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Archive for Monday, March 13, 2006

Bradley breathes easily

KU’s first foe happy to be tapped

March 13, 2006

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A bubble team from a mid-major seeking an at-large bid? Cue the sweat glands.

"First thing was relief," Bradley coach Jim Les said after learning his team received an NCAA Tournament bid Sunday. "Extreme amount of relief. It was a long day, and I thought it would get better as it got closer. It actually got worse."

His players constantly surfed the Internet for mock brackets during Bradley's idle week, while Les pressed for assurance from his sports-information director. In the end, the Braves indeed snagged a bid, taking the 13 seed in the Oakland (Calif.) regional.

A date with fourth-seeded Kansas University awaits Friday in Auburn Hills, Mich., and Les insists the Jayhawks aren't going to sneak up on his team.

"I'm a big Bill Self fan and enjoy watching his teams play," Les said of KU's third-year coach. "I've probably seen too much of (KU), because I know full well, and I've watched them grow up as the year's gone by. That's an awfully good basketball team."

Bradley, located in Peoria, Ill., is 20-10 on the year, but, like Kansas, has improved significantly as the season progressed. At one point, the Braves were 8-6 overall and 2-4 in the Missouri Valley Conference. They finished the season winning 11 of 14, including a run into the championship game of the MVC Tournament on March 5 that likely clinched their Big Dance bid.

"I was never truly confident," Les said of Bradley's chances. "I kind of felt good about our resume, and the more information Bobby (Parker, SID) fed me, the more confident I was trying to become."

Bradley is led by three-time All-MVC forward Marcellus Sommerville, a 6-foot-7 Peoria native who averages 15.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. Center Patrick O'Bryant, a 7-foot sophomore out of Minnesota, has averaged 13.2 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game.

Sommerville, a senior, is closing in on 1,500 career points, and a lot of those came three at a time: He's the team's leading three-point shooter, hitting 52 on the season.

The Braves are in their first tournament since 1996. They haven't won in the NCAAs in 20 years, but they do have a victory against KU in the Big Dance. It was back in 1950, the first of two national runner-up finishes the program had.

Now, with the glory years fading and a decade passing between appearances, Bradley is back again, ready to waltz.

"It's something that has taken a lot of work," Les said, "but it was certainly worth every ounce of sweat dropped by a lot of people."

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