Nevada surprises Mich. State, 72-66

Wolf Pack claims first win ever in tournament

Gonzaga romps by Valpo

Ncaa Regional

St. Louis

March 19, 2004|By Robyn Norwood | Robyn Norwood,LOS ANGELES TIMES

SEATTLE - It figured a guy named Okafor was going to make noise in the NCAA tournament.

But Okeson? Connecticut's Emeka Okafor might stick around longer, but Nevada's Todd Okeson is the gamer of a guard who helped lead Nevada to a 72-66 upset of Michigan State, with plenty of help from Kirk Snyder.

Michigan State (18-12) was 0-9 against ranked teams this season, and 1-8 against teams that made the NCAA tournament.

Make that 1-9, after 10th-seeded Nevada's victory over the seventh-seeded Spartans in a first-round game in front of 15,827 at Key Arena.

It was the first NCAA tournament victory in school history for Nevada (24-8), which had played in the tournament only twice before, in 1984 and `85.

Michigan State led by as many as 16 points in the game and still led by 10 with nine minutes left.

Then Okeson made a three, and Nevada turned up the defense.

Michigan State didn't score a field goal from the time Tim Bograkos scored with 7:34 left until Maurice Ager made a three-pointer with 20 seconds left, a span of more than seven minutes.

"We got the ball inside and just missed shots and missed layups," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.

Snyder, a 6-foot-6 guard who was the Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year, scored 19 points, including three three-pointers. Okeson scored 14, with two three-pointers.

But it was Okeson's steal with Nevada trailing 63-62 with 3 1/2 minutes left that was one of the most crucial plays of the game.

"That's Todd. That was huge," coach Trent Johnson said.

Okeson was guarding Ager on the perimeter when he dove into the passing lane to intercept a pass. He called timeout almost instantly, before he might be called for traveling.

"That was kind of more like a fumble in football. I just dove out for the ball," Okeson said. "That was my first instinct [to call time out]."

When Nevada came back after the timeout, Snyder had the ball on the wing and was seemingly well-guarded.

But he stepped back and knocked down a three-pointer for a 65-63 lead with 2:56 left.

Paul Davis led Michigan State with 16 points.

"We didn't come here to show up for one game and be back in Reno," Nevada guard Garry Hill-Thomas said. "We came here for a purpose."

Gonzaga 76, Valparaiso 49: The second-seeded Zags (28-2) ran off their 21st victory in a row, defeating the Crusaders (18-13).

Gonzaga's Blake Stepp, the two-time West Coast Conference Player of the Year, had a cold shooting night, missing his first nine shots before scoring on a driving layup with 5:42 left in the game.

Center Ronny Turiaf led Gonzaga with 15 points.

Kikas Gomes scored 13 and Jimmie Miles scored 12 off the bench to lead Valparaiso, whose leading scorer, Dan Oppland, was held to eight points, half his 16-point average.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Regional highlights

Top performer: Nevada's Kirk Snyder scored 19 points, including three three-pointers.

Big surprise: Nevada got its first ever victory in the NCAA tournament, the first it's been invited to since 1985.

He said it: "Coach told us the crowd would be behind us if we played hard. It's the American way - underdogs win." - Snyder after the 10th-seeded Wolf Pack prevailed

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