Grizzlies show teeth, Dallas fans don't show
SALT LAKE CITY -- Larry Krystkowiak has preached the same message from Day 1, from the first time his Montana basketball team gathered for practice this season: Individual accolades have no place in Missoula.
"We have done this together," said Krystkowiak, "with a lot of synergy."
The first major upset of the NCAA Tournament came from the Big Sky Conference school with an ability to play big in a huge game, a Grizzlies team that knocked out WAC champion Nevada 87-79 in a Minneapolis Regional affair at the Huntsman Center.
So it's official: You can begin throwing Krystkowiak's name into the annual pool of mid-major coaches destined for fancier digs and more zeroes on his paycheck. He has led Montana into the NCAA field in each of his first two seasons as head coach and his 12th-seeded Grizzlies controlled the No. 5 Wolf Pack in surprisingly simple fashion.
Krystkowiak is a Montana alum who played 11 seasons of professional ball -- nine in the NBA -- and who ranks third all-time in scoring and rebounding among Big Sky players. He has taught this current group the importance of sacrificing one's body for the good of an extra possession.
Against the Wolf Pack (27-6), center Andrew Strait and guards Kevin Criswell and Virgil Matthews combined for 58 of Montana's points.
"I don't know how much film they had on us but I would say it had zero affect," said Nevada coach Mark Fox, whose team had enough defensive breakdowns and matchup problems to allow 52 percent shooting. "We have been rock-solid defensively the past couple months and weren't this game. That's why we played from behind the entire time. It was a single-digit game and they must have had 10 layups. That's what decided it."
Here's another reason the Wolf Pack lost: Nevada had just two players -- forwards Marcelus Kemp and Nick Fazekas -- offer numbers. Kemp scored a game-high 34 and Fazekas (playing perhaps his final college game if the junior opts to leave early for the NBA) had 24 points and 12 boards.
Montana (24-6) will have to play with as much and perhaps even more of a purpose Saturday. Boston College pulled one of those first-round escapes that often propel higher seeded teams deep into the bracket, beating Pacific in double overtime.
Know this: The boys from Missoula will show up.
"I didn't get to see much of the [Boston College] game," said Criswell. "But it gives us a little confidence. We have to sit down and watch film and see what their tendencies are. I knew we weren't getting the respect we probably deserved. From getting a No. 12 seed on Selection Sunday
I don't think people expected is to have that kind of seed."
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- This was odd. How often do you see one staff glued to a TV set in its postgame locker room, seeing players that it had coached last season pull off another upset?
No other staff in the NCAA Tournament is as invested in two teams as Tennessee. The Vols' staff has two teams in this field: its own and Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
That's why it was entertaining to see Tennessee assistants Tony Jones and Ken Johnson hollering out for Panthers' Boo Davis and Joah Tucker, who both lit up Oklahoma in the first-round upset.
Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl was quick to point out that they left behind seven fifth-year seniors with the Panthers, so he wasn't surprised by UWM winning yet another game they weren't seeded to in the first-round of the NCAA Tournament.
And then when Boston College, a team that UWM beat in the second round as a 12-seed last season, was shown on the screen to have advanced to a meeting with Montana in Round 2, the assistants noted that the Eagles had to play a 12 again.
Of course, the Vols were glued to their own highlight, a tough corner jumper by Chris Lofton that beat Winthrop 63-61.
"This is our first time here -- and Winthrop had been here before -- but we stayed poised," Tennessee senior Stanley Asumnu said. "Coach [Bruce Pearl] asked before the game, 'Is anybody nervous?' And everybody raised their hand. And he said, 'I'm glad, because if you're not nervous, I don't know what's wrong with you."
Lofton said he had good look at the basket on his shot. He said it was shot, not a heave. Meanwhile, Winthrop coach Gregg Marshall said the defense on the shot couldn't have been better. Marshall was still bitter after the game about the Eagles' 15-seed.
DALLAS -- I know this is a pro town. I know this is a football town. But the level of (dis)interest in Thursday's opening practice sessions still was staggering.
By most estimates, North Carolina State brought in the most folks to watch its practice -- and that was because the cheerleaders showed up. Best guesses put the crowd at three dozen, cheer team included.
Even homestate Texas couldn't put people in the seats (for free). There were half a dozen burnt orange shirts in the stands when the Longhorns hit the floor.
Arkansas might have had a dozen. Top seed Memphis practiced in virtual seclusion, other than media members. There were 31 people in the stands during Penn's practice Thursday night, but it was unclear how many were actually fans -- especially fans of Penn basketball.
In 17 years of covering the NCAA Tournament at venues from coast to coast, I've never seen stands this empty for open practices. Not even close. Not even in so-what San Diego one year.
You figure most of the city's sports fans are home obsessing over whether the Cowboys sign T.O.
Friday should be another story, once the live shooting commences here. Arkansas, Memphis and Oral Roberts should take care of filling the seats in the afternoon session, and then it will be on Texas to pack the place at night.
Most of Longhorn Nation is more concerned about who replaces Vince Young at quarterback, but this is a team with legit Final Four potential playing in its home state. The homecourt advantage should be tremendous for the Horns tomorrow night.
If it's not, it's the final indictment of Texas as a basketball school. No way a team this good, in a state this big, should have to go begging for fans.
|PHOTO OF THE DAY|
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Chris Lofton hit this tough fadeaway from the corner with 0.4 seconds left to push No. 2-seed Tennessee past upset-minded No. 15 Winthrop, 63-61.
|ANALYSIS IN MOTION|
|STATS OF THE DAY|
4 -- The number of underdogs (by seed) that won on the Tournament's opening day. The lowest were 12-seeds Montana, which dispatched Nevada, and Texas A&M, which stopped Syracuse.
19-0 -- The run George Washington used to erase an 18-point second-half deficit in its 88-85 overtime win over UNC Wilmington.
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