Tournament Notebook: Huggins Rips Players, Few Praises Ohio State
By Brandon Castel
PITTSBURGH — It was an interesting Thursday at the Consol Energy Center in downtown Pittsburgh, with four teams advancing to the round of 32 in the 2012 NCAA Tournament
The most controversial game of the day in Pittsburgh—and anywhere else, for that matter—was easily Syracuse' defeat of UNC-Asheville, 72-65, in what was close to becoming the first 16-seed to upset a 1-seed in the tournament.
After trailing for much of the game, the Orange pulled away in the final minutes for a seven-point victory over Eddie Biedenbach’s Bulldogs. Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim tried his best to make it sound like the victory was never in doubt. He also said the absence of 7-foot sophomore Fab Melo did not have a major impact on the top-seed team from the Big East.
Neither point could be further from the truth.
The Orange were staring at NCAA tournament history in the second half Thursday, as they trailed UNC-Asheville with just over 6 minutes to play. The sellout crowd of 18,927 had quickly turned on the heavily favored 1-seed, and J.P. Primm was knocking down big shots over the top of Boeheim’s famed zone defense.
The Bulldogs got within three points three times in the final 1:04, but they could not overcome the men of Orange, or the ones in black and white stripes for that matter.
With 35 seconds left and the Orange leading 66-63, the ball appeared to go out of bounds off Syracuse's Brandon Triche but the officials pointed the other way and gave it to Syracuse.
The crowd erupted with boos, but it was just one of a number of questionable calls that led official Ed Corbett to release a statement after the game.
“The out of bounds is not reviewable and it is not a play we would discuss,” Corbett told a pool reporter.
“I'm not going to comment further because it is a judgment call. It was a clear (lane) violation. The player released early, before the ball hit the rim. We've since watched the replay 20 times and it was the right call.”
Hours later, long after that game had ended, fans at the Console Center continued to boo the final score of the ‘Cuse game every time it was broadcasted throughout the arena by the PA announcer.
Huggy Bear Shows His Claws
In the evening game, just before Ohio State’s tipoff against Loyola-Maryland, Bob Huggins had to watch his West Virginia team get run off the floor by an underrated, and likely under-seeded, Gonzaga team.
The Mountaineers shot 33 percent from the floor, and were just 3-17 behind the arc in a 77-54 loss to Gonzaga that even the mascot had a hard time watching.
Imagine Huggins, who has earned the nickname “Huggy Bear,” both for his appearance and for his aggressive personality. He sat and watched, seething, as his team struggled to do much of anything against the Bulldogs.
Afterward, he could no longer sit back quietly about his team.
“The truth of the matter is it's kind of a microcosm of our season. This is the worst defensive team I've ever had in 30 years,” Huggins said during his postgame press conference.
“We don't get the help, we don't get the loose balls. We don't do the things we've done for years and years and years.”
But he wasn’t done yet.
“They shoot 56 percent, that's never happened,” he said.
“You've been around. That's never, ever happened. No matter how well somebody played, it never happened.”
Still not done.
“A lot of it is because we're so inept offensively,” he added.
“They get breakouts. We throw the ball around, throw the ball to them. That adds to it.”
Now Huggins will have an entire off-season to think about this team, full of players he recruited to play for him in Morgantown.
Few Praises Matta, Buckeyes
Seventh-seeded Gonzaga (26-6) was clearly the better team in its 23-point victory over WVU Thursday. Robert Sacre and Gary Bell Jr. scored 14 points apiece, while point guard Kevin Pangos added 13 points and five assists.
Utah Jazz Hall-of-Famer John Stockton even got to watch his son, David, a backup point guard for the Bulldogs, get into the game and score four points in the victory.
It was a complete shellacking from a Gonzaga team that is not afraid of the bright lights of the tournament. Nor are they afraid of their next opponent, No. 2-seed Ohio State, but Gonzaga coach Mark Few had nothing but high praise for OSU head coach Thad Matta and the Buckeyes Thursday.
“He's had a great run, just an incredible run of success, incredible run of high‑level recruiting, which is what you need to do at a place like that,” Few said.
“Not only does he do a great job of getting them there, but they play together. They stick to their core principles. They always play phenomenal defense, take pretty good care of the basketball. His teams have always shot really well, too.”
He may not have watched them much this year if he thinks this Ohio State team shoots the ball well, but he will certainly take notice of Deshaun Thomas. The OSU sophomore scored a career-high 31 points to go with 12 rebounds in Ohio State’s 78-59 win over Loyola.
Thomas joined Jerry Lucas as the second OSU player in history with 30 points and 10 rebounds in a tournament game, but Few is just as worried about Jared Sullinger and the way Ohio State can play when they are together on the court.
“They're a typical Big Ten team,” he said.
“Hard to generate baskets on. Going to play physical and rebound it. He's got a great player in Sullinger and a bunch of other really good players around him.”
Gonzaga and Ohio State will meet Saturday in Pittsburgh at approximately 2:45 p.m. The winner advances to play in next weekend’s Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament in Boston.
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