March 15, 2006

NCAA Notebook: Villanova's Ray cleared to play

For all the hype surrounding Villanova's first No. 1 seed in school history, it was actually a body part that received more attention this week.

Guard Allan Ray, who suffered what appeared to be a serious eye injury in the Big East Tournament last week, has been to cleared to play for the Wildcats (25-4) in the NCAA Tournament.

The accidental injury occurred during Villanova's game with Pittsburgh in the Big East semifinals, and it was feared that Ray - an All-Big East first-teamer - could miss the NCAA Tournament.

Ray was cleared to practice on Tuesday, and won't be required to wear goggles - a welcome relief to Wildcats fans.

Ray has looked sharp in shooting drills this week, and coach Jay Wright has been watching his star guard closely.

"I got to see exactly what I wanted to see," Wright said.

Ray's eye is slightly reddened, and he said he felt only a little soreness.

"I was pretty comfortable out there," said Ray, who averages 18.8 points as Villanova's leading 3-point threat. ''My vision was good the past few days, so I just came in and I felt pretty good."

Villanova opens Minneapolis Region action against play-in game winner Monmouth (19-14) Friday in Philadelphia.

Tournament placement frustrates BC

A red carpet led the way onto the court at the Huntsman Center, the Salt Lake City arena where Boston College hopes to take its first step on the road to the Final Four.

But there's no fooling the Eagles.

They aren't being treated like royalty in this NCAA Tournament.

They went 26-7, won 10 of their last 12 and took Duke to the wire before losing a hard-fought title game at the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament last weekend. And as their reward, they were given:

-The fourth seed in the Minneapolis region.

-A 2,300-mile, cross-country trip for a first-round game Thursday.

-A matchup against an opponent with a penchant for knocking off big-name teams, the 13th-seeded Pacific Tigers (24-7).

-A 10:40 a.m. tipoff, local time.

''Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes," BC coach Al Skinner said when asked if any of the above issues bothered him.

''I'm not going to say I wasn't disappointed," he said. ''But at the end of the day, you've got to play. It's very unfortunate we had to go cross country. But I'm not the guy sitting in the room making the decisions."

MVC goes head-to-head against Big East

This was supposed to be the year the Missouri Valley Conference stood up for the mid-majors and grabbed some NCAA spots normally given to the power conferences.

Now that the league has a record four tournament bids, Wichita State can take the league a little farther by beating a team from the nation's toughest conference.

''I don't know if it's a measuring stick," Coach Mark Turgeon said of his team's first-round game against Seton Hall in the Washington regional Thursday at Greensboro, N.C. ''But I do know one thing: we're fired up to play a Big East school. It's the best league in the country."

Wichita State-Seton Hall is one of three MVC-Big East matchups in the first round. On Friday, No. 7 seed Georgetown will face No. 10 Northern Iowa and No. 6 West Virginia will play No. 11 Southern Illinois.

There's no comparison between the Missouri Valley's NCAA invitations and those from the Big East, which sent a record eight teams - including a pair of No. 1 seeds in Connecticut and Villanova. No. 10 Seton Hall (18-11) was the lowest seed among that haul.

Pearl defends Tennessee's No. 2 seed

In his first year, Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl has the 18th-ranked Volunteers (21-7) back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2001. UT won the Eastern Division of the Southeastern Conference, finishing ahead of Florida and Kentucky. Perhaps that partially explains why they received a No. 2 seed in the Washington Regional despite losing three of their past four games.

Tennessee plays 15th-seeded Winthrop (23-7) in the first round Thursday in Greensboro, N.C.

''We understand there's been a lot of discussion about whether we deserved a No. 2 seed," Pearl said. ''We had an unbelievable regular season. We've got to find the hunger once again to prove people that we're deserving, and continue to bring honor to Tennessee basketball."

Fazekas, Nevada aims for school's best record

It's no coincidence Nevada has made the NCAA Tournament in each season of junior forward Nick Fazekas' career. This time, Fazekas has led the Wolf Pack to a level of prominence they've never achieved.

The No. 20 Wolf Pack (27-5) earned their highest seed, a No. 5, and will meet 12th-seeded Montana on Thursday in a first-round matchup in Salt Lake City.

Nevada, making its third consecutive NCAA appearance and fifth overall, is riding a 14-game winning streak, second-longest in the nation to Gonzaga's 18.

Nevada also is one victory from matching the best record in school history set by the 1945-46 team.

''We feel like we're carrying a lot of momentum into the tournament," said Fazekas, the Western Athletic Conference's two-time player of the year. ''We are feeling good and have a lot of confidence.

''This year's team has a lot of weapons. It has a lot of mental toughness and drive."

Fazekas is averaging career bests of 21.8 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. He has 17 double-doubles, including seven in the last nine games.

Nevada meets a team it used to compete against in the Big Sky Conference, which the Wolf Pack left in 1992. Montana leads the series 21-16 and beat Nevada 75-68 in the last meeting on Dec. 5, 2001.

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