Saturday, March 18, 2006

Braves take win in stride


— There were no mosh pits of Bradley basketball players late Friday night, no water cooler dumped on coach Jim Les under the seats of The Palace of Auburn Hills.

Not in this locker room.

Not with this team.

If you thought the 13th-seeded Bradley Braves felt they shocked the world with a 77-73 victory over fourth-seeded Kansas University : well, you're mistaken.

"I thought we had more jubilation out on the floor, with our guys recognizing our great fans," Les said. "In the locker room, it was pretty subdued and business-as-usual. They understand that we want to be proud of the work we put forth, but there's still work to be done."

Bradley didn't look like an ordinary 13 seed - or an ordinary Bradley team, for that matter. In three Missouri Valley Conference tournament games two weeks ago, the Braves were 9-of-56 shooting from three-point range.

Friday, they were 11-of-21. The most amazing came from reserve guard Will Franklin, who nailed a 26-foot bank shot as time expired in the first half, putting Bradley up 37-27.

"I knew it was going in," guard Tony Bennett said. "It just gave us a whole lot of momentum. It gave us a boost of energy and made us want to go out and attack."

Kansas made its anticipated run in the final 10 minutes of the game, but the Jayhawks did so with the wind knocked out of them. No Jayhawk could discredit what Franklin's trey off the glass did to the team's psyche. It took almost half of the second half to recover, and, already down double digits, Kansas couldn't afford the time.

"It was definitely," KU guard Russell Robinson said, "a punch in the stomach."

Three Bradley players approached the media afterward, and none sported a smile. It was almost easy to forget the disparity between the two teams' seedings, simple to slip up when remembering who was supposed to win this game.

"Not really," BU center Patrick O'Bryant said with a stone face, asked if he felt Friday's game was an upset. "This is two good teams playing, and I think we came out the better team."

It wasn't lost on Bradley's fans, though. Friday's victory was the first by Bradley in the NCAA Tournament since 1986, and a charged section of supporters across from Bradley's bench let loose.

"I think there's a lot of Bradley fans, there's a lot of people who are part of the tradition of this program who are smiling tonight," said Les, himself a former BU player. "It's fun to be a part of putting that smile on their face."


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