Thursday night's schedule featured a pair of thrilling finishes in the night's marquee games; some overtime free throw drama in Corvallis; and several unexpected results among the mid-majors, including one that might have cost a perennial NCAA contender a chance at a slot for this season.
Cincinnati (20-2, 9-0) held Louisville (17-4, 6-2) to 20 points in the first half, but had to rally late to defeat the Cardinals, 69-66 at the KFC Yum! Center. Russ Smith's three-pointer with 5:03 left in the game gave Louisville a 64-61 lead -- its first since picking up the game's opening basket -- but the Bearcats managed to outscore them by an 8-2 margin the rest of the way, thanks in no small part to six Sean Kilpatrick free throws. Kilpatrick led all scorers with 28, while Montrezl Harrell had 18 for the hosts.
Thanks to last night's win, the Bearcats are now two games up in the loss column on both Louisville and Memphis Tigers in the AAC race and in great shape to earn a protected seed. Louisville, meanwhile, drops to 4-4 against the RPI Top 100 and 0-3 against the Top 25. In other words, the Cardinals should be wearing white in their Round of 64 game, but they'll need to pack a change of clothes for any potential Saturday or Sunday matchup.
Houston's (11-10, 3-5) hopes for completing a season sweep of Connecticut (17-4, 5-3) were snuffed out pretty quickly, as the Huskies opened up a 51-22 halftime advantage and didn't look back, winning 80-43. UConn has only lost to Louisville since dropping its AAC season-opening road trip to Texas. As for the Cougars, their best hope of making the NCAAs continues to be grabbing the American's auto bid.
Providence (15-6, 5-3) hit the road for the first time since topping St. John's on January 16th, and things didn't go all that well. The Friars started very slowly at Marquette (12-9. 3-5), scoring just 14 in the first half, as the Golden Eagles grabbed a 17-point advantage after 20 minutes. While Ed Cooley's team managed to make it close in the end, Providence's five-game winning streak ended with a 61-50 loss in Milwaukee.
Considering how awful the bottom of the at-large pool is, the Friars should remain in Tuesday's bracket, as long as they don't lose at DePaul Blue Demons on Saturday. However, Providence's road performances bear watching the rest of the way.
The Hoosier State's Big Ten squads are both in real danger of missing the NCAAs after last night. Indiana (13-8, 3-5) became Nebraska's (11-9, 3-5) third consecutive victim at Pinnacle Bank Arena. The Hoosiers actually led by 12 at halftime, but were comprehensively outplayed by Tim Miles' squad, which is now tied with IU in the Big Ten standings. In Ann Arbor, Purdue (13-8, 3-5) gave Michigan (16-4, 8-0) a little bit of trouble, but the Wolverines won fairly comfortably, 75-66. Nik Stauskas led a balanced Wolverine attack with 16, while Caris LeVert contributed a double-double (14 points, 11 boards).
As for the wackiness, UCLA looked to be in full control with a little more than six minutes left, thanks to an 11-point lead. Then Oregon went on a 14-0 run to take a 68-65 lead with 1:12 left. But that wasn't the last run this game had in it, as a Jordan Adams layup and free throw and Travis Wear's jumper with six seconds gave the Bruins a 70-68 win. Adams led UCLA with 19 on the night, while Oregon's Joseph Young led all scorers with 25.
While UCLA continues to be in good shape for March, Oregon -- which opened the season with 13 straight wins -- has now dropped six of its last seven. Making matters worse, the Ducks have just one Top 50 win, which came against fellow bubble team BYU at home on December 21st.
In Corvallis, USC (10-11, 1-7) took host Oregon State (12-8, 4-4) to overtime, but Pe'Shon Howard could only make one of two free throws at the end of a low-scoring extra session (4-3 OSU), preserving a narrow 76-75 victory for the Beavers.
Florida (18-2, 7-0) was unable to repeat last season's 35-point road smothering of Mississippi State (13-7, 3-4), though the SEC leader did pick up a 62-51 victory. Casey Prather scored 16 for the Gators, despite dealing with an ankle issue for most of the game, while Pat Young contributed 12 points and grabbed eight boards. Billy Donovan's team is looking like a potential one seed, though they'll need to avoid the many bad loss landmines that dot the SEC schedule to earn that honor.
- St. Mary's (16-6, 6-3 WCC) at-large hopes are basically toast after the Gaels dropped a 61-43 decision to San Diego (13-10, 4-6 WCC). That's St. Mary's fifth loss to a team from outside of the Top 100 so far this season. On the other hand, BYU (14-9, 6-4 WCC), who is still in the conversation thanks to its unbelievably good computer numbers (RPI rank No. 48, non-conference SOS rank No. 5) took care of Pacific (11-9, 2-7 WCC).
- UTEP (15-6, 5-1 C-USA) snagged a share of the lead in Conference USA by defeating Louisiana Tech (17-5, 5-2 C-USA) by 10 -- a loss the Bulldogs, who did win at Oklahoma, couldn't really afford from an at-large perspective.
- Chattanooga's (14-9, 8-1 SoCon) unbeaten run in the Southern Conference ended with a mighty thud, as Davidson (11-11, 7-1 SoCon) embarrassed the Mocs by a 94-51 scoreline.
- Canisius (15-7, 9-2 MAAC) leads Iona Gaels by a half-game in the Metro Atlantic race, thanks to an 86-74 win at Quinnipiac (12-8, 7-4 MAAC)
- Robert Morris (12-10, 7-0 NEC) picked up a 79-76 home win over its closest rival in the Northeast Conference, Bryant (13-9, 5-2 NEC), to preserve its perfect league record. In the Southland, Stephen F. Austin (19-2, 8-0 Southland) maintained its unbeaten mark by topping transitional Abilene Christian (7-14, 1-6 Southland) by 16.
- North Dakota State (16-5, 5-1 Summit) held off host South Dakota (8-12, 3-3 Summit), 66-63, to keep the lead in the Summit League.
- In the Big Sky, Weber State (11-6, 8-1 Big Sky), which has lost the last two conference tournament finals to Montana Grizzlies, is in sole possession of first place thanks to the combination of Thursday night's win over Northern Arizona (8-12, 5-4 Big Sky) and Portland State's (10-8, 5-4 Big Sky) unexpected rout of Northern Colorado (13-5, 7-2 Big Sky).