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March 24, 2007

On Fire & Misfired: Seizing the moment

Rivals.com staff writer David Fox has taken on the challenge of watching every minute of the regional semifinals and finals in the NCAA Tournament. Here are his thoughts on the first four regional semifinals:

On fire: Second chances and second-stringers for North Carolina. That howl you heard was Tar Heels backup guard Marcus Ginyard getting a putback during an 18-0 run to erase USC's 16-point lead in the second half. Ginyard punctuated his two rebounds and baskets during that run with a top-of-the-lungs scream. During the same run North Carolina backup guard Danny Green did the same minus the howl. The run sealed North Carolina's 74-64 win.

On fire: Credit USC's Tim Floyd for picking matchups and exploiting them. Nick Young (15 points) gave Brandan Wright fits early with his speed. Freshman Taj Gibson got the better of Tyler Hansbrough before he picked up his fourth foul midway through the second half. Gibson had 12 points and eight rebounds in the first half. As a whole, USC was the quicker team in the first half. Trojans guard Gabe Pruitt had three steals in the first half, forcing three-point plays as a result as USC took a 42-33 lead.

Misfired: Hansbrough managed to draw two charges while playing with two fouls, which is fine. But Hansbrough's counterpart, Taj Gibson, was called for four fouls in roughly nine minutes stretching from the end of the first half through the start of the second half. It points to a little inconsistency.

Misfired: The Gators' slow starts in New Orleans followed them to St. Louis, as they fell behind early to Butler in the Sweet 16. On offense, Florida committed the first seven turnovers of the game in the first 11 minutes. Butler took full advantage, getting 3-point baskets off turnovers on three consecutive Florida possessions. Florida fell behind by nine points five times in the first half before making the comeback.

On fire: Once again, Florida center Al Horford provided the turnaround. The Gators started putting more of the offense in Horford's hands (as well as fellow big man Joakim Noah) against the smaller Butler lineup. Florida retook the lead on free throw shooting, making 10 in a row during a 13-2 run to end the first half with a 35-29 lead. Along the way Horford finished with 16 points and four blocks while getting Butler into foul trouble.

On fire: In addition to Horford's play, Florida retook and kept the lead by tightening its play on the perimeter on both sides of the court. Butler didn't make a field goal for the remainder of the half after taking a 25-16 lead. While Butler couldn't hit a shot after a early frenzy, Florida guard Taurean Green took over with four 3-pointers in the first half.

Sunday's Top Performers
Taj Gibson, USC, 16 points, 11 rebounds
Malik Hairston, Oregon, 14 points, 11 rebounds
Maarty Luenen, Oregon, 11 points, 10 rebounds
Roy Hibbert, Georgetown, 12 points, 10 rebounds
Marcus Ginyard, North Carolina, 10 points, 10 rebounds
Tajuan Porter, Oregon, 33
Brandan Wright, North Carolina, 21
Taurean Green, Florida, 17
Derrick Byars, Vanderbilt, 17
Dan Cage, Vanderbilt, 17
Al Horford, Florida, 16
Shan Foster, Vanderbilt, 16
Taj Gibson, USC, 16
Malik Hairston, Oregon, 11
Taj Gibson, USC, 11
Maarty Luenen, Oregon, 10
Roy Hibbert, Georgetown, 10
Marcus Ginyard, North Carolina, 10
Joakim Noah, Florida, 9
Brandan Wright, North Carolina, 9
Aaron Brooks, Oregon, 5
Gabe Pruitt, USC, 5
Daniel Hackett, USC, 5
Derrick Byars, Vanderbilt, 5
Al Horford, Florida, 4 blocks
Gabe Pruitt, USC, 4 steals
Aaron Brooks, Oregon, 3 steals
Mike Green, Butler, 3 steals
Dan Cage, Vanderbilt, 3 steals
Misfired: Butler needed more from guard A.J. Graves, the Bulldogs leading scorer. Graves was 1 of 7 from the field with two points in the first half and didn't score until nearly three minutes into the second half. He finished with 11 points but Butler needed more from its star.

On fire: Georgetown's Jeff Green took over in the second half of the Hoyas' 66-65 win over Vanderbilt, scoring 11 of his 15 points after the break. Whether or not it was a travel (more on that later), Green's off-balance shot through a double team was impressive.

Misfire: Officiating endgames. It's no fun to be a referee in the final seconds of a game in this tournament. First came the personal (and apparently unintentional) foul call on Ohio State centerGreg Oden in the second round against Xavier, then the loss of 1.1 seconds on Texas A&M's inbounds pass that tipped off a Memphis player. Then came the no-call on Green's travel on the game-winning basket. Replays showed Green lifted his pivot foot getting himself into position for the shot. It's a good warning for the last eight teams in the tournament: You have 40 minutes to put a team away. Don't put the game into the hands of the officials.

Misfired: Georgetown never got Roy Hibbert completely involved, especially in the first half. Hibbert had only one attempt from the field in the first half when Vanderbilt took a 32-24 lead. He scored nine points in the second half before fouling out.

On fire: The Princeton offense has a reputation of being boring to watch. Not so in the Georgetown-Vanderbilt game. The matchup between Georgetown's John Thompson III, a former Princeton coach, and Vanderbilt's Kevin Stallings, who runs a variation of the offense, had several nice back-and-forths that led to the late dramatics. Vanderbilt had some especially good passing. The Commodores had 12 assists on their first 11 field goals.

On fire: Diminutive guard Tajuan Porter carried Oregon on his shoulders as the Ducks' built a sizeable second-half lead. He scored 17 consecutive points, making four 3-pointers for the Ducks during a 6-minute stretch for Oregon in a 37-33 first half. Oregon is not just Aaron Brooks and four others. The Ducks win by relying on the hot hand, and they have plenty of options to do so with Brooks, Porter, Bryce Taylor and Malik Hairston.

David Fox is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.

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