BOISE, Idaho, March 17 -- He finds comfort in the poems. So Pacific guard Mike Webb goes to them often, retreating from basketball, from class, from the tumult around him, falling into the notebooks he carries tucked in his bag. Then, when everybody is gone, when he is alone, he opens the binders and begins to write.
The verses often don't rhyme. Sometimes he wishes they would. Sometimes he doesn't care. This is about escape, "more of a therapy," he says. It's not important that the words be precise.
Jasko Korajkic, left, and Christian Maraker battle to keep possession of the ball against Pitt's Aaron Gray, back, as Pacific built a 17-point, 1st-half lead.
(Joe Cavaretta -- AP)
He writes about life, he writes about love. Lately he's been writing a lot about politics. But the one thing the player with a soft, wide smile does not like to write about is basketball. It's too obvious, he suggests. Too cliched.
"That's what people always say to me, 'Oh, what is your poetry about, basketball?' " Webb said standing in Pacific's locker room after the Tigers beat Pittsburgh, 79-71, in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. "I try to stay away from it."
But as he stood among his celebrating teammates, Webb had to admit that he might make an exception when he opens his notebooks again after Pacific's second-round game against Washington. This time is different.
On a team filled with senior stars from places such as France, Sweden and Belgrade, it was the junior college transfer from Lancaster, Calif., who made Thursday's victory possible. He stepped off the bench and into his first NCAA tournament game and for much of the day he couldn't miss a shot.
His 15 points -- all off three-pointers -- were a career high. But it was the way he delivered them, with four coming in a row right before halftime that demoralized an already languid Pittsburgh team.
"It really gave them a lift," Pitt guard Carl Krauser said, shaking his head. "That was one of the turning points in the game."
There are other players on this Pacific team who get more attention than Webb. Guard David Doubley is considered the Tigers' leader and center Guillaume Yango and forward Christian Maraker are probably their best players. Webb, who came here averaging 4.7 points a game, is the team's seventh-leading scorer. In many ways, he's a fringe piece, an extra player to throw into games.
Then, in Pacific's biggest game, he was the one who could hardly miss.
"I just keep my poise," he said. "I'm just a calm guy. It's just a swagger, I guess, a confidence. Any situation I'm going to try to be calm. Teams will make runs but you can't panic."
In another year, Pacific beating Pittsburgh would have been a monumental upset, the kind of thing that would have sent breaking news bars scrolling across the bottom of television sets. But Pacific is not a mystery anymore to the rest of America. Its huge upset came when it beat Providence, 66-58, in the first round of last year's tournament, then was tied with Kansas midway through the second half in the second round before losing.
Thursday, the eighth-seeded Tigers scored the first six points and never trailed, slowly building up to a 17-point halftime lead after Webb's fourth three-pointer. Even when Pittsburgh made a small run in the second half, it was futile. The Panthers, who have lost five of their last seven games, looked befuddled. Their late run was eventually squelched when Webb hit his fifth and final three-pointer with 6 minutes 37 seconds left to give Pacific a 10-point lead.
And Webb -- who first turned to poetry his sophomore year of high school when he found himself too shy to tell a girl he liked her -- had a game he could write about.
"I might have to mention my career high," he said with a bashful laugh.
WASHINGTON 88, MONTANA 77: Thursday morning, as Washington Coach Lorenzo Romar headed out to buy a shirt to replace the one he left back in Seattle, he took one last phone call from Athletic Director Todd Turner. The conversation was brief but the results were significant as Romar gave his approval to an eight-year contract extension.
Then, as if to justify Turner's move, the top-seeded Huskies raced out to a 16-2 lead before coasting to victory.
"We came out with a lot of intensity but we got cool down the stretch," said guard Brandon Roy, who led Washington with 17 points. "Being a number one team is hard because you're thinking about it the whole game."