Just in the Nick of Time for Williams’ Jayhawks
This just in -- two late additions to the resumes cluttering the desktop of UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero:
Ben Howland: So-called architect of “Pittsburgh Steeler basketball” watches his Pittsburgh Panthers pull a Kordell Stewart in the Sweet 16. Pitt shoots 26.7% from beyond the three-point line, gets outworked underneath the basket and loses to a Marquette team making its second trip to the third round since 1977, 77-74.
Roy Williams: With his team having flown into Anaheim for a West Regional game against Duke and All-American guard Kirk Hinrich having left his jump shot in the overhead bin, Williams outmaneuvers Mike Krzyzewski, aka The Best College Coach Since Wooden, to end his winless streak against the Blue Devils, 69-65.
Williams is in the neighborhood, but Howland, in something of an upset, is available for the first interview.
On a Thursday night when Arizona re-established itself as the favorite to win the NCAA tournament, three of the biggest coaching names in the competition were thrown stress tests, forcing them to adjust on the fly without three of the most influential players in the competition.
In the Midwest Regional at Minneapolis, Kentucky Coach Tubby Smith, with not much of a perimeter game to begin with, watched his leading scorer, Keith Bogans, twist and shout late in the first half, suffering a high-ankle sprain that sidelined him for the remainder of the Wildcats’ game against Wisconsin.
Already, the tempo had been bogged down to Wisconsin’s liking, and with no Bogans for the game’s last 23 1/2 minutes, Kentucky’s 25-game winning streak seemed headed to hit a big red wall. The Badgers’ bore-'em-til-they-drop strategy had held 20 opponents to fewer than 60 points, with a one-dimensional Kentucky seeming certain to become No. 21.
Sizing up the situation, Smith let the streak and the season ride on the notion that two could play Badger Ball -- and let’s keep pounding the ball inside to Marquis Estill.
Estill, a 6-foot-9 center-forward, responded with a career-high 28 points, nearly half of Kentucky’s total. The Wildcats broke the 60-point barrier, barely, but defended with enough intensity to win even if they hadn’t.
Final score: Kentucky 63, Wisconsin 57.
That figured to set up the anticipated matchup between No. 1-seeded Kentucky and No. 2 Pitt in Saturday’s Midwest Regional final.
Some observers, noting Arizona’s recent wobbles against UCLA and Gonzaga, went so far as to call a possible Kentucky-Pitt matchup the “real championship final.”
That sort of hype is always hazardous, and sure enough, Marquette, reacquainting itself with life this late in the tournament, shot 52% from the field, outrebounded Pittsburgh and its Steel Curtain front line, 24-22, and held off a late Panther charge for the victory.
In a West Regional semifinal, a Duke-Kansas billing that promised so much wound up lumbering across the Pond due to near no-shows by Hinrich and Duke’s supposed jump-shot extraordinaire, J.J. Redick.
During the regular season, Hinrich and Redick combined to average more than 32 points a game.
Thursday, they combined to shoot three for 25 from the field, one of 16 from three-point range and totaled seven points.
For once, Williams had more in reserve than Krzyzewski -- and that was the one player Williams was able to wrest away from Krzyzewski in the periodic recruiting tussles that almost always go Duke’s way.
By winning that long-ago contest for Nick Collison, Williams was able to win this game. Collison made 14 of 22 shots, grabbed 19 rebounds and finished with 33 points, almost 50% of the Jayhawks’ total.
The one that got away from Coach K?
Thursday at the Pond, Williams, with a considerable rub-it-in assist from Collison, made it two.