PHILADELPHIA – In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, Chattanooga coach John Shulman and his staff realized they still hadn't glimpsed the glimmer of hope they needed as they prepared for Thursday's first-round game against top-seeded Connecticut at the Wachovia Center.
But they knew that in the first round in 2006, 16th-seeded Albany held a 12-point lead with 11½ minutes left in its first-round game against top-seeded Connecticut before UConn rallied to win 72-59 at the Wachovia Center.
"We talked to about 2:30 in the morning, our coaches," Shulman said, "and I said, 'We've got to get that tape.' "
So, here are the Huskies again: same seed as '06, same site, an opponent with the same opportunity as Albany – to become the first No. 16 to knock off a No. 1.
Chattanooga (18-16) made a surprising run through the Southern Conference tournament, beating Elon, Samford and College of Charleston for its first NCAA bid since 2005.
"I've said it many times," Shulman said. "In the regular season, two balls fit through that hoop. In the postseason, those little orange Nerf balls have a tough time going in sometimes – not for the 16th seed but for the one seed. …
"I'm just going to tell you it's going to happen sometime, so it might as well happen [Thursday], I guess. I mean, since we're all here, it might as well happen. You've got to believe, you've got to dream and you've got to play pretty close to perfect."
After a 22-1 start, the Huskies are 5-3 since junior guard Jerome Dyson was lost for the season with a knee injury, and UConn coach Jim Calhoun acknowledged that his team lost a slight bit of swagger when Dyson went down.
"Over the next couple days – hopefully not from us – you'll be hearing stories about teams that just didn't play the same in postseason play," Calhoun said. "I think a lot of it's got to do with is your mind on a single goal. I'm not speaking for Coach Shulman, but a team like Chattanooga, teams like Northeastern, teams that I know from that ilk.
"Albany, they were focused on one single thing – just beating us. I think, and I truly hope we believe this, we're focused on one thing: to show that, without Jerome Dyson, who will be a terrific player next year, we're still a very good basketball team. We're focused on advancing in this tournament." – Mike Sielski
Turgeon returns to Philly
PHILADELPHIA – Mark Turgeon left Philadelphia in 1998 and his wife wasn't happy about it.
Now in his second season as Texas A&M's coach, Turgeon spent the 1997-98 NBA season as an assistant to Larry Brown during Brown's first year as the Philadelphia 76ers' coach. The Sixers went 31-51, and Turgeon left after that season to become coach at Jacksonville State in the Ohio Valley Conference.
"My wife [Ann] wanted to divorce me when we left Philadelphia for Jacksonville, Ala.," said Turgeon, whose ninth-seeded Aggies take on eighth-seeded BYU on Thursday. "She thought I was crazy.
"It was a great year for me because I was with Coach Brown as a player [at Kansas in the late 1980s], but it was a player-coach relationship. Then [with the Sixers] I was able to have a personal relationship with him, which meant a lot to me and which we still have today. Then, to get back to doing what I really believed in, being around a guy who I believed in, it just gave me energy to continue coaching and try to be successful." – Mike Sielski
Matadors are used to adversity
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Their leading scorer was arrested and removed from the team, a wreck ended their point guard's career and coach Bobby Braswell nearly lost his life in a car accident last July.
Still, somehow, Cal State Northridge managed to earn a berth in the NCAA tournament. The Matadors, the No. 15 seed in the West Region, take on No. 2 Memphis on Thursday at the Sprint Center.
"I don't care what the score is," Memphis coach John Calipari said. "With seven or eight minutes to go … if anyone thinks that team is going to go away, you're out of your mind. They've already fought back from so much."
Northridge's problems began July 26, when a car ran a red light and plowed into the driver's side of Braswell's car, sending it into a tree. Braswell's back injuries required months of rehabilitation.
Things got worse in January, when Matadors leading scorer Deon Tresvant and seldom-used reserve Dallas Rutherford were arrested for allegedly trying to steal $6,600 worth of electronics equipment from a Best Buy store in Los Angeles. Also arrested was Braswell's son, who worked at the store.
One month later, point guard Josh Jenkins – the Big West Conference leader in assists – was injured in an accident that killed the driver of the car in which he was riding. Jenkins, who suffered internal bleeding, was released from the hospital in late February but has been unable to rejoin the team.
"Usually dealing with adversity means losing two or three games in a row," said Braswell, now in his 13th season with the Matadors. "The kind of adversity these guys faced this year was a whole lot different."
Somehow, even with a makeshift lineup, Northridge still found a way to flourish. The Matadors (17-13) won five of their last six games and defeated Pacific in the championship game of the Big West tournament. When they heard their name called on Selection Sunday, the team couldn't have felt a greater sense of pride.
"Everyone thought we were down and out," senior forward Tremaine Townsend said. "Look at us now." – Jason King
Calipari embraces the blame
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The only problem with Memphis being sent to Kansas City is that the Tigers are being peppered with questions about last season's 75-68 overtime loss to Kansas in the national championship game.
Coach John Calipari said he feels most people blame him for the loss because he didn't instruct his players to foul during the final seconds of regulation. Instead, Memphis allowed Kansas' Mario Chalmers to shoot a last second 3-pointer to force overtime, and the Jayhawks eventually won.
"I'm very happy anytime I hear that it was all about a timeout or a foul – and it's all on me," Calipari said. "I didn't want any player to think a turnover or a missed free throw or a missed shot cost us the championship. They shouldn't have to live with that."
Meanwhile, Calipari had high praise for senior guard Antonio Anderson, whom he labeled a "long-term NBA player."Calipari compared Anderson to league veterans Raja Bell and Bruce Bowen.
"When a coach gets him, a coach will keep him," Calipari said, "because he can play so many positions – the 'one,' the 'two,' the 'three.' "
Calipari also was complimentary of the recent play of 6-foot-10 forward Shawn Taggart, who is averaging 12.0 points and 8.2 rebounds in his past nine games. His season averages are 10.4 and 7.5.
"The last three or four weeks … I can't even believe he's the same guy," Calipari said. "He's gained weight, he's more confident, he's better conditioned. He just has a swagger. My job is to make sure that swagger doesn't turn into arrogance because he'll slip into that occasionally." – Jason King
Williams stresses wins over recruits
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Maryland coach Gary Williams on Wednesday addressed the criticism he received earlier this season for his failure to recruit top-tier prospects. Maryland has signed just three Rivals.com top-50 players since winning the national title in 2002.
"We've been to the NCAA Tournament 13 out of the last 16 years," Williams said. "So the recruiting thing, you know … if you judge recruiting on names, that's one thing. But you should judge recruiting on wins – on who wins.
"I think people lose that nowadays with all the attention recruiting gets. The idea is still to win."
The problem is that Maryland wasn't doing much of that, either, during the early portions of the season. The Terrapins ended non-conference play with a loss to Morgan State before falling to Duke by 41 points early in the ACC season. Maryland, though, bounced back and defeated No. 1 North Carolina in February.
They were on the NCAA tournament bubble before a big win against Wake Forest last week.
"As I've said, we've been here 13 out of 16 years," Williams said. "Either I'm a hell of a coach or we're pretty good recruiters." – Jason King