Stephen F. Austin-Utah Preview
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) Stephen F. Austin is looking for another upset.
In last year's NCAA Tournament, the Lumberjacks caused an early round commotion as the No. 12 seed, ousting coach Shaka Smart's fifth-seeded Virginia Commonwealth Rams 77-75 in overtime. The game was memorable because of Desmond Haymon's four-point play as the clock wound down in regulation.
Now they're back, again as the No. 12 seed, set to face No. 5 Utah in their South Regional opener on Thursday.
Stephen F. Austin earned its berth with an 83-70 victory over Sam Houston State in the final of the Southland Conference Tournament.
''Excited,'' Southland player of the year Thomas Walkup said about the Lumberjacks' return to tournament. ''Excited just for the fact that we get to go back and that we get to be on the big stage and continue to grow the name of Stephen F. Austin and try to build our legacy.''
Walkup averaged 15.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per game and Stephen F. Austin (29-4) won its last nine straight heading into the tournament. Coach Brad Underwood has compiled an impressive 61-7 record - and the consecutive tournament appearances - in his two seasons at the helm.
But the Lumberjacks will face a considerable challenge in the Utes, who went 24-8 and won an at-large bid after falling to Oregon in the semifinals of the Pac-12 Conference Tournament.
Utah last played in the tournament in 2009.
''You want to approach every game with the mentality that we're just going to go out there and play harder than our opponent,'' guard Brandon Taylor said. ''That right there is going to lead to showing the world that Utah basketball is back.''
The Lumberjacks and the Utes have never met. The winner will face the winner of Thursday's game between No. 4 seed Georgetown and No. 13 Eastern Washington.
UTAH'S DANCE CARD: The Utes have been to the NCAA Tournament 28 times, compiling a 35-30 record. They won it all in 1944, beating Dartmouth 42-40. The path to the national championship was tragically unusual, however, since Utah was included as a late replacement for Arkansas after two of the Razorback starters were seriously injured in a car accident that killed an assistant coach.
LUMBERJACKS HISTORY: Stephen F. Austin is making its third tournament appearance. After last year's upset of VCU, the team fell to UCLA in the next round. The Lumberjacks dropped in their tournament opener against Syracuse in 2009.
MOMENTUM: Stephen F. Austin lost just one conference game this season and rode into the tournament on a nine-game winning streak. Fifteen of the Lumberjacks' conference victories came by double figures. And there was a 19-game winning streak that stretched from late November to early February. Along the way, they averaged 79.5 points per game to rank 19th in the country, as well as a national-best average of 17.8 assists be game.
FAMILY TIES: Senior guard Delon Wright, who leads the Utes with an average of 14.9 points per game, is no stranger to Portland as the younger brother of Dorell Wright, who plays for the NBA's Trail Blazers. Separated by six years, the elder brother jumped straight from high school to the pros as a first-round pick by the Miami Heat in 2004. Having no alma mater, Dorell Wright has adopted his little brother's team. But, alas, the Blazers were on a five-game road trip during the tournament games in Portland.
So Dorell went to Twitter to show his support: ''Shout out to my Yng Utes 5th seed. Show time fellas. Shout out to them being in Portland while we're in Miami.''
The connection paid one benefit: Utah worked out before the tournament at the Trail Blazers' practice facility in Tualatin, Oregon.
TOUGH TRAINING: Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak toughened his team up this season using somewhat unconventional method: The Utes took on a weekend of Navy SEAL training in October. One drill had the team running heavy logs around campus. The experience gave birth to the Utes' hashtag: (hash)MUSSterup.