made the biggest statements when it comes to what really matters: winning the ‘chip. In its 20-piecing of UCLA (which to be fair, was basically a home game in Philly), ‘Nova looked as good as any team in the East region has looked in the Tournament, putting them right there with Duke and Pitt as Final Four favorites out of that bracket. Meanwhile, UConn destroyed Texas A&M to maintain its status as the most dominant team in the field to date, and Memphis’ blowout over Maryland reminded everyone they can’t be written off in the national title discussion, either … On the flip side, Gonzaga, Duke and Purdue survived and advanced in nail-biting fashion. After Western Kentucky tied the Zags on Steffphon Pettigrew‘s tip-in with seven seconds left, freshman PG Demetri Goodson pulled a Deron Williams move, taking the inbounds immediately and going end-to-end to bank in a runner to win it. Crazy that Goodson was even the one taking that shot, considering he’s a backup who finished with all of four points, and that the Zags had Matt Bouldin (20 pts, 6 asts), Jeremy Pargo (18 pts), Austin Daye and Micah Downs on the court. Sticking with the Utah Jazz analogy, it’d be like C.J. Miles getting the clear-out on a game-ending possession and delivering … Duke kept trying to give its game away to Texas in the last couple minutes, but the Longhorns responded by missing layups, committing unnecessary fouls and getting out-hustled for loose balls, while the Blue Devils made their free throws at the end and got lucky here and there. Then again, maybe if UT had thought about guarding the three-point line at all, it never would have come to that; Jon Scheyer (13 pts) and Kyle Singler (17 pts) were getting wide-open looks all day … Maybe the biggest play came with 15 seconds left, when Duke was up by three and Texas’ A.J. Abrams and Damion James had just missed a pair of close shots. Chasing down the rebound, Scheyer not only saved it, but flipped it behind his back about 30 feet in the air and over to Duke’s side of the court. That led to free throws by Elliott Williams and took time off the clock that Texas needed … Purdue almost blew a 14-point lead against Washington, but made some key defensive stops down the stretch and hung on for a two-point win. Even in the loss, though, the player of the game had to be Jon “Matrix” Brockman (20 pts, 18 rebs). In the second half he completely dominated the paint on both ends of the floor; guys were bouncing off him left and right, but on a couple critical possessions late in the game, his teammates didn’t look for him down low and forced up bad shots that cost them … In the other Big Dance games, Blake Griffin posted 33 points and 17 boards in Oklahoma’s win over Michigan, and Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington scored 23 apiece to lead UNC over LSU … Does anyone else think UCLA’s Josh Shipp looks like a young Rick Fox? … LeBron James

In the first quarter of Cavs/Hawks, LeBron got out on a one-man break, split Josh Smith and Joe Johnson like Devin Hester bursting through the seam on a kick return, and after J-Smoove tried to wrap him up, scored anyway and flexed to the bench. Just another one of those displays that reminds you ‘Bron might be the best athlete pound-for-pound in sports … The Cavs jumped on Atlanta early and cruised to another home win. LeBron had 22 points and seven boards, Mo Williams scored 24, and Big Z went for 16 points, becoming the fourth Cleveland player to crack 10,000 points in his career along with LeBron, Brad Daugherty and Austin CarrKG is slowly working his way back to form, but in the meantime, you have to like what Boston is getting from its other bigs. Kendrick Perkins has been showing some actual post moves lately (he likes that little fadeaway in the middle of the paint), and Big Baby is knocking down mid-range J’s with regularity (most notably the dagger in San Antonio the other night). Baby scored 24 points in Saturday’s win at Memphis — including a man-sized dunk on Darko — while KG (10 pts, 4 rebs, 2 blks) was kept under 20 minutes by Doc Rivers … Other big stat lines from last night: Kobe put up 28 points, seven dimes and five steals in a fourth-quarter comeback win at Chicago; Brandon Roy posted 30 points, eight boards and seven assists in a win at Milwaukee; Q-Rich scored 33 in a loss to Orlando; Jarrett Jack scored 31 in a win at Charlotte; and J-Rich dropped 35 in a win over the Wizards … During that Phoenix/Washington game, Shaq passed Moses Malone for fifth all-time on the NBA’s career scoring list. But this will be the game remembered for Shaq breaking out the “human bowling” routine; in the locker room and again on the court before tip-off, Shaq rolled the imaginary ball while Lou Amundson, Alando Tucker, Jared Dudley and the rest of the DNP crew played the pins. Kinda hilarious … We’ll know the whole Sweet 16 field at the end of today’s Big Dance schedule: Kansas/Dayton, Arizona/Cleveland State, Louisville/Siena, Michigan State/USC, Missouri/Marquette, Xavier/Wisconsin, Pitt/Oklahoma State, and Syracuse/Arizona State. Are you on college basketball OD yet? … We’re out like Texas …

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