PORTLAND, Ore. – If you don't think Purdue is going to be tough to knock out in the NCAA tournament, think again.
Time and time again in Saturday's West Region second-round game against No. 4 seed Washington, the fifth-seeded Boilermakers took the Huskies' best punch and countered with a blow of their own.
Purdue came out on top 76-74 because of its ability to defend, to rebound and to score down low.
Fittingly, no one was bigger for the Boilers than a heavyweight – sophomore post player JaJuan Johnson. He struck for 22 points and six rebounds. His two key blocked shots in the closing minutes foiled the frothing Huskies. And he more than held his own against Washington senior standout Jon Brockman, who had 20 points and 18 rebounds, but came out on the losing end.
"JaJuan did a great job in the paint today," teammate E'Twaun Moore said. "He made the game a lot easier for us."
And a lot tougher for Brockman, who did his best to will his team to victory late.
"He's a beast down low," Brockman said of Johnson. "That mid-range game, he excels at. And I made some crucial errors giving him position and also on the offensive boards. He's going to be a great player. He's going to continue to get even better."
Purdue led by as many as 14 points in the first half, but saw the Huskies cut their lead to a basket with 1:38 left on a reverse layup by Brockman. Then Johnson swatted a driving layup attempt by Washington point guard Isaiah Thomas, then a jumper by Quincy Pondexter before the Boilers salted the game away at the foul line.
Purdue seems to have a lot of the attributes necessary to advance. The Boilers have a speedy, ballhawking defender at the point in freshman Lewis Jackson. They have strong, diverse scorers in Robbie Hummel, Keaton Grant and Moore.
And they have a developing post puncher in the middle named Johnson.
Next up for the Boilers is top-seeded Connecticut in the Sweet 16. Expect Johnson and his teammates to put up a serious fight against those Huskies and Hasheem Thabeet. – Gerry Ahern
Injured Marquette guard still leading team
BOISE, Idaho – Marquette will have to solve Missouri's pressure without the on-court services of starting point guard Dominic James, who suffered a broken foot late in the season. But James apparently is serving as a de facto coach from his seat on the bench.
"He's doing everything but playing on the court for us,'' Marquette guard Wesley Mathews said. "He's telling us what he sees, he's coaching, he's giving plays to coach, he's cheerleading. Nic's doing everything for us, and we're definitely grateful because he could have gone a completely different route about it and pouted and just been upset and felt sorry for himself.''
Added Golden Eagles coach Buzz Williams, "I think that he's helped us in a lot of different ways. He's very intuitive as a player, but I think he has even more wisdom as a person.''
During timeouts Sunday in the NCAA tournament second-round game, don't be surprised to see James counseling Maurice Acker, a fill-in at starting point guard who will be up against a relentless defense.
"He'll help us as much as he can,'' Williams said. – Josh Peter
Pass and trap not for all
BOISE, Idaho – Missouri's press-and-trap style generates almost as much publicity as it does turnovers. So, then, why don't more teams employ the same system?
"I think that teams want to get marquee players at the highest level and this isn't a style that necessarily plays into that,'' Cornell coach Steve Donahue said.
The system is so grueling, Donahue noted, starters are asked to play only 24 minutes per game. The problem: Aspiring pros may be under the impression they need to play far more to convince scouts and GMs they're ready for the NBA.
But Missouri coach Mike Anderson suggested the reason few teams apply constant pressure like the Tigers do stems more from coaches than players. The system gives players freedom on the court, according to Anderson.
"I think most coaches want to be in total control,'' he said. "But we let our guys make decisions.'' – Josh Peter