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March 17, 2007

Plenty of stars on dramatic day

One more day and eight games to go. Welcome to the life of Rivals.com's Andrew Skwara. We've asked Skwara to watch every single second of the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament, or at least as much as humanly possible, and critique everything from coaching decisions to referee's calls. Below, he breaks down the best and worst moves of Day 3.

On fire: Drama. There wasn't time for many bathroom breaks on Day 3. After an opening round that lacked upsets and had too many blowouts, the first day of round two gave us three overtime games, including one that needed double overtime. Three of the other five games looked like they might do the same, each coming down to the final minute. It will go down as one of the most competitive and exciting days in tourney history.

On fire: Tyler Hansbrough minus the face mask. Barring another nasty collision, North Carolina's big man won't be wearing a protective mask ever again. Hansbrough took off a mask he has tried two different versions since breaking his nose against Duke on March 4 early on against Michigan State. What followed was one of the best games of his career. Hansbrough looked like the relentless center who took the ACC by storm last season against Michigan State, finishing off basket after basket in the paint while putting nearly half of the opponent's players in foul trouble. The sophomore wound up with 33 points and took 17 free throws (making 13) the most attempted by any player in a single game in the tourney so far.

On fire: Vanderbilt wing Derrick Byars. The rest of the nation now knows what everyone in the SEC does: Byars is one of the best players in the nation. The SEC Player of the Year (by the coaches) put together a signature performance against Washington State, hitting four second-half 3-pointers and another in the first overtime to score 27 points. He made the play of the game on defense, racing down court to block a shot from Taylor Rochestie with three seconds to go in the first overtime.

Misfired: Washington State guards Taylor Rochestie and Kyle Weaver. It's remarkable that the Cougars had a chance to win considering these two starters played so poorly. They combined to shoot 1-of-15 from the field, scored just seven points and committed 13 turnovers.

Saturday's Top Performers
Roy Hibbert, Georgetown, 17 pts., 12 reb.
Greg Oden, Ohio State, 14 pts., 12 reb.
D.J. White, Indiana, 12 pts., 14 reb.
Jeff Green, Georgetown, 11 pts., 12 reb.
Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina, 33
Edgar Sosa, Louisville, 31
Ron Lewis, Ohio State, 27
Derrick Byars, Vanderbilt, 27
Acie Law, Texas A&M, 26
Drew Neitzel, Michigan State, 25
Justin Cage, Xavier, 25
D.J. White, Indiana, 14
Greg Oden, Ohio State, 12
Roy Hibbert, Georgetown, 12
Jeff Green, Georgetown, 12
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, UCLA, 10
Michael Anderson, VCU, 10
Ty Lawson, North Carolina, 8
Drew Lavender, Xavier, 8
Kyle Weaver, Washington State, 8
Eric Maynor, Virginia Commonwealth, 8
Jeff Green, Georgetown, 5 blocks
Jessie Sapp, Georgetown, 5 steals
D.J. White, Indiana, 5 blocks
Terrance Farley, Louisville, 4 blocks
James Gist, Maryland, 4 blocks
Brandon Crone, Butler, 4 blocks
Jared Dudley, Georgetown, 4 steals
Kyle Weaver, Washington State, 4 steals
Misfired: Clutch free throws. Pivotal misses from the free throw line turned out to be the biggest trend of Day 3. Xavier's Justin Cage had a chance to knock off top-ranked Ohio State when he stepped to the line with the Musketeers clinging to a two-point lead and nine seconds to go. Cage drained his first attempt, but missed the second. That gave OSU's Ron Lewis a chance to hit a 3-pointer and force overtime. Louisville's Edgar Sosa made his first 15 free throws against Texas A&M, but he bricked the two most important attempts with the Cardinals trailing by a point and 29 seconds to go. Texas A&M's Joseph Jones then proceeded to miss two free throws of his own. Pittsburgh's Levance Fields went to the line with the Panthers and Virginia Commonwealth tied up at 69 and two seconds on the clock. Fields also missed two shots. Vanderbilt's Alex Gordon joined the act, missing another pair with the Commodores up by two points and 30 seconds to go in double overtime. Fields was the only one to truly redeem himself, hitting a key 3-pointer in overtime to lift the Panthers into the third round.

