DENVER — The madness is upon us and for the first time since 2016, NCAA Tournament games are live in Denver.
DNVR will have live coverage from throughout the first and second round games at Ball Arena this weekend.
Here are the takeaways from Friday’s first round action.
No. 3 Baylor vs. No.14 UCSB | 74-56 (Baylor)
No. 14 UC Santa Barbara was not intimidated by No. 3 Baylor in the opening game.
The Gauchos came out and executed their offense to perfection in the first half, shooting 61.5% from the floor in what was a terrific display of team basketball.
What was particularly significant about how UCSB played was that it wasn’t a situation where one or two guys got hot and carried the team. Seven different Gauchos hit two or more field goals over the first 20 minutes of action. And it was the collective shooting success across the board that propelled UCSB to a 36-35 halftime lead. Well that, and an extremely poor defensive effort from Baylor — the Bears seemed extremely disinterested in playing with the focus that is necessary to combat an offense that shares the rock as much as UCSB. Their rotations were late and sloppy. And far too often it resulted in a wide-open jump shot for the Gauchos.
Baylor did ramp up the intensity a little in the second half, which is why they nearly forced as many turnovers (6) by the second media timeout as they did in the entire first half (7). The Bears did a nice job of converting those mistakes into points the other way as well.
A better defensive effort combined with the fact that they also just knocked down more open shots than they did early on ultimately allowed the Bears to survive and advance to the round of 32. That said, Baylor fans should probably be thanking their lucky stars that the slow start did not come back to haunt them.
In a game like this one, when all of the pressure was on Baylor to live up to expectations, I was really interested to see how the Bears managed the first five minutes or so of the second half.
If the Bears came out tense and compounded their early mistakes, there was a chance for UCSB to really back the Big-12 powerhouse into a corner, especially if the Gauchos also executed at the same high level offensively.
To Baylor’s credit, instead of allowing UCSB to gain momentum out of the break, the Bears took complete control of the matchup in those first five minutes by causing turnovers and executing better themselves on the offensive end. They did not keep up the pace for the final 20 minutes but Baylor made six of its first seven attempts from the floor. It was all the spark they needed to ignite their run.
Adam Flagler is one of the most lethal scorers in the country and the senior guard played like it against UCSB.
Flagler was deadeye from 3-point range, hitting three of five attempts from beyond the arc to lead the game in threes. He finished with a game-high 18 points on 70% shooting and led his squad with five assists in the win as well.
No. 6 Creighton vs. No. 11 NC State | 72-63 (Creighton)
Baylor Scheierman knocked down an open three just 12 seconds into Friday’s opening round game against NC State. However, it was not a sign of what was to come. Over the next 19:48, both teams combined to miss 17 consecutive threes as Creighton and NC State both really struggled to make open looks.
Had the Bluejays been able to find the bottom of the net a little more often, Greg McDermott’s squad likely would have been able to establish a bigger lead than the 28-26 advantage they took into the break.
With how dominant Ryan Kalkbrenner played in the opening minutes — the 7-foot-1 center started 5-of-6 from the floor and pretty much looked unguardable one-on-one — Creighton was in prime position to take advantage of the situation by stretching the floor any time that NC State tried to collapse on the big man down low. But because the rest of the team really struggled from the floor, NC State was able to send more help defensively when Kalkbrenner tried to post up. So instead of allowing him to absolutely take over, NC State was able to hold Kalkbrenner scoreless over the final 7:30 of the first half. And after trailing by as much as 7 early on, the Wolfpack, sparked by Terquavion Smith, were able to score enough in the paint to hang around.
Smith picked up a pair of fouls before we even got two minutes into the game. After a brief stint on the bench though, the athletic guard was in constant attack mode and really put the pressure on Creighton to keep him out of the lane. His 14 first-half points were a big part of what allowed NC State to remain within striking distance. He continued that pace in the second half as well, finishing with 32 points.
Coming out of halftime, Creighton immediately went back to Kalkbrenner in the post and the true 7-footer took advantage by getting an easy dunk. Kalkbrenner also snapped Creighton’s cold streak from behind the arc when he made their first three since the opening seconds at the 13:54 mark of the second half.
As the game progressed, Creighton finally was able to get some production from the guys not named Kalkbrenner. As a team the Bluejays shot close to 50% from the floor over the final 20 minutes. If they don’t find a way to shoot better from the perimeter though, this experienced squad could be in trouble before the weekend ends. Going 3-of-20 from deep is not a recipe for success.
