March 15, 2004
Mens basketball looks
to hook the Horns
The Tigers to play Texas in Denver on Thursday
By Brett Tomlinson
Basketball practice ends in the early evening,
but for Judson Wallace 05, the sport rarely leaves his thoughts.
When Im not studying, Im watching ESPN, watching
basketball, he says. Since his childhood days in Atlanta,
he has tuned in to see college basketballs best teams play
in March. He saw Princetons Gabe Lewullis 99 make a
backdoor layup in the closing seconds an upset win over UCLA in
1996, and a week later, he watched his beloved Georgia Bulldogs
lose to Syracuse on a late three-pointer by John Wallace (no relation).
On Thursday, the Princeton center will try to make
a more personal March Madness memory as the 14th-seeded Tigers take
on Texas in the first round of the South Regional in Denver (7:20
p.m. Eastern on CBS). His 15.5 points and 6.4 rebounds per game
led Princeton to a 13-1 record in the Ivy, a league championship,
and the teams first trip to the NCAAs since 2001, when Wallace
was still a high school senior.
Everybody comes to school thinking youre
going to go to the NCAA tournament four years, Wallace says.
I know as a freshman, I didnt realize how hard it was.
Being able to go this year, Im overwhelmed.
Thirteen Tigers will make their first NCAA trip,
and tournament veterans Ed Persia 04 and Andre Logan 05
are just as excited about the trip to Denver. John Thompson 88,
who has been to five tournaments as a coach, felt the energy as
his team watched the selection show Sunday night. Even though
you know youre going to be called, you know your name is going
to appear, theres definitely excitement once you see it,
Playing Texas a Final Four team last season
with four returning starters sounds like an intimidating
task. But Princeton has some confidence that it can hang with the
Longhorns. It lost 57-54 in a regular season game at Texas last
year with a chance to tie at the final buzzer. I would like
to say they were disappointed to see us, but who knows, they might
have wanted to play us, Wallace says. Were certainly
not going to sneak up on them.
Persia, a Beaumont, Texas, native, says that the
Tigers can disrupt the Longhorns speedy offense by slowing
down the pace of the game and playing zone defense. But Texas (23-7)
still has talented scorers in the halfcourt set, including forward
James Thomas, guard Royal Ivey, and guard Brandon Mouton, who led
his team with 21 points in its last meeting with Princeton. Mouton
is an unbelievably athletic player, Persia says. He
can shoot it from the outside, and he can slash to the basket.
Thompson had little to say about his teams
game plan, partly because he had not seen Texas play this season.
I feel good about the way were playing right now, and
thats whats important, he says.
The Tigers (20-7) started the season 4-1 before
suffering through close losses to UC-Irvine, Rutgers, Lafayette,
Oklahoma, and Minnesota en route to a 7-6 non-league record. They
struggled to find a way to win at the end of each loss, but in the
Ivy season, the tables turned. The Tigers came up with just enough
key shots, steals, and rebounds to finish on top. Since Princetons
lone league loss, a 15-point setback against Penn February 10, it
has won nine straight.
Scott Greenman 06, who started all 27 regular-season
games, credits balance for the Tigers success in close contests.
When it comes down to those situations, we can just stay with
the offense, and somebody is going to step up and hit a big shot,
he says. Its been different people all year.
Persia, who missed the last five games of the season
with a thigh injury, plans to play Thursday, and he expects the
game to be much closer than his teams blowout first-round
loss to North Carolina in 2001.
We were just happy that we made it our freshman
year because nobody expected us to win [the Ivy League], he
says. This year, were going in with a totally different
mindset. Were going in there knowing that we have a chance
to win, and we want to win.
Tomlinson is PAW's sports editor.