March is a good time to make an introduction, and 30 minutes into an improbable USC comeback victory on Wednesday, 75-71 over Providence, the college basketball world met Nick Rakocevic (6'11''-F-97). The best way to watch Rakocevic is to watch his teammates. Halfway through the second half of the NCAA tournament 'First Four,' two of his best teammates, forwards Chimezie Metu (6'11''-F-97) and Bennie Boatwright (6'10''-F-96), were on the bench, watching with visibly surging enthusiasm. Rakocevic, a 6-foot-11 double shot of espresso from Chicago, had been trying to perfect a specific move against the pair countless times in practice. It had never worked in a game. As they looked on against Providence, Rakocevic jabbed, pumped up, scooped under and then shot. 'He finally did it,' a grinning Boatwright said after. Metu jumped up. The whole bench erupted. Boatwright waved a towel, 'like I was the last player on the bench,' he said. In an unlikely win from 17 points down, which avenged USC's crushing loss to Providence in last season's tournament opener and sent the Trojans to Tulsa, Okla., to play Southern Methodist, there were players who scored more points than Rakocevic. There were players - most of them, in fact - who played more minutes. But all anybody wanted to talk about in a relieved USC locker room was Rakocevic, his energy and his 13 minutes of ecstasy that saved USC's season. When he entered, USC was down 12. When he exited, USC was up five. He scored only nine points and had just one rebound but recorded the best plus-minus in the game: plus-10. There was energy, like a puppy after a nap. 'This win's probably his,' guard Elijah Stewart (6'5''-G-95) said. 'Honestly, we should be at the crib right now.' Statistically, Rakocevic has been a rather quiet presence for USC this season. Otherwise, Rakocevic has been anything but. 'A big 12-year-old,' said walk-on Kurt Karis, who played basketball against Rakocevic during a childhood in Illinois. 'He always wants to play around.' 'Fearless, man,' point guard Jordan McLaughlin said. 'He's from Chicago.' Often, USC needs the jolt. USC's other regulars are laid back, mirroring Coach Andy Enfield 's relaxed demeanor off the court. Rakocevic sticks out. 'We're a very chill team,' guard Jonah Mathews (6'3''-G-98) said. 'He's the picker-upper.' USC was too chill early against the Friars, which was nothing new. USC has now come back to win from 10 points down or more 12 times this season. But the margin was alarming. The Friars used a 15-0 run and led at halftime, 44-29. They flummoxed USC with a zone. They found space in USC's on the perimeter, where they made eight of 15 first-half attempts. At the half, the coaching staff performed a familiar ritual: lighting into a team that lacked fire. 'I think it's just - give Coach a heart attack or something,' Rakocevic said. 'I don't really know why we do it.' Enfield asked his players, 'What are you scared of?' Stewart recalled. Then he set a goal: Get to single digits by the 12-minute mark of the second half. The Trojans met that goal with about 12 minutes left on a Boatwright three-pointer. 'We were just getting more and more hope,' Mathews said. A pair of Rakocevic free throws made cut the deficit to three. A steal set up a go-ahead jumper from Metu. When a Metu block lead to another score, Providence called timeout. The game, Metu said, had swung dramatically. 'The other team, they kind of got a little shook,' Metu said. 'And we saw that. Smelled blood in the water. And we just pounced on it.' To emphasize the swing, Metu strolled, unintentionally, he said after, through Providence's huddle. Providence took offense. Metu said he was shoved. Then he flexed and yelled. 'From there, it was game on,' Metu said. 'They're on the East Coast, they think we're just some preppy beach boys because we're in Southern California. We just toughened up.' Metu finished with 15 points. Boatwright led USC with 24, and McLaughlin scored 18 with 10 rebounds. But the king of the evening strolled through the locker room, sheathed in an NCAA-branded towel instead of a robe, cracking jokes and taking grief. Rakocevic had not exhausted his energy. 'And thank God,' Metu said, 'because we really needed that.' Courtesy of: latimes.com
Player of the Year:Michael Mallory(6'1''-G) of S.Connecticut Rookie of the Year: Marshall Lange (6'2''-G) of Newberry Coach of the Year: Patrick Beilein of Le Moyne Honorable Mention Gerrel Irvin (6'8''-F) of Dominican, NY Hunter Leveau (6'5''-F) of King Michael Mallory (6'1''-G) of S.Connecticut Matthew Dogan (6'7''-G) of Gannon [read more]
Oregon Advances After Surviving Michigan's Buzzer-Beater Attempt - 8 hours ago
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The scoreboard had Oregon up by 2 points at the half, but it felt as though Michigan, the underdog, was about to overwhelm the Ducks. Michigan's point guard, Derrick Walton (6'1''-G-95) Jr., a senior, had deftly amassed seven assists, looking for all the world like a quarterback finding receivers like Duncan Robinson (6'8''-G/F-94) and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman through thickets of defenders. D. J. Wilson, a junior with a tall haircut and short shorts, had hit two 3-pointers and contribut... [read more]
