2011 NCAA Tournament is off to a nail biting finish of a start
The opening game in the East Region featured West Virginia taking on Clemson. The Tigers were coming off a win on Tuesday night against UAB to get into the round of 64 and despite playing their 2nd game in less then 36 hours, started out strong. They held a double digit lead over the fifth seeded Mountaineers for half of the opening half before West Virginia's fresh legs started to take over. The game was tied at 40 going into the intermission before Clemson started to run out of gas. West Virginia opened up the 2nd half on a little run and was able to hold off the Tigers.
West Virginia will meet 4th seeded Kentucky in the road of 32. The Wildcats had all they could handle and more with Princeton in their first round matchup. This was a back and forth game with both teams making big shots late. After Princeton tied the score with just over 30 seconds left, Kentucky freshman Brandon Knight took over and made a running layup with less then two ticks on the clock. It was Knight's first made shot of the game and it helped the Wildcats fend off the upset minded Tigers 59-57.
In the Southeast region, it was the clash of two mid majors as Butler and Old Dominion battled in a 8/9 matchup. This was another back and forth contest where neither team led by more then 6 points. There were 21 lead changes and fitting, the game ended on a last second bit of luck for the Bulldogs. Guard Shawn Vanzant was driving to the basket from the right side when he lost his footing and threw the ball toward the rim. Teammate Andrew Smith slapped the ball out of the air off the backboard and right to Matt Howard, who went up with his right hand and put the ball in from the left side an instant before time expired. It wasnt what coach Brad Stevens had drew up in the timeout but it was enough to lead Butler into the round of 32.
Butler's next opponent will be Pittsburgh, who struggled a bit early with 16 seeded UNC-Asheville before flexing their muscles in the 2nd half. The Panthers only led by three early in the second half, but they eventually showed the scrappy Big South champions what Big East play is all about, thanks in part to Ashton Gibbs' 26 points.
The Southwest Region gave us our very first bracket buster, as 13th seeded Morehead State upset in-state rival Louisville. In a recurring theme for these early games, this was another back and forth nailbiter. With Morehead State leading by 5 late, Louisville went on a 9-0 run to grab a 4 point lead. Kenneth Faried hit two free throws for the Eagles and they quickly fouled the Cardinal. Elisha Justice missed the front end of a one and one to give the ball back to Morehead State. Enter Demonte Harper, who drained a step back, 3 point shot with three seconds left to give the Eagles the lead. Louisville had a chance to get off a shot at the end but Mike Marra's shot was blocked by Faried.
Morehead State will meet 12th seeded Richmond in the round of 32. The Spiders use some long range bombing to knock off the Vanderbilt Commodores, ensuring that at least one double digit seed will make the round of sixteen. Richmond was heavily outrebounded but by Vandy but made up for that at the 3 point line, where they made 12 of 24.
In the opening game in the West region, Penn State and Temple played another classic game that came down to the final seconds. After trading baskets for what seemed like the whole second half, Nittany Lions guard Talor Battle nailed a 3 to tie the score at 64. Juan Fernandez took the last shot for Temple, forcing up the winning shot off his right foot while fading to his left just inside the 3-point line. The clock read 0.4 seconds as the ball went through the net.
Temple will meet San Diego State on Saturday. The 2nd seeded Aztecs completely outclassed and outmuscled the smaller Northern Colorado Bears in front of a pro San Diego State crowd. The Bears kept it close for most of the first half before the size of the Aztecs front court took over in the 2nd. Kawhi Leonard and Billy White both had double doubles to neutralize Devon Beitzel, who scored a game high 25 for the Bears.
The 2nd half of the opening day is about to begin. How is your bracket doing after the first 8 games?