SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- For a few scary minutes, Maryland wondered if it was doomed to a third straight year of one-game-and-out of the NCAA tournament.
The Terps could hardly believe what was happening to them Thursday. So much bigger, so much stronger, and just as quick as Utah State, the Terps opened with a 14-3 spurt on the muscle play of Obinna Ekezie and Rodney Elliott. Then they watched it evaporate.
Suddenly, the Aggies ran wild, pumping in 13 straight points on Marcus Saxon's outside shooting and taking a 20-18 lead midway through the half. Could history repeat itself again, sending the Terps home once more after the first round? They called timeout and decided, no, it wouldn't.
"We got together in the huddle and said, "Look, we can't let this happen again. We've got to pick it up big time if we want to win,"' said guard Sarunas Jasikevicius.
And the Lithuanian showed his teammates the way, floating in three 3-pointers to spark Maryland to a 44-36 lead at halftime that wasn't threatened the rest of the game as the Terps beat Utah State 82-68 in the West Regional.
Jasikevicius scored 16 points and had seven assists for Maryland, and Laron Profit added 12 points and six assists.
Maryland (20-10) ruled the boards with a 47-27 advantage, and the smaller Aggies (25-8) had to rely almost entirely on Saxon. That worked pretty well in the first half, when Saxon scored 18 points. But the strategy failed in the second half when Maryland made adjustments on defense to limit him to seven points and a total of 25.
Illinois 64, South Alabama 51
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The defensive pressure began near midcourt, and increased as Illinois slapped the floor to build intensity. By the time South Alabama's players got near the basket, they were virtually trapped.
Slapping away passes all over the court, Illinois used 13 steals and tenacious inside defense to defeat South Alabama 64-51 in the West Regional.
Kevin Turner had 18 points and Matt Heldman added 15 as the Fighting Illini (23-9) forced 20 turnovers Thursday in a win that sent Illinois to a second-round NCAA tournament game against Maryland.
"It was a game of defensive will. We played hard, but they played better," South Alabama forward Jason Hamm said. "They came out real aggressive on us. They picked us up from 50 feet and didn't stop."
South Alabama was second in the nation in defense this season. But it was outdone by Illinois, which led the Big Ten in defense.
Jarrod Gee and Sergio McClain each had three steals for Illinois.
Toby Madison had 19 points to lead South Alabama (21-7) and Rico Alderson, looking like a cross between Allen Iverson and Latrell Sprewell with long braided corn rows beneath a black headband, added 13 points.
Hamm also scored 13 points for the Jaguars, who outrebounded Illinois 32-16 and held the Illini to two offensive rebounds in the game.
West Virginia 82, Temple 52
BOISE, Idaho -- Temple's trademark matchup zone proved no match for West Virginia.
The taller 10th-seeded Mountaineers passed the ball through, over and around the No. 7 Owls and used an effective full-court press to hand Temple its worst loss in NCAA tournament history, 82-52, Thursday in the first round.
Temple, 10-4 in opening-round games under coach John Chaney, had never lost to a lower-seeded team in the first round.
"John's zone is as good as any in the country, but it doesn't matter if you don't make your shots," Mountaineers coach Gale Catlett said. "We ran the same offense we ran against Chaney in 1995. He whupped our butt then and we didn't make the shots, but we did today."
West Virginia (23-8) advanced to Saturday's second round against the winner of the game between No. 2 Cincinnati and No. 15 Northern Arizona.
The Mountaineers' best tournament showing came in the 1959 title game, a 71-70 loss to California. They haven't been to the second round since 1989, when Duke beat them.
The younger Owls (21-9) never got untracked against West Virginia's five senior starters, who helped the Mountaineers to the Big East's only perfect non-conference record (11-0) this season.
Cincinnati 65, Northern Arizona 62
BOISE, Idaho -- Finally, a long shot went in for Cincinnati, and the Bearcats survived the long-shot challenge of Northern Arizona with a harrowing 65-62 first-round victory in the NCAA West regional.
D'Juan Baker, 4-for-14 from the field up to that time, sank a 3-pointer with 3.6 seconds to play Thursday as the Bearcats avoided becoming only the fourth No. 2 seed to fall to a No. 15 seed.
