-- The eighth-seeded Cincinnati Bearcats' exit from the NCAA tournament could not have summed up their chaotic season any better. Their leading scorer was a non-factor, their coach was ejected, and their frantic comeback fell short as they lost, 74-69, to the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the opening West Region game at Jon M. Huntsman Center.
Sophomore forward Ronny Turiaf led the Bulldogs (24-8) with 10 rebounds and 22 points, shooting just 3 of 10 from the field but 16 of 22 from the free throw line. Gonzaga will face Arizona in the second round.
"That was a great game of basketball by our team," Gonzaga Coach Mark Few said. "We stepped up and made free throws in the second half, and made stops when we needed to in the final minutes."
Cincinnati (17-12) cut the lead to 72-69 with 28 seconds remaining on a three-pointer by Taron Barker. After Gonzaga's Tony Skinner missed an uncontested dunk in the open floor, the Bearcats grabbed the rebound, and with it, a chance to tie the score.
But Skinner made up for his miscue, blocking Tony Bobbitt's subsequent three-point attempt, and the Bulldogs hung on to win.
Gonzaga forward Cory Violette added 14, with Winston Brooks and West Coast Conference player of the year Blake Stepp contributing 11 and 12 points, respectively.
Forward Leonard Stokes, the Bearcats' leading scorer, finished with just seven points on 2-of-10 shooting. In fact, Cincinnati's top three offensive players -- Stokes, Barker and Jason Maxiell -- combined for a mere 24 points, and Barker scored a team-leading 16 of them.
Cincinnati Coach Bob Huggins was ejected from the game with 16 minutes 17 seconds remaining after first leaving the coaching box, then heatedly arguing a traveling call. Cincinnati had cut Gonzaga's lead to seven points, but after Huggins's double-technical, the Bulldogs hit all four free throws, to go ahead 51-40. Those four easy points proved crucial in the final outcome.
It ended a rough year for Huggins, during which he survived a heart attack and endured his team's inconsistent play and off-the-court troubles.
"It is hard when you lose," Huggins said afterward. "We have had a lot of things happen [this season] . . . that we didn't think were necessarily going to happen."
Gonzaga started the game on an 8-0 run, with Skinner and Brooks hitting threes, and the 6-foot-10 Turiaf -- after outrunning the entire Cincinnati team in transition -- delivering a monstrous two-handed dunk.
It looked like the Bearcats might get run off the court, but Cincinnati bounced back with a run of its own, and took a 14-13 lead. In all, there were six lead changes in the opening half, but with 3:45 remaining, another Turiaf dunk put the Bulldogs up 29-27, and they never trailed again.
* ARIZONA 80, VERMONT 51: It took 103 years and a 42-hour, snowstorm-plagued journey to get to the NCAA tournament, but after 17 minutes of their first-round game against the top-seeded Wildcats, the 16th-seeded Catamounts knew they were headed home.
A 16-4 Arizona run late in the first half broke the game open, and the Wildcats (26-3) rolled.
"We spent two days in the greatest blizzard ever in Denver," Vermont Coach Tom Brennan said. "Who knew that was going to be the calm before the storm?"
Arizona guard Salim Stoudamire scored18 on 6-of-10 shooting. Rick Anderson added 13, and Luke Walton and Channing Frye each scored 12. Senior Jason Gardner struggled for the second consecutive game, making 2 of 9 for four points.
Vermont (21-12) was led by forward Taylor Coppenrath, who hit 7 of 15 shots and finished with 18, and Matt Sheftic, who scored 10.
It was decisive end to the Catamounts' season, but they were hardly discouraged by the defeat. At one point during the game, a winded Coppenrath turned to an equally tired Walton to discuss the 4,000-foot altitude.
"I talked about how hard it was to breathe," Coppenrath said. "He agreed with me."
Brennan didn't feel that the Catamounts' two-day travel woes had any impact on his team's play.
"It takes us that long to get to Maine sometimes," he said.
Vermont's fans remained loud and loyal throughout, hounding the officials and roaring with enthusiasm -- even after Mike Goia's three-pointer with 4.3 seconds remaining, and the game long decided.