Connecticut, West Virginia Make First Round Exits In 2012 NCAA Tournament

Chris Allen (#4) and the Iowa State Cyclones defeated the defending champion UConn Huskies during yesterday's first round of the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at KFC YUM! Center in Louisville, Kentucky (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images).

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The Connecticut Huskies were not expected to defend their NCAA championship, but a first round loss last night in Louisville closed the door on any hopes of a miracle run similar to 2011. UConn fell to the Iowa St. Cyclones 77-64. UConn’s Shabazz Napier led all scorers with 22 points. Royce White had 15 points and 13 rebounds for the Cyclones.

Had the game started a half hour later, UConn may have fared better. A lackluster start by the Huskies, combined with a stretch of hot shooting by the Cyclones, put the defending champs in a 22-point hole early. Though Connecticut regained some composure to close the gap to 10 by halftime, there was little evidence heading to the locker room that the team would recover enough to make it a contest.

Just a year removed from its Cinderella run of 11 straight victories to claim both the Big East and NCAA tournament titles, UConn is headed back to Storrs to ponder its future. The team is facing a ban on postseason play next year, and Hall of Fame head coach Jim Calhoun’s status is in question. After 26 years on Connecticut’s sidelines, health issues and dim prospects for another championship in the short run, the loss to Iowa St. that ended UConn’s reign also could mark Calhoun’s last NCAA tournament game.

The West Virginia Mountaineers played their last game as a member of the Big East Conference, losing 77-54 to the Gonzaga Bulldogs. Though the Zags had to cross three time zones and play in West Virginia’s back yard, they had little trouble in handing Bob Huggins and his team their worst NCAA tournament loss in 28 years. The Mountaineers begin play in the Big 12 next year.

In other Big East action Thursday, the Syracuse Orange overcame a sluggish start to defeat the UNC-Asheville Bulldogs 72-65. Though the top seed in the East Bracket, the Orange appear vulnerable without their center Fab Melo, who is ineligible for the tournament.

The Louisville Cardinals hung on to beat the pesky Davidson Wildcats 69-62 and the Marquette Golden Eagles easily defeated the BYU Cougars 88-68.

Today, the Georgetown Hoyas square off against the Belmont Bruins (3:10 PM), the Notre Dame Fighting Irish meet the Xavier Musketeers (9:45 PM) and the South Florida Bulls face the Temple Owls (9:50).

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