Northern Arizona, a 15-point underdog in its first NCAA tournament, frustrated the bigger, stronger Bearcats (27-5) all afternoon with a pestering defense and a patient offense as the crowd at BSU Pavilion roared its approval.
Twice the Lumberjacks (21-8) led by as many as six points in the second half.
Each time the Bearcats took the lead, the Lumberjacks would have an answer. Bobby Brannen, the lone consistent offensive threat for Cincinnati with 24 points, made one of two free throws to put the Bearcats up 62-59 with 24.7 seconds to play.
But Northern Arizona's Michael McNair calmly sank a 22-foot 3-pointer to tie it 62-62 with 17.4 seconds left.
Washington 69, Xavier, 68
WASHINGTON -- Washington committed 26 turnovers and missed 11 of 21 free throws, yet still managed to win its first NCAA tournament game in 14 years.
The 11th-seeded Huskies did it with defense, forcing 17 turnovers of their own and holding Xavier to one field goal in the final 9:53. The clincher came when 7-footers Patrick Femerling and Todd MacCulloch both got a hand on the ball as T.J. Johnson attempted a buzzer-beating layup, preserving Thursday's 69-68 victory over the sixth-seeded Musketeers.
"The description of what this month is, March Madness," Washington coach Bob Bender said. "We're a team that sometimes wins without the stat sheet backing it up.
"It came down to one thing. We had to have one stop. So the offensive stats don't bear it out, but at least we got the one stop that made the difference."
It was Washington's first NCAA victory since Detlef Schrempf led a victory over Duke in 1984, and Bender's first ever as a head coach.
"This is really special," said Bender, who played on Final Four teams with Indiana and Duke. "How many teams get to come back and practice another day?"
The game-winning shot was Deon Luton's 17-foot jumper from the left wing with 11.2 seconds to play, ending a ragged possession that was supposed to get the ball inside. It was typical of Washington's game-long frustration against Xavier's quick defense, but the Huskies (19-9) kept responding with defensive plays of their own and never let the Musketeers (22-8) get into their running game.
UNC-Charlotte 77, Illinois-Chicago 62
HARTFORD, Conn. -- Illinois-Chicago couldn't diffuse DeMarco Johnson or contain Sean Colson.
The two seniors led North Carolina Charlotte's win in the first round of the NCAA East Regional, ending the Flames' first ever appearance in the tournament and securing the much hyped matchup against North Carolina.
The top-ranked and top-seeded Tar Heels advanced with a 88-52 win over Navy earlier Thursday. Their matchup with the 49ers in Saturday's second round will be the first meeting between the in-state schools.
Johnson scored 30 points and grabbed 13 rebounds and Colson scored 18 points and had 13 assists as No. 9 seeded UNCC (20-10) surged in the second half to pull away in a fast-paced and frenetic game.
Anthony Coomes scored 11 of his 19 points in the second half but it wasn't enough for ninth-seeded UIC (22-6), one of four teams in the NCAA tournament for the first time. Theandre Kimbrough added 10 points.
Mark Miller, the Flames leading scorer, was held to eight points, 12 below his average.
No. 1 North Carolina 88, Navy 52
HARTFORD, Conn. -- It took North Carolina a while to get going. When it finally did, it really got going.
The top-ranked Tar Heels looked emotionless in the first half then pulled away to an 88-52 victory over Navy on Thursday in the opening round of the East Regional.
The game had some history to it as North Carolina won its first NCAA tournament game without Dean Smith on the bench in 41 years.
"The new things to me as a head coach were my first practice, my first exhibition game and my first regular-season game," said Bill Guthridge, Smith's assistant for 30 years and his successor. "I don't even think about it until you guys bring it up."
It was All-America Antawn Jamison who brought up the Tar Heels' energy level after they managed just a 38-28 halftime lead.
"In the second half we got it going, we had to get the emotion going," said Jamison who had 17 points and 14 rebounds. "It's tougher than you think going in to play the No. 16 seed because you're supposed to win."
Last year, North Carolina trailed 16th-seeded Fairfield by seven points before rallying for an 82-74 victory and the players said that game would make them more focused for the game against Navy (19-11).
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