SEATTLE (AP) — There was no caucus needed to decide this election. The two most impressive teams as the NCAA Tournament returned to Seattle for the first time in 11 years on Friday were from the state of Iowa.
First up was Northern Iowa, the champions of the Missouri Valley Conference. With alum Kurt Warner looking on, the Panthers relied on efficiency to dispatch Wyoming 71-54. And a few hours later, those Hawkeyes from Iowa City used their length and a second-half scoring eruption from Aaron White to frustrate Davidson and roll to an 83-52 victory.
Even with a pro-Gonzaga crowd waiting around to see the No. 2 seed Bulldogs, who ended up winning 86-76 over No. 15 seed North Dakota State, the day belonged to the Hawkeye State.
“I think what you have is you’ve got tremendous basketball programs in our state,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “One of them (Iowa State) got beat, but they’re also a terrific program. They won their conference tournament and they were a three seed, but that’s what this team, that’s what this tournament is. Sometimes you get nipped, sometimes you advance, but it doesn’t change the fact that we have got three pretty special programs in our state and we’re very proud of that.”
The Iowa schools — which played during the regular season, a 56-44 Northern Iowa victory — will get a chance to support one another on Sunday. Iowa (22-11) will get its opportunity to take down the Bulldogs (33-2) in the early game with Northern Iowa (31-3) trying to knock off another marquee program in the round of 32, facing Louisville.
The Cardinals (25-8) were the one exception to a day filled with mostly yawners. Louisville needed key baskets from Wayne Blackshear and a pair of free throws in the final 10 seconds from freshman Quentin Snider to hold off UC Irvine’s upset bid for a 57-55 victory.
UC Irvine’s Mamadou Ndiaye, the tallest player in college basketball at 7-foot-6, quickly became a fan favorite with his 12 points, flat-footed dunks and shot-altering length. But UC Irvine couldn’t finish off the upset on a day where lower-seeded victories were scarce.
“They were well-prepared, well-schooled to take away our strengths,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. “Fortunately for us, these two guys stepped up and we made big plays defensively down the stretch.”
Even Gonzaga, playing just four hours from campus and before a large fan base in the Seattle area, got more of a test than expected. North Dakota State closed within six points midway through the second half before the Bulldogs pulled away.
Here’s more of what happened Friday at KeyArena:
MISSING 5-12: With the way Wyoming played in the Mountain West Tournament, the Cowboys became a popular choice in the nearly annual No. 12 seed beating a No. 5 seed.
Northern Iowa was having none of it. The Panthers (31-3) built a 21-point lead after scoring 11 of the first 12 points to start the second half. Missouri Valley player of the year Seth Tuttle got plenty of help with Paul Jesperson and Wes Washpun hitting key shots in the second half to stave off Wyoming’s rally.
WHITE HOT: Little did anyone know that Aaron White had been the top scorer in the Big Ten Conference over the final six games of the regular season averaging more than 21 points per game. On the NCAA stage, White showed how dynamic a scorer he can be at 6-foot-9 as he put away Davidson.
White scored 13 straight points during Iowa’s decisive run early in the second half and scored 17 of the Hawkeyes’ 22 points in a span of 7 minutes. White finished with 26 points as Iowa rolled to the biggest NCAA Tournament victory in school history.
DEXTER’S LAB: Overshadowing Gonzaga’s victory was the unlikely performance from North Dakota State’s Dexter Werner and his 22 points off the bench. Despite a height and weight disadvantage, Werner went right at the Zags. He hit 10 of 14 shots and thrilled late-night basketball fans to the point he was a trending topic on Twitter.
Werner had scored in double figures only once since Feb. 1, but he was unstoppable for most of the second half as the Bison lingered. NDSU cut an 18-point deficit to six before the favored Bulldogs pulled away.
“Honestly it was just a little blurry, really,” Werner said. “I told Coach that’s how we practice it. I trip on a guy’s foot and fade away and bank it in. You know, sometimes you got to keep it going. I took some looks I probably wouldn’t regularly take, but I was hitting.”
UP NEXT: Gonzaga will be tested by the size and athleticism of Iowa in a South Region matchup Sunday. The Hawkeyes are one of the few teams that can counter some of the matchup problems Gonzaga creates, none more intriguing than White against Kyle Wiltjer.
The backend of the doubleheader from the East Region has Northern Iowa trying to keep Louisville from reaching the second weekend for the fourth straight season.
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