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The arrival of March Madness sparked memories of deep tournament runs from several of the Wolves. Jump back in time as Kevin Love, Wes Johnson, Wayne Ellington and Lazar Hayward recount some unforgettable moments in March.
Kevin Love, UCLA
The historic 2008 season presented four No. 1 seeds in the Final Four for the first time in the history of the expanded 64-team field. As a freshman, Love dominated Pac-10 basketball while earning conference Player of the Year honors. Love averaged 17.5 points and 10.6 rebounds for the Bruins in 2007-08. After defeating Xavier in the Elite Eight, UCLA was dropped by Memphis 78-63 in the Final Four. Love scored 12 points as the Bruins were bounced out of the Final Four for the third straight year. Heading into the game against Memphis, Love displayed remarkable skills and numbers by averaging 19 points and 11 rebounds in the four wins.
"Oh, a ton of memories - from my first game kind of all the way through the Final Four. We had a bunch of battles and March Madness is just the best time, because a team is doing whatever it takes to win ball games and they don't care about anything else other than winning ball games for their school, for their tradition, for a national championship. You see the conference championships and you look at those and it's kind of like the start of it all, then selection Sunday comes and it's a lot of fun to watch. I have a ton of memories from March Madness, even the one that I was in."
Wes Johnson, Syracuse
Johnson burst on the college scene following a year on the sidelines due to his decision to transfer from Iowa State. When he hit the floor in a Syracuse uniform, the Orange instantly became a deadly force in the Big East and earned a No. 1 seed for the 2010 NCAA Tournament. In a second round game against Gonzaga, the Big East Player of the Year unleashed an offensive onslaught with a career-high 31 points on 11-of-16 shooting from the floor and 4-of-6 behind the arc. He became the first Syracuse player to score 30-plus points in an NCAA tournament game since Gerry McNamara in 2004 and Johnson also snatched a game-high 14 boards as the team missed starting center Arinze Onuaku. The Orange cruised past the Zags 87-65 to advance to the Sweet 16 where they suffered an upset to National Runner-up Butler. Despite the disappointment of not reaching the Final Four, Johnson elevated his draft status by averaging 22 points and 9.6 rebounds per game during the tournament. NBA scouts fell in love with his upside, maturity, and shooting abilities, which eventually led to the Wolves using the No. 4 overall pick on Johnson in June.
"Wonderful, I remember all of us sitting in the locker room when we (Syracuse) got the number one bid for the tournament. That was a good feeling - going and doing all this stuff with the team, and I had a lot of expectations for the season last year and we got ranked number one then getting the number one seed. It was definitely fun - it didn't end like we wanted it to, but it was definitely a good experience for all of us."
Jonny Flynn, Syracuse
Mr. Flynn was red-hot in March 2009. The speedy point guard became a household name by fighting extreme exhaustion and leading Syracuse to a six-overtime thrilling victory over Connecticut. As the smallest man on the court, Flynn tallied 34 points, 11 assists, and six steals to propel the Orange into the NCAA Tournament. Syracuse marched to the Sweet 16 behind Flynn's direction at the point guard position, eventually meeting the No. 2 seeded Oklahoma Sooners, who were powered by No. 1 overall pick Blake Griffin. Flynn ended his collegiate career with a 22-point and six-assist performance but the Orange could not top Oklahoma and the New York native decided to forego another season to enter the NBA Draft. In his three NCAA tournament games, Flynn averaged 16.3 points and 6.6 assists per game while rising his stock on the national stage.
"Player moment was when we knew that we were going to the sweet 16. I don’t know, it was just a special feeling after missing the tournament the year before that everybody at Syracuse was happy after winning the Arizona State game, the clock was winding down and we knew we were going to the sweet 16 it was big time. Growing up Hakeem Warrick blocking the shot in the Kansas game of the national championship game in 2003; that’s something that has been etched into my mind and made me want to go to Syracuse right away, when I was watching them make that run in the tournament that year with Carmello. That was my moment as a player and a fan right there."
Wayne Ellington, University of North Carolina
On the biggest stage, Wayne Ellington delivered a gigantic performance with three long bombs and 17 of his 19 points in the first half to help North Carolina crush Michigan State for the National Championship. The Final Four Most Outstanding Player shined brightly as part of one of the most talented teams in NCAA history. Spartans guard Travis Walton touted himself as the Ellington-stopper prior to the contest but the UNC sharpshooter got the last laugh by drilling 7-for-12 from the floor. An emotional Ellington finished a spectacular career at North Carolina, which led to the Wolves selecting him in the first round of the 2009 Draft.
"It was a great honor; hard work pays off. I struggled a little earlier in the season and got it going and just continued to work really hard and stayed confident and it brought back my game and you know, it all paid off in the end."
Lazar Hayward, Marquette
Appropriately nicknamed "Money Man" at Marquette, Hayward was money in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in 2009. Hayward scored the Golden Eagles first 10 points of a tight contest against Utah State and helped his squad survive a 14-point deficit. With six seconds remaining in the game, the versatile guard / forward sunk a clutch free throw to lift Marquette to a 58-57 narrow victory. Hayward finished with a game-high 26 points and shot a solid 64 percent from the floor along with eight rebounds. Oddly enough, Marquette played a similar back-and-forth battle against Washington the following season in the first round. Unfortunately for Hayward's last college game, the Golden Eagles could not overcome a late run from the Huskies and fell 80-78 in the same 6-11 matchup from the previous year. Again, Hayward was solid with 20 points and four steals in the losing effort but he increased his draft stock to earn the No. 30 overall pick for the Wizards before being trade to Minnesota on draft night.
"Wonderful, you know we (Marquette) went to the tournament every year throughout my college career. We didn't make it very, very far, but we had some good runs and ran into some really good teams. March Madness is just a crazy, crazy time - I guess it would be similar to NBA playoffs and playing in all those arenas with all of those fans, just having everything on the line and knowing everyone is watching. It's just a really, really good feeling, because it's what we all work for."
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