Quakers upset bid falls short
Penn falls to Texas 60-52 at NCAA Tournament
March 17, 2006, 5:00 am·
DALLAS -- When the halftime buzzer sounded in Penn's game against Texas at the American Airlines Center, the scene was about as surreal as it gets during the NCAA Tournament. The No. 15 seed Quakers held a 23-22 lead over the No. 2 seed Longhorns, and the few hundred Penn fans in one section of the arena were cheering louder than the sea of Longhorn burnt orange around them. But could the momentum last for another half, and produce what would surely have been one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history? It almost did. At the very end, though, Texas was finally able to break out of the Quakers' clutches. With a few fast breaks and 19-of-22 shooting from the free throw line in the second half, the Longhorns were able to overcome Penn's tight defense and walk off the floor with a 60-52 win. "We just needed to close out the last 20 minutes and play it very much like the first 20 minutes and then we could come away with a great victory," a visibly tired Penn coach Fran Dunphy said after the game. Of course, that is easier said than done. But for all of Texas' vaunted athleticism, especially in its frontcourt, the Quakers controlled the tempo throughout the first 20 minutes of play, methodically running the shot clock on each possession and flustering Texas with one of the most efficient defenses in the nation. And whereas Penn struggled late in a number of games this season, this time the Quakers refused to quit. Although Texas led for most of the second half, Penn never trailed by more than nine points, and cut the deficit to 41-40 on a three-pointer by sophomore guard Brian Grandieri with 6:30 remaining. Penn only made five field goals for the rest of the game, though, while Texas was able to finally raise the tempo of the game and pull away. On the whole, neither team shot terribly well from the field ƒ_" Penn made 17 of its 53 field goal attempts, including 10 of 27 three-pointers, while Texas shot 18-of-45 from the field and 2-of-10 from beyond the arc. But Longhorns coach Rick Barnes praised Penn for other areas of its game. "This is an extremely well-coached team, a team that can really pass, a team that is going to run down and scrap to get rebounds," he said. "Instead of making excuses about how we played, let's give Penn credit ƒ_" if we made mistakes, they had a lot to do with it." LaMarcus Aldridge, the 6-foot-10 Texas center who will likely be one of the top picks in this year's NBA Draft, also left an impression. Although he had struggled of late before the NCAA Tournament, Aldridge stepped up in a big way against Penn. He scored eight of Texas' first nine points and finished with a game-high 19, along with 10 rebounds. Longhorns forward P.J. Tucker also recorded a double-double of 17 points and 12 rebounds. Tucker was on the Texas team that got a first-half scare from Princeton in the 2004 NCAA Tournament. Had Penn guard Ibrahim Jaaber hit the second of two free throws he attempted with six seconds remaining in this year's first half, the score at halftime would have been exactly the same as it was two years ago ƒ_" 24-22 in the Ivy League champions' favor. Tucker said that the two squads shared mental strength and resilience. "Those teams, you know they are going to come in and play hard, they are going to play all 40 minutes of the game and they are never going to give up," he said. "They come in with the expectation of winning and they try their hardest to win." Barnes said, though, that the two games did not have much in common. In preparing his team to face Penn, he said that he "never once compared Penn to Princeton ƒ_" I think they are two different styles of team, really." Yet with the exception of Penn's aggressiveness on rebounds, the Quakers' deliberate ballhandling and preference for three-point shots seemed at times to be quite similar to the famed offensive system of their longtime rivals. Dunphy said that clock management was not the point, though. "It was, I think, more let's take care of each possession, and I think that's how the game was dictated early," he said. "I think it was hard-fought early and well-played defensively early, so each possession became critical and it did wind up that we were taking care of the basketball." This was Penn's seventh straight loss in the NCAA Tournament, and it has now been an even dozen years since the Red and Blue last won a game on college basketball's greatest stage. But senior guard Eric Osmundson said that the team will be in very good shape after he graduates in May. "We've proven that we can play with the best in the nation, and I know these guys gained some valuable experience" from playing teams such as Villanova, Duke and Texas, he said. "I hope this feeling that we have in our heart about losing this game sticks around with them, drives them to work their butts off this summer." For Dunphy, who has now been to the NCAA Tournament nine times as Penn's head coach, the work will begin even earlier than that. "It's a long, arduous task" to make it to this point each year, he said. "It doesn't start in October ƒ_" it starts probably in two or three weeks." And like so many previous years, when the time comes to open the doors of the Palestra again there will also come hopes that next season will be the one when the wait for postseason glory finally ends.