(excerpted from my March Madness Running Blog at North of the 400)
What an afternoon in Tampa.
First, there was an instant classic overtime duel between Drake and West Kentucky. And then there was another instant classic between Sad Diego and UConn.
It takes all kinds to win the NCAAs. There’s teams that win on skill, that win on luck, that win with calls. In a best-of-one, it’s not always the best team that wins.
So sometimes you can win on individual performance. You can ride a shooter’s hot streak all the way to the Sweet 16, if you’re lucky enough.
That’s what Davidson did against Gonzaga – they rode the hot shooting of Stephen Curry, who netted 30 of his 40 points in the second half, including a clutch 3-point trey and a solid performance from the line.
In game where both teams traded blows like prizefighters and neither team managed to take much of a lead, it was Gonzaga that blinked first, missing shots all throughout the second half.
But even a classic shooting performance wasn’t the lightlight of the first round of games on Friday. No, it was a roller coaster of a game between Drake and West Kentucky that gets that honor.
Despite being down by as much as 15 in the second half, Drake didn’t just claw their way to overtime, they forced it by capitalizing on 22 turnovers. Tying the game with 30 seconds left in regulation, they forced a turnover and took the last shot of the half. They too rode a hot shooter in Jonathan Cox, who scored 17 points in the last 10 minutes of regulation.
But that wasn’t enough. WKY won the game on a three-pointer at the buzzer. Sometimes that’s all it comes down to.
Then, in the second set of games, we had three blowouts and overtime duel.
It didn’t look that was early on, though. San Diego looked to pull away in the first and led by as many as 10 in the second half. But UConn battled back, tying the game with about 8 to play. But that was about it. They could close the gap, but never overcome it and had to rally back from a four-point deficit with under a minute left. Holding the ball with the shot clock off at the end of the second, they went for a quick basket, giving the San Deigo Toreros a chance to tie the game (which they did).
And again in overtime they found themselves down and had to rally. And, yet again, they couldn’t seal the deal. Called for a goaltending call and letting the Toreros hit a long two, they found themselves down by four before they hit a shot in overtime.
Enter De’Jon Jackson’s late-game heroics. He hit a late – and long, from just inside the arc - shot with only 1.2 ticks left, giving San Deigo a 70-69 lead. But if not for Brandon Johnson’s heroics – 18 points, four of them from beyond the arc – it might not have been that close.
So, like the game immediately before it, it was a classic right to the final buzzer. Oddly, one major difference between the two games was where each final basket was scored: at opposite ends of the court.
I guess that means fans at both ends get to enjoy clutch shooting.