Oakland notebook: When the big guys fall
By Michael Arkush, Special to Yahoo! Sports
March 24, 2006
OAKLAND – He was in tears before it was over, the game and, perhaps, his collegiate career. Moments later, when it became official, when a last-second prayer went unanswered, Adam Morrison dropped to the floor.
He had been on the floor, it seemed, forever, when two Bruins, Arron Afflalo and Ryan Hollins, left their celebration to comfort him.
"That's just a sign of obviously a great program," Morrison said. "They had enough guts as a man to come over in their moment of victory, pick somebody off the floor. If I could thank them, I would."
Morrison, as usual, had been emotional all night, especially when he hit big shots. He scored 24 points, on 10 of 17 from the floor. One of those big shots came with about 15 minutes left when he converted a three-pointer, and was fouled. The free throw put Gonzaga on top, 50-40, stopping a Bruin rally that had sliced the lead to six. It seemed then that nothing would stop his team from reaching the Elite Eight.
Two more free throws by Morrison, with about three and a half minutes remaining, gave the Zags a 71-62 advantage. But they were his, and his team's, last points of the game.
On Gonzaga's last possession, down by two, Morrison called for the ball as it was inbounded. He didn't get it, but there were no complaints. "We got a great shot with J.P. down way farther than I was," he said. "I mean, I wouldn't have it any other way."
Gonzaga Coach Mark Few was full of praise for his star player.
"He's one of a kind," Few said. "I'll never coach another kid like that. He is such an incredible competitor that it can't help but be contagious. He's literally willed us all year to wins and end-of-game wins like that."
Few sounds as if Morrison, a junior, is already out the door – and he might be right. He would obviously be a very high lottery pick if he made himself available for the NBA Draft. In the locker room afterwards, Morrison said he has no idea when he's going to decide his future.
All the Bradley Braves did was capture two games in the tournament, impressive but hardly proof that they are on the path to becoming a mid-major force in college basketball. Then again, Gonzaga wasn't built in a day.
"We want this to be an every year occurrence," said Coach Jim Les, after his team fell to the Memphis Tigers, 80-64. Of his seniors, he added: "They'll be forever in the annals and history of Bradley basketball as bringing us back."
The Braves will have to carry on without senior forward Marcellus Sommerville. Plagued by foul trouble, he played only 28 minutes, yet scored 18 points and pulled down eight rebounds.
"You never want it to be over," Sommerville said. "You feel real down that you couldn't get that one more game."
A bright spot for Bradley will be the return of center Patrick O'Bryant, who has been one of the real discoveries in this tournament. O'Bryant finished with eight points and 14 rebounds.
"I think when we get back home and we sit back and look at our body of work for the year," Les said, "I think this group, this team, this program can be extremely proud."
UCLA and Memphis played this season on November 24 in New York, with the Tigers prevailing, 88-80. Shawne Williams led the Tigers with 26 points, while UCLA's Jordan Farmar scored 28. Memphis opened up a twenty-point advantage with just under 19 minutes remaining, and had to withstand a UCLA rally, which cut the lead to six.
"In November we were a completely different team," Farmar said, "as I'm sure they were. We've grown so much. All of our freshmen are no longer freshmen, or at least not playing like it. We've grown, especially as a collective unit. It's going to be a completely different game."
Michael Arkush, a freelance writer and author of eight books based in Virginia, is covering the Oakland regional exclusively for Yahoo! Sports.
Updated on Friday, Mar 24, 2006 3:03 am, EST