NC State went up by as much as 7 after starting the second half on an 11-2 run. Fortunately for the Creighton fans in attendance though, the Bluejays responded with a 9-0 run of their own to take back the lead. From there, Creighton would never look back as they would go on to hang on for the 72-63 win.
Smith deserves a ton of praise for the spark that he provided for NC State. Without his 32 points in this one, Creighton wins by double digits even with the rough shooting. Not to mention his poster dunk in the second half was the highlight of the game.
As entertaining as the sophomore guard from Greenville, South Carolina was — and he really did put on a show for the local hoops fans — the most dominant individual was definitely Kalkbrenner. His efficiency was huge, as he scored 30 points on only 14 shots in the win. His scoring output is the second-most by any Creighton player this season and it came on the biggest stage.
No. 3 Gonzaga vs. No. 14 Grand Canyon | 82-70 (Gonzaga)
Squaring up against a perennial powerhouse in Gonzaga, the 14-seeded Antelopes played admirably in GCU’s second NCAA Tournament game in program history.
After turning the ball over on each of their first four possessions, the Antelopes went on a 10-0 run to take an early 12-10 lead. And from there, GCU pretty much traded blows with Gonzaga for the rest of the half.
Unfortunately for GCU, as the game went on and Gonzaga got into more of a rhythm offensively, the disparity in talent between the two sides eventually proved to be too much to overcome.
After making seven of its final nine attempts from the floor to take a slim 40-36 lead into the break, the Bulldogs came out in the second half and absolutely lit it up from deep. Gonzaga shot 57% from 3-point range over the final 20 minutes and finished the win 7-of-14 from beyond the arc as a team.
Led by junior guard Julian Strawther, who dropped a game-high 26 points on 9-of-14 shooting, including 3-of-5 from 3-point range, Gonzaga was simply too big of a giant for GCU to slay.
While the outcome was disappointing for the school that just recently made the jump to D1 in 2013-14, the Antelopes should be proud of the representation they had in the stands. GCU had easily the largest student section of any team that played on Friday. It was a lot of fun to see how engaged and enthusiastic their supporters were at Ball Arena.
Ray Harrison’s fast break layup pulled GCU within two possessions at the 16:05 mark of the second half (48-42). At that point it looked like the Antelopes just might give the Bulldogs a run for their money.
As they tend to do in these types of situations though, the more experienced side proceeded to play with better composure down the stretch. And instead of getting tight or potentially compounding the situation by trying to force up bad looks, Gonzaga pretty much went into cruise control.
Seven minutes and 16-0 run later, the game was in complete control for the Bulldogs.
Drew Timme was solid in the win with 21 points, six rebounds and three assists. That said, the most valuable player for Gonzaga was Julian Strawther. His 16 points in the first half were huge when the Bulldogs were still trying to find their footing as a team. He hit a couple of dagger threes over the final 20 minutes as well.
No. 6 TCU vs. No. 11 Arizona State | 72-70 (TCU)
Survive and advance.
TCU appeared to be on their way to an early exit in Friday’s final matchup of the day.
Sparked by 17 points from the rotation and a red-hot shooting performance from deep (6 of 10), Arizona State was able to jump out to a 44-37 halftime lead over TCU.
In what was a bit of a surprising display of depth, ASU had six different individuals score 5 or more points in the first half alone. Their efficiency was impressive too, as ASU shot 59% from the floor as a team.
While TCU as a whole struggled to make open looks early on, Mike Miles did his best to keep the Horned Frogs in the game with 16 points on an efficient 4-of-6 shooting. The athletic guard spaced the floor with a couple of crucial threes for TCU. Really though, it was his athleticism on the drive that stood out the most.
When Miles had a head of steam and put the ball on the floor, it was like a train coming down the track. And it was his ability to finish at the rim, as well as the free throw line, that ultimately gave his squad a chance.
As well as Miles played — the Big-12 star led all scorers with 26 points — it did not look like it would be enough to overcome ASU in the end. As a team, TCU really struggled to get much of anything going, at least outside of the production they received from Miles. The Horned Frogs shot just 35% from the floor as a unit.
After going up by as much as 8 in the second half though, ASU seemingly out of nowhere, went ice cold from the floor. From the 3:23 mark until there was just 15 seconds left, the Sun Devils were held completely scoreless. And although DJ Horne did tie the game at 70 apiece with a big three as the clock was winding down, with 15 seconds still to go, TCU had enough time to get a quality look on the other end. With just two seconds remaining, JaKobe Coles did exactly that, knocking down the game-winning floater in the paint.
It would be hard to pick anything other than the final three minutes of action. ASU was in control of its destiny and just completely melted down in the most crucial moments.
The man, the myth, the legend — Mike Miles.