Charlie Pallilo: It was a long time coming for UH in the NCAA Tournament

Rob Gray twists for his final, game-winning shot Thursday night. Jamie Squire/Getty Images

In a college basketball equivalent to a Halley’s Comet sighting, the University of Houston won an NCAA Tournament game! It only took almost 34 years since the last victory. It also took Rob Gray being for one day the best college basketball player in America. Gray’s beautiful up and under layup through traffic with one second left gave the Cougars the 67-65 final margin, though since it was a 34-year wait I guess it was fair that UH had to survive San Diego’s way-too-good a look at a game-winning shot off of a 70 foot inbounds pass.

Gray finished with a career-high 39 points. Only Elvin Hayes has ever scored more for UH in an NCAA Tourney game (the Big E went for 49 vs. Loyola-Illinois in 1968). If you’re curious, Akeem (no H in those days) Olajuwon’s tourney high was 29. Clyde Drexler’s was only 21, which sounds low because it seemed like he had 21 dunks in the famed semifinal win over Louisville in 1983.

The Cougars have a very tough assignment with Michigan in round two Saturday but they’re playing with house money now, and it’s not as if #6 seeds ousting #3 seeds is highly uncommon.

The list of schools with an NCAA victory more recently than the Coogs before Thursday night was preposterously long: five of the eight Ivy League schools, Bucknell, Hampton, Montana, Siena, Southern, Vermont, Winthrop, Norfolk St., Coppin St., Morehead St., and North Dakota St. To name some of the more than 180 in all.

Tigers in tough

If Texas Southern beats Xavier Friday night it would be merely the biggest upset in the history of the tournament. It’s house money play for TSU too, which won a play-in game over North Carolina Central to qualify for the main draw as a 16th seed. It comes with an asterisk (or at least a footnote) but counts for the Tigers as their first ever NCAA Tourney win. TSU began the season playing 13 straight road games, and lost all of them. From an 0-13 start to the Big Dance. Knocking off Xavier basically would require a basketball miracle. Since 16 seeds came into existence with the expansion of the field to 65 teams in 1985, they are 0-134 against #1 seeds.

Not an upset?

If my team played your team twice during the regular season and in one of the games your team beat mine 57-50 and in the other yours beat mine 52-50 in overtime, would my team beating yours in a third meeting be a monstrous upset?

Upsets are a tremendous part of the history of the NCAA Tournament. Probably the two considered the most stunning are the 1983 and 1985 championship games. North Carolina State 54-52 over the Phi Slama Jama Houston team was a shocker. Two years later Villanova upending Georgetown 66-64 was an upset, but it is overrated as “one of the greatest upsets of all-time.”

The Hoyas were the reigning National Champions, and still anchored by Patrick Ewing. They had lost only two games all season, they occurred back-to-back by a combined three points (by one at St. John’s and by two at Syracuse). Georgetown and Villanova were Big East rivals with the familiarity with each other that comes with being conference foes who played twice per season. The Hoyas beat the Wildcats in the two regular-season matchups, by scores of 57-50 and 52-50 in overtime. So the third time being the charm for ‘Nova shouldn’t be considered some mind-blowing outcome. That it occurred in the NCAA Final makes it the stuff of legend, as does the fact that Villanova shot 79 percent from the field for the game. But it was not David felling Goliath.

Net Gaine?

The Texans have not opened free agency with a bang under new General Manager Brian Gaine, but at least they didn’t open with a whimper. Their pathetic offensive line has been upgraded, provided guard Zach Fulton is a much better addition then the last free agent offensive lineman the Texans signed away from the Chiefs. He should be. Jeff Allen should be a candidate to be released, especially with the Texans also adding former-Saint Senio Kelemete. At minimum the Xavier Su’a-Filo error should be finished. That was not a typo. Su’a-Filo was one of ex-GM Rick Smith’s hallmark lousy second and third round picks. He was the first pick of the second round and never became an adequate player. Among those drafted after Su’a-Filo in the second round of the 2014 Draft: Demarcus Lawrence, Joel Bitonio, Lamarcus Joyner, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Jarvis Landry. Oops.

Buzzer Beaters

1. The Rockets are now 85-90 percent to be the #1 seed in the Western Conference   2. If UH knocks out Michigan, it will be knocking out Wolverine point guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman   3. Other best names in this year’s Tournament: Bronze-Lourawls Nairn, Michigan St. Silver-Admiral Schofield, Tennessee   Gold-Seventh Day’Vonte Woods, North Carolina

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Houston couldn't keep up

Astros fall to Blue Jays as Toronto gets homer-happy

Houston's bats couldn't keep up with Toronto's Saturday night. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With an offensive clinic in the opener on Friday night, which helped them handily defeat the Blue Jays, the Astros returned to Minute Maid Park Saturday with a chance to secure another series. Toronto had other plans, though, reversing roles with Houston by getting big home runs to even the series.

Final Score: Blue Jays 8, Astros 4

Astros' Record: 17-16, third in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Steven Matz (5-2)

Losing Pitcher: Cristian Javier (3-1)

Toronto flips the script and turns on their offense against Javier

Toronto flipped the script from the night before early in this middle game of the series, dealing damage to Cristian Javier, who so far in 2021 had been able to limit his amount of earned runs. After retiring the first four batters he faced, a one-out walk in the top of the second set up the Blue Jays' first hit of the night, a two-run home run by Cavan Biggio, giving them a 2-0 lead over Houston.

After a leadoff home run made it a 3-0 score, Javier would deal with the fallout of more walks in the top of the third, issuing two to set up a two-out two-RBI double to give the Jays a commanding 5-0 advantage. Javier would battle back and complete five full innings, getting one out into the sixth before a walk would prompt Dusty Baker to make the call to the bullpen. His final line: 5.1 IP, 4 H, 5 ER, 4 BB, 8 K, 2 HR, 91 P.

Alvarez keeps mashing as Houston tries to claw back into it

Javier would exit with at least some runs on the board in support of him, with Yordan Alvarez hitting a two-run opposite-field homer in the bottom of the fourth to cut the lead to three runs. Alvarez accounted for another run in the next inning, coming through with an RBI-single to make it 5-3, which is where the game stood as Andre Scrubb would take over in the top of the sixth.

Scrubb finished that inning for Javier and returned for a 1-2-3 seventh to keep it a two-run game. Bryan Abreu was the next reliever, and he, too, was able to retire the Blue Jays in order in the top of the eighth. The Astros continued to chip away at Toronto's lead, getting another run in the bottom of the inning on an RBI by Yuli Gurriel to make it 5-4 heading to the ninth.

Toronto evens the series

Brooks Raley entered to try and keep it a one-run game with a clean inning, but instead, two runners would reach on a walk and error before Joe Smith would enter to try and strand them. Instead, a two-out home run put the game back out of reach at 8-4, with Houston coming up empty in the bottom of the inning, setting up a rubber match in the finale.

Up Next: This series's third and final game will be an afternoon start of 1:10 PM Central on Sunday. Zack Greinke (2-1, 3.76 ERA) will try to add more wins to his record for Houston, while Nate Pearson will be making his 2021 debut for Toronto.

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