by Suzie Raven
The first day of the National Collegiate Athletic Association's tournament for the men's basketball championship went largely as planned. We had to wait until midnight to see any true upset, when 12th seeded Western Kentucky University beat fifth-seeded University of Illinois in the southern regional. That doesn’t mean the first day lacked excitement, or that every highly seeded team won easily.
In the western regional, Cal State – Northridge might have become one of the few 15 seeds to beat a team seeded at No. 2 (it's only happened four times), had it not been for Roburt Sallie of Memphis who scored 35 points, including ten three-point shots. Sallie’s numbers are impressive no matter who you are, but much more so considering he averaged 4.5 points this season. His previous game high was 13 points. Memphis isn’t a Cinderella team, but Sallie is a Cinderella player.
American University, a 14-seed not expected to win in the first round, almost became a surprise Cinderella. They gave the Villanova Wildcats (seeded third in the eastern regionals) a good scare, leading by ten at the half. American's Eagles made the first couple shots of the second half, increasing their lead to 14. The Wildcats eventually tired out the Eagles and won 80-67.
Also in the southern regional, the University of Oklahoma didn’t have any problem beating Morgan State. The only problem came when Ameer Ali flipped Oklahoma's star Blake Griffin after getting entangled going for a rebound. (Check below to see video of the play.) The refs handled it well by ejecting Ali immediately. Griffin also handled it well by continuing to shoot and not responding with a fight. "I kind of thought it might happen so when it did I just told myself to walk away," Griffin said. "I didn't want to do anything to further the issue to where I may have to miss a game or miss the rest of that game."
Again in the southern regional, during the game between the University of North Carolina's Tar Heels and Radford, UNC’s Tyler Hansbrough broke J.J. Redick’s record to become the Atlantic Coast Conference’s all-time leading scorer on a free throw with 15:43 left in the first half. It wasn’t officially announced, and Hansbrough was fine with that. "For me to top all of the scorers in that league, it's special. It's an honor. But at the same time, I came here to win the game today and didn't want to focus on individual goals," Hansbrough said. Tar Heel fans in the crowd knew exactly when it happened, so they cheered and held up congratulatory signs.
The NCAA doesn’t need a Cinderella team to make March Madness exciting.
(Editor's Note: More March Madness first round games will be played today, Friday, March 20. CBS broadcasts the tournament. The full television schedule can be found here. Various satellite systems and the NCAA online also feature full coverage of the tournament.)
(For a preview of the NCAA tournament, please see: "March Madness 2009: The Field of 65." To see the flip during the Oklahoma vs. Morgan State game, please check below.)
National Collegiate Athletic Association
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by Suzie Raven