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Cleveland Notebook

Roadrunners will try to keep up

It’s already been a long ride for UTSA

Associated Press / March 18, 2011

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First Texas San-Antonio had to fight its way through the Southland Conference tournament as the No. 7 seed. Then it had to beat Alabama State Wednesday night just to claim a No. 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

It doesn’t get any easier.

Not long after Wednesday’s victory in Dayton — the first tournament win in program history — the Roadrunners boarded a bus for a dark, 3 1/2-hour drive to Cleveland for today’s matchup with top overall seed Ohio State.

“Funny enough,’’ said Australian freshman center Jeromie Hill, one of UTSA’s four international players, “I didn’t even know where Ohio is.’’

No 16th seed has beaten a No. 1. There have been a few narrow escapes, most notably in 1996 when Purdue survived a scare with a 73-71 win over Western Carolina, which missed two shots in the final seconds.

Ohio State coach Thad Matta remembers it well. He was an assistant for Western Carolina.

“I know what those guys are definitely thinking over there,’’ he said.

Rolling out Massimino Needing a morale boost as it totes a five-game losing streak into today’s opening game against George Mason, No. 9 seed Villanova welcomed the program’s sage into a circle of players that gathered at midcourt after practice.

Rollie Massimino, who led a Wildcats team seeded No. 8 to a most improbable national championship in 1985, had a simple message: I believe in you.

“I told them, they’re good enough to win the whole thing,’’ Massimino said. “We were in the same position. I said, ‘Let’s go out and win it.’ ’’

Villanova (21-11) needs all the help it can get, starting against George Mason (26-6), the eighth seed in the East. The Wildcats started out 16-1 but lost seven of their final nine — they even blew a 16-point lead in a Big East tournament loss to South Florida.

Coach Jay Wright, a Massimino disciple, always makes sure his mentor sits behind the bench for the NCAAs.

“His national championship run is folklore at Villanova, so any time he is around, you feel like it’s magical,’’ Wright said. “And that’s why I wanted to have him on the court with the guys.’’

Edge in experience Both sixth-seeded Xavier and No. 11 seed Marquette are making their sixth straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Yet in today’s second-round matchup, the Musketeers will have a big advantage in tourney game experience.

Xavier, loaded with upperclassmen, is one of only two programs (Michigan State) to reach the round of 16 in each of the last three seasons. Only five Marquette players have played in an NCAA Tournament game, with Jimmy Butler the only player who has appeared in more than one.

“I think we play our best basketball in March,’’ Xavier center Kenny Frease said. “We have a lot of experience in the NCAA Tournament. I think that will really help us coming down the stretch.’’