On fire: The second-half version of Georgetown center Roy Hibbert. If the Hoyas could get their 7-footer to play like he did against Boston College in the second half all the time they'd be a lock for the Final Four. Hibbert took over after halftime, scoring 15 of his 17 points. Hibbert flashed a variety of post moves and kept scoring despite numerous double-teams. It was the kind of performance that definitely raised his NBA stock.

Misfired: Sean Williams' off-the-court problems. As Hibbert began to dominate, it was tough to wonder what would have happened if Boston College still had Williams. The 6-foot-10 center was blocking five shots a game when he was kicked off the squad for violating team rules in mid-January. Williams would have more than likely slowed down Hibbert and given the Eagles a much better chance at making a deep run.

On fire: UCLA's last-minute press. Not too many coaches have the guts to call for a press with their team clinging to a two-point lead and 38 seconds left, but the Bruins made a risky defensive maneuver look like a brilliant move against Indiana. The Hoosiers couldn't even inbound the ball, due largely to Luc Richard Mbah a Moute guarding the passer. Mbah a Moute deflected the first pair of passes out of bounds. The third time Indiana tried to inbound the ball it landed in the hands of UCLA guard Darren Collison.

On fire: The Texas A&M-Louisville game. The most heavily anticipated second-round matchup lived up to all the hype and more. The Aggies and Cardinals combined for 11 ties, seven lead changes and no team ever led by more than six. There was also a great individual performance on each side. Acie Law scored on a handful of his vintage floaters and made 13-of-15 free throws on his way to scoring 26 points. Sosa showed he has all the makings of a future star, attacking the basket all game long and making 15-of-17 free throws while finishing with 31 points. A role player also played like a go-to guy. Texas A&M's Dominique Kirk, who entered the tourney averaging five points, a game, hit a handful of big shots and finished with a career-high 21 points.

On fire: Ohio State guard Ron Lewis in the clutch. Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. get nearly all the pub, but the Buckeyes' season would be over if it wasn't for their unheralded senior guard. Lewis was phenomenal against Xavier, especially in the most pressure-packed moments. He scored 10 of the Buckeyes' final 14 points, including a heroic 3-pointer from NBA range with four seconds left to force overtime. Lewis finished with a game-high 27 points, hit all of eight of his free throw attempts, went 4-of-5 from 3-point range and grabbed eight rebounds.

On fire: Xavier forward Justin Cage. This versatile senior missed a chance to seal a huge upset for the Musketeers when he bricked a free throw with nine seconds left against the Buckeyes, but you can't blame him for their loss. Cage played brilliantly, fearlessly attacking Greg Oden on the inside and drawing the 7-footer away from the basket by knocking down outside jumpers. That led to 25 points for Cage on 8 of 8 shooting and plenty of foul trouble for Oden.

On fire: Mike Conley Jr. in overtime. With Oden having fouled out in regulation, it looked like Ohio State was in trouble. That feeling lasted about as soon as the commercial break did. Conley went on a 7-0 run by himself to put the Buckeyes up 69-64 and then hit four free throws to seal a thrilling 78-71 win.

On fire: Butler's execution. How does a team without anyone taller than 6 feet 7 or someone who averages more than five rebounds a game land in the Sweet Sixteen? They dictate the tempo, take great care of the basketball and get hot from outside. For the second consecutive game, the Bulldogs did all of the above. The result was a Maryland team scoring 21 points below their average. The Bulldogs did a great job handling the Terps' press and staying patient offensively. Hitting 12-of-26 3-pointers (46 percent) helped too, of course.

Misfired: Rick Pitino's last-minute timeout call. Pitino is usually a genius when it comes to making moves in the NCAA Tournament, but he made a big mistake in crunch time against Texas A&M. With Louisville trailing 70-69 in the closing seconds, the Cardinals had the ball and a big match-up advantage. Guard Edgar Sosa found himself guarded by forward Marlon Pompey at the top of the key. Instead of letting Sosa, who was having the game of his life, breakdown the much slower Pompey, Pitino chose to call a timeout with 16 seconds left. That allowed A&M to put defensive specialist Dominique Kirk back on Sosa. Kirk stayed glued to Sosa and got a hand in his vision as he took a deep 3-pointer that glanced off the rim.

Andrew Skwara will be back with more On Fire & Misfired after Sunday's games.

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