The scoreboard had Oregon up by 2 points at the half, but it felt as though Michigan, the underdog, was about to overwhelm the Ducks. Michigan's point guard, Derrick Walton (6'1''-G-95) Jr., a senior, had deftly amassed seven assists, looking for all the world like a quarterback finding receivers like Duncan Robinson (6'8''-G/F-94) and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman through thickets of defenders. D. J. Wilson, a junior with a tall haircut and short shorts, had hit two 3-pointers and contributed a block and a steal in just seven minutes of play, his time limited by foul trouble. But Michigan's seemingly impending surge never materialized, as third-seeded Oregon, playing one of the country's most 3-point-happy teams, began to take more aim from deep and hit 3-pointers. And hit them and hit them and hit them. Five from sophomore Tyler Dorsey (6'4''-SG-96), two from junior Dillon Brooks (6'6''-F-96) - all in the second half. The Ducks, which entered making fewer than one-third of their shots from deep, made 47.1 percent (8-for-17) for the game. But Dorsey's most crucial shot came not from beyond the 3-point line, but on an acrobatic drive to the basket that put the Ducks ahead by a point with 1 minute 9 seconds remaining. Those proved to be the final points in a 69-68 victory for Oregon (32-5) over seventh-seeded Michigan (26-12), sending the Ducks to the round of eight on Saturday to play the winner of the later game Thursday night, between No. 1 Kansas and No. 4 Purdue. The Ducks were led by Dorsey and the junior Jordan Bell (6'9''-F-95). Dorsey had 20 points; Bell had a double-double, with 16 points and 13 rebounds - including, on the possession before Dorsey's lay-in, a crucial board on a missed Oregon free throw that he put back to cut Michigan's lead to 1 point. Michigan's Walton finished with 20 points and 8 assists, and his fellow senior guard Zak Irvin (6'6''-G/F-94) had 19 points and 8 rebounds. Moritz Wagner, a 6-foot-10 sophomore from Berlin, who goes by Moe, was Michigan's leading scorer in the last game, an upset of second-seeded Louisville, but on Thursday he appeared physically overwhelmed in the low post and hapless elsewhere, at one point botching a clear layup after Oregon gave him the lane. He finished with 7 points on 10 shots and barely saw the court in the second half. When Brooks hit a 3 with a little more than 13 minutes left in the game, Oregon led by 50-44 and looked in control. But the Ducks let the Wolverines back in it, missing their next five field goals and going scoreless for more than three minutes. Wilson played terrific defense on Bell, forcing him into a miss one-on-one in the post and then grabbing the rebound. Michigan took a 51-50 lead with Walton sitting for the first time in the game. Then Oregon fought back and built a 56-51 lead, with Tyler Ennis (6'2''-G-94, college: Syracuse) contributing a 3-point play. Wilson brilliantly faked his defender with the ball down low, only to miss the layup. Later, Wilson found Irvin underneath in a Walton-like assist to cut Oregon's lead to three. The game continued to seesaw between 3- and 5-point Oregon leads until Wilson hit a 3 to cut Oregon's lead to 60-58 with less than five minutes left. On Michigan's next possession, Walton dribbled at the top of the key, and Oregon's defense dropped back, giving him room to hit his own 3-pointer for a 61-60 lead for the Wolverines with 4:15 remaining. The lead was short-lived: Another Oregon 3-pointer was in store, from Dorsey. On the other end? A 3 from Irvin. With fewer than two minutes left and the shot clock dribbling, Walton took it upon himself again, creating a fadeaway shot that seemed to take an eternity to decide whether to go through the hoop or not. It finally decided in the affirmative, making the score 68-65 - Michigan's largest lead since the first half. Bell grabbed a missed Oregon free throw and put it in to make it a one-point Wolverines lead. This was followed by Dorsey's athletic drive to make it 69-68 Oregon with one minute remaining. Walton had one last chance to go ahead, but his attempt at a buzzer-beating 3-pointer was short. Though a major-conference champion with a famous football team, Michigan might have been the closest thing to a Cinderella story among the 16 teams that entered the N.C.A.A. men's basketball tournament's second weekend. Fledgling through the end of the season, its plane bound for the Big Ten tournament skidded off the runway, spooking the team and causing light injuries. The Wolverines proceeded to tear through that tournament, winning it all. Ranked as high as fourth overall in the Associated Press poll this season, Oregon lost its top shot-blocker, senior Chris Boucher, to a season-ending knee injury in the Pacific-12 tournament. The Ducks now look to make just their second Final Four in program history - and their first since 1939, the very first Final Four of them all. Courtesy of: nytimes.com
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