Looking Back at Russell Westbrook, Houston Rockets' March Madness Moments
The coronavirus outbreak has kept us without NBA basketball for nearly three weeks, and the global pandemic has hit especially hard in the college ranks. All spring college sports were canceled on March 12, robbing basketball fans across the country of March Madness buzzer-beaters, upsets and classic games. Sunday marks what would have been the second day of the Elite Eight. The Final Four was slated to be held in Atlanta on April 4. The primer to the NBA playoffs is noticeably absent as we head into April.
Television reruns have provided some solace, though, with old classics killing hours on CBS, ESPN and other networks over the last few weeks. In a similar fashion, let's take a look back at the top NCAA Tournament moments for the 2019-20 Rockets.
Westbrook is the only Rockets' player to appear in multiple Final Fours, reaching the national semifinal with UCLA in 2007 and 2008. Houston's point guard was more of a complimentary player in his first run with UCLA, averaging just six minutes per game in the tournament. Westbrook made a major leap as a sophomore.
UCLA reached the Final Four again in 2008, with Westbrook scoring 17 points in an Elite Eight win over Xavier. He played well again in a Final Four duel with Derrick Rose, adding 22 points on 10-19 shooting. Rose and Memphis won the matchup by double-digits, though they lost against Kansas in the National Championship two nights later.
The 2017-18 MVP had only a brief appearance in the Big Dance, missing the 2008 tournament before reaching the Round of 32 in 2009. Harden earned All-American honors as a sophomore, and he advanced past Temple in the first round of the 2009 tourney. The Sun Devils' luck ran out against Syracuse. Jim Boeheim's zone held Harden to a 2-10 effort from the field in an 11-point Orange win.
Tucker was a significant contributor for three straight seasons at Texas, winning Big 12 Player of the Year as a junior before leaving the 40 Acres in 2006. Tucker and the Longhorns entered three consecutive NCAA Tournaments, but they never reached the Final Four with Tucker on the team. Glen Davis and Tyrus Thomas bullied Texas in the Elite Eight in 2006 as LSU defeated the Longhorns 70-60.
House didn't reach the NCAA Tournament until his senior season at Texas A&M, though the Aggies' run in 2016 certainly makes up for the three years outside the tourney. Texas A&M defeated Green Bay in the first round, but trailed Northern Iowa 69-57 with just 44 seconds to play in the Round of 32. Chaos then ensued.
The Aggies cut the lead to eight with 26 seconds left thanks to a pair of layups (one from House), and Jalen Jones cut the Panthers' lead to just six with a dunk at the 21-second mark. Texas A&M then forced a turnover and gave the ball to House, who forced a one-possession game with a clutch triple. Another Northern Iowa turnover led to game-tying layup from Admon Gilder, forcing what was a Panthers' runaway into an overtime battle.
The contest went to double overtime despite the end-of-regulation heroics, and the Aggies came up clutch once again. House hit a critical jumper with 58 seconds remaining, and a pair of tree throws sealed the victory two possessions later. Texas A&M then lost to Buddy Hield and Oklahoma in the Sweet 16.
Gordon entered Indiana with considerable hype, joining the Hoosiers as the No. 1 recruit in the nation in 2007. Indiana's season didn't go according to plan. Gordon averaged 20.9 points per game as a freshman, but he scored just eight points on 3-15 shooting in a Round of 64 loss to Patrick Beverley and Arkansas.
Another one-and-done, Rivers logged 33 starts for Duke as he led the Blue Devils in scoring in 2011-12. And just like Gordon, Rivers' short tenure at Duke ended in bitter fashion. C.J. McCollum led Lehigh to a 75-70 victory, handing Mike Krzyzewski his fourth tournament loss against a double-digit seed.
McLemore led the Jayhawks in scoring in his lone year at Kansas, and he reached the tournament's second weekend after wins over Western Kentucky and North Carolina. The Sweet 16 landed McLemore in an NCAA classic, as Trey Burke's clutch three sent Kansas and Michigan to overtime before the Wolverines pulled off the upset victory. McLemore shouldn't be too dispirited by the loss in retrospect. Five players on Michigan's 2008-09 team are now in the NBA, and Nik Stauskas played in the NBA in 2019.
Green tallied quite the resume in three seasons at Georgetown. He was a two-time All-Big East member, and he won Big East Player of the Year in 2006-07. Green is also the only other current Rocket to ever make the Final Four. Georgetown lost to Florida in the Sweet 16 in 2006, then stormed past No. 1 seed North Carolina in the 2007 Elite Eight. Green and the Hoyas ran into a brick wall in the national semifinal, though, as Greg Oden patrolled the paint in a 67-60 Ohio State victory.
Carroll spent two years at Vanderbilt and two years at Missouri, finally making the NCAA Tournament as a senior with the Tigers. Mizzou reached the Elite Eight in Carroll's last collegiate season, including a thrilling 101-92 win over Tyreke Evans and No. 1 seed Memphis in the Sweet 16.
UConn ended Missouri's run two days later with an 82-75 win. Hasheem Thabeet tallied 13 rebounds, while freshman Kemba Walker led all scorers with 23 points.