NCAA Latest: Gonzaga gets scare but wins in 1st round
By The Associated Press
The Latest on the NCAA Tournament (all times Eastern):
Gonzaga's Zach Norvell Jr. hit a 3-pointer with 22 seconds left to break a tie with UNC Greensboro, lifting the Zags to a 68-64 first round win and avoiding an embarrassing NCAA Tournament exit for a team that made the final last year.
UNC Greensboro made its run midway through the second half as it pushed Gonzaga to the brink of elimination.
The game coincided with top-seeded Kansas pulling away from Penn. The Ivy League champs made an early push, but Kansas rallied to retake the lead before halftime. The Jayhawks led 69-56 with less than four minutes left.
CBS analyst Kenny Smith took aim at the NCAA early in Thursday's broadcast for what he called a ''predatory'' environment disguised as amateurism.
The former NBA and North Carolina star said after the first game of this year's tournament that the current system takes advantage of the players. Co-host Charles Barkley pushed back, saying that paying players would lead to problems between the stars who generate revenue and their less-talented teammates.
But even the fact that they were discussing it was unusual. Networks often balk at criticizing their sports partners for fear of jeopardizing deals that run into the billions of dollars.
CBS is paying more than $10.8 billion to broadcast the tournament for 14 years through 2024.
No. 13 seed UNC Greensboro has erased a double-digit deficit against No. 4 seed Gonzaga to tie the game at 60 with four minutes remaining in Boise.
Francis Alonso is doing most of the damage. He has 16 points heading into the homestretch.
Kansas star Devonte Graham caught fire midway through the first half, pouring in 18 points to help the top-seeded Jayhawks overcome a sluggish start and take a 33-26 lead over Penn into halftime.
The Jayhawks trailed the No. 16 seed Quakers 21-11 with 7 minutes left in the half, misfiring on seven of their first eight 3-point attempts and failing to slow down Penn's inside-outside offense.
Graham started the comeback with a putback off a missed layup in transition, then knocked down a pair of 3-pointers to cap a 19-2 run that gave Kansas a 30-23 lead in the final minute.
The Big 12 player of the year added three free throws with 3.6 seconds left heading into halftime.
No team seeded 16th has ever beaten a 1 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Rhode Island is into the round of 32 for the second straight season.
The seventh-seeded Rams held off Oklahoma star Trae Young and the 10th-seeded Sooners 83-78 in overtime.
E.C. Matthews led the Rams (26-7) with 16 points, including a 3-pointer with 31 seconds left in the extra period that gave Rhode Island the cushion it needed to move on. Freshman guard Fatts Russell scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half for the Rams.
Young, the nation's leading scorer, led the Sooners (18-14) with 28 points and seven assists but also finished with six turnovers. The freshman took and missed a pair of deep 3-pointers with the Sooners holding the lead early in overtime. The balanced Rams responded behind Matthews.
Rhode Island will play the winner of Duke and Iona on Saturday.
Gonzaga is slowly figuring out the UNC-Greensboro defense and slowly building a lead.
The Bulldogs scored the last five points of the first half to take a 32-23 lead into the locker room.
Greensboro's defense is as good as advertised. Gonzaga has made only 37 percent of its shots. But the Spartans are 0 for 13 from 3-point range and are shooting 28 percent overall.
The first game of the round of 64 in the NCAA Tournament is heading to overtime.
Seventh-seeded Rhode Island and 10th-seeded Oklahoma are tied at 69 in their Midwest Region game in Pittsburgh. The Rams had a chance to win it at the end of regulation but Jeff Dotwin's runner fell short and Stanford Robinson's putback rolled off the rim as time expired.
Oklahoma star Trae Young has struggled at times but leads the Sooners with 24 points, including a pair of free throws with 14 seconds left that tied the game.
Kansas center Udoka Azubuike is warming up with a brace on his left knee, which he hurt during a practice just over a week ago, keeping him out of the Big 12 Tournament.
The 7-foot, 285-pound sophomore did light work in practice this week, and coach Bill Self said Wednesday that he was ''optimistic'' that the team's leader in rebounds and blocks could play a few minutes in the top-seeded Jayhawks' Midwest Region opener against No. 16 seed Pennsylvania.
The Jayhawks romped to the Big 12 Tournament title without him, enjoying a tournament MVP effort from Malik Newman and a breakout performance from freshman big man Silvio De Sousa.
Thousands of fans have descended on the old downtown area of Wichita for the city's first shot at hosting the NCAA Tournament since 1994, when Kansas Coliseum was an opening-round site.
This time, it's the sparkling Intrust Bank Arena that is the centerpiece of the action on Thursday.
While some sites have struggled with empty seats in recent years, that shouldn't be a problem with top-seeded Kansas in action. More than 13,000 fans showed up Wednesday for the open practices, and many of those fans stuck around to see the other teams shoot around.
The Jayhawks play Penn in the first game Thursday. Also on tap in the Midwest Region is Seton Hall-North Carolina State, and in the West Region are Houston-San Diego State and Michigan-Montana.
Oklahoma guard Trae Young could be playing his last college basketball game.
The phenomenal freshman leads the nation with averages of 27.4 points and 8.8 assists heading into his NCAA Tournament game against Rhode Island on Thursday. No player has ever finished a season as the per-game national leader in both scoring and assists.
Young has said he will sit down with his family after the season to discuss whether he will return to school or not. Many projections have the 6-foot-2 star who has drawn comparisons to Stephen Curry going in the first round of this year's NBA draft if he decides to leave.
Young has achieved a great deal in a short span of time. He tied the NCAA record for assists in a game earlier in the season and has scored at least 40 points four times this season. He looked like the runaway favorite for player of the year until a string of six straight losses for the Sooners. Young struggled at times with turnovers, shooting and decision making. His teammates often struggled to finish close to the hoop or corral his expert passes.
Even with all that, he already has won the Wayman Tisdale Award as the nation's top freshman.
It wasn't clear Oklahoma would even make the tournament - the Sooners lost eight of their last 10 games and were bounced by Oklahoma State in the opening round of the Big 12 Tournament.
The first major slate of NCAA Tournament games is set to begin as fans scramble to fill out brackets and get ready for a marathon of college hoops.
Sixteen games are scheduled for Thursday, starting with Oklahoma's Trae Young, the nation's leader in scoring and assists, leading the 10th-seeded Sooners against No. 7 seed Rhode Island.
The other early games match Tennessee against Wright State, Gonzaga vs. UNC-Greensboro and Penn against Kansas.
Two No. 1 seeds play Thursday: Kansas in the Midwest Region and Villanova in the East Region. Villanova opens against Radford at 6:45 p.m. Eastern.
Fans across the United States get in on March Madness like no other set of playoffs in sports, filling out brackets and joining office pools that challenge them to pick the winner of all the games.
Syracuse, St. Bonaventure, Texas Southern and Radford won their way into the round of 64 by winning First Four games in Dayton, Ohio.
Half the remaining field plays Thursday and another 16 opening round games will be played Friday.
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