Top seed UConn holds off Albany

Huskies trailed by 12 in 2nd

UNC hangs on

Ncaa Tournament

March 18, 2006|By JOE GERGEN | JOE GERGEN,NEWSDAY

The final score didn't do justice to Albany's effort. Nor did it suggest how deep the second-ranked team in the country had to dig in rallying for a 72-59 victory in a first-round game of the NCAA tournament last night in Philadelphia. Connecticut's goal of a third national championship remains alive - but before they could advance, the Huskies had to pass a stress test.

All they had accomplished this season, including the co-championship of the Big East, appeared to be in vain when unheralded Albany, making its first postseason appearance as a Division I program, surged to a 50-38 lead with 11:34 left on Jamar Wilson's pull-up jumper in the lane.

Although no 16th seed had ever beaten a top seed, the Great Danes had worn T-shirts proclaiming, "Why not us?" throughout the week, and for a moment they had the capacity crowd of 19,990 at the Wachovia Center thinking the same thing. In addition to their own noisy section of fans, others gathered for the second game of the doubleheader suddenly were backing the team in purple and gold.

Trailing 31-30 at halftime and 33-30 after a jump shot by Rudy Gay (Archbishop Spalding), Albany stunned Connecticut with a 13-0 run, then pushed the lead to 12 by attacking the basket against the bigger Huskies. "I think we tried to put them away too quickly," Uconn coach Jim Calhoun said, "and that's why we were down 12. It looked like we tried to go one-on-five, like we'd never been coached before."

The comeback began with the insertion of Craig Austrie for long-distance shooter Rashad Anderson. The freshman guard took over the ball-handling duties, allowing point guard Marcus Williams to play off the ball, and helped to seal the lane from Wilson's penetration. He also slipped a pass to Josh Boone (South Carroll) for a slam dunk that stopped the hemorrhaging and Williams followed with his first of three three-pointers down the stretch. Williams followed with a steal and layup and, after Lucious Jordan hit a jump shot for the Great Danes, senior Denham Brown hit a shot from behind the arc and fed Jeff Adrien for a dunk.

Brown's two free throws tied the score at 52 and Williams shot the Huskies into a 55-52 lead with a three-pointer from the top of the key. Five minutes, 32 seconds remained. Albany never drew even again. "I think we wore down toward the end of the game," said Wilson, a junior from the Bronx who had six assists and two steals in addition to his team-leading 19 points.

"All I know is that Albany was magnificent for 30 minutes," Calhoun said, "and we were at least as magnificent for the last 10 minutes. I'm proud it didn't knock us out. It did knock us down. That's what this tournament is about."

Connecticut (28-3) closed the game with a 34-9 run.

NORTH CAROLINA 69, MURRAY STATE 65 -- The Racers, with one NCAA victory in their history, took third-seeded North Carolina down to the closing seconds before the Tar Heels pulled out a first-round victory in Dayton, Ohio.

Underscoring how much North Carolina (23-7) has changed in a year: Four freshmen scored the Tar Heels' final 29 points. Tyler Hansbrough led the way with 24 overall.

It wasn't secure until Marcus Ginyard - another freshman - made two free throws with 16.5 seconds left for a 69-65 lead.

The Tar Heels will play George Mason in the second round of the Washington Regional.

Fourteenth-seeded Murray State (24-7) was trying to become the first team in 10 years to knock out a defending champion in the first round. The last champ to make such an early exit was UCLA, which was seeded fourth when it lost to Princeton, 43-41, in 1996.

KENTUCKY 69, ALABAMA-BIRMINGHAM 64 -- The eighth-seeded Wildcats earned a small dose of revenge for two of their most torturous tourney losses of the past 25 years, getting a career-high 25 points from Bobby Perry to beat the Blazers in Philadelphia.

Perry scored 19 of his points in the second half, nine straight early in the half, and made all 10 of his free-throw attempts. Perry had little help offensively, with no other Wildcats player in double figures. But they needed little more with Perry having the game of his career.

Kentucky (22-12) will play top-seeded Connecticut (28-3) Sunday in the second round of the Washington Regional.

Two years ago, the ninth-seeded Blazers stunned the No. 1 Wildcats, 76-75, in the second round of the St. Louis Regional and advanced to the round of 16 for the first time since 1982. UAB also beat Kentucky in the second round of the 1981 tournament - a nice chunk of its nine career tourney win total.

Paul Delaney led UAB (24-7) with 13 points. Marvett McDonald added 10 points, and Squeaky Johnson had seven assists.

Joe Gergen writes for Newsday. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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