There's no relaxation for Bisons

Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen stayed up Monday morning until 4 watching video of UConn's Big East tournament games.

Talk about scary stuff.

"Nightmares," Paulsen said Monday. "Obviously, they're playing at a really, really high level. They've got one of the absolute best players in the country in Kemba Walker."

Fourteen-seeded Bucknell (25-9) faces a daunting challenge against third-seeded UConn (26-9) Thursday (7:20 p.m., TNT) the NCAA West Region second round at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. The Huskies capped an amazing stretch of five games in five days by capturing the Big East tournament championship Saturday.

The Bisons are sizzling, too. They've won 19 of 20 games, including 10 in a row, and won the Patriot League regular season and conference titles.

"I do think we're one of the hottest teams in the nation," said Bucknell sophomore Mike Muscala, the Patriot League Player of the Year. "Right now we're playing great team ball, both defensively and offensively. I'm excited to see what we can do."

A major turning point in Bucknell's season came after opening the regular season visiting two Big East teams. The Bisons lost both games - 68-52 to Villanova and 72-61 to Marquette - but came away feeling better about their status and gained valuable experience. Against Marquette, they led by 10 points midway through the second half before Marquette's athleticism and inside strength wore down the Bisons.

"When we played Villanova and two days later we played Marquette, we weren't quite certain if we belonged," Paulsen said. "We were hoping maybe we did. We were hoping that we could compete. At this point, we feel like we belong."

Bucknell ripped through its conference season with a 13-1 record, stumbling only to Army Jan. 29, but hasn't lost since. They avenged that loss in the conference tournament quarterfinals and then beat Lafayette, 72-57, in the final behind Muscala, a 6-foot-11, 232-pound center.

The Bisons lean heavily on defense, holding opponents to 39 percent from the field and 63.4 points per game. On the offensive end, they can go inside to Muscala (14.9 points) or outside to sophomore Bryce Johnson (11.7 ppg.), who shoots 45.9 percent from 3-point line. They make their free throws (78.6) and rank among the national leaders in fewest turnovers per game (11.4).

"We've been a team that doesn't beat ourselves," Paulsen said. "We've been solid and steady and have the mindset that teams have to play great to beat us."

The program has history of NCAA tournament upsets. As a No. 14 seed, Bucknell shocked No. 3 Kansas, 64-63, in a 2005 first-round game. In 2006, the No. 9 Bisons defeated No. 8 Arkansas, 59-55.

This is Paulsen's first trip as a Division I head coach to the NCAA tournament, but he led Williams College to a Division III national championship in 2003. He's revived the Bucknell program after going 21-40 in his first two seasons.

"We want to create our own legacy," Paulsen said. "As soon as we beat Lafayette to win the Patriot League championship, we put it right out there that every guy on our team and every coach on our staff is at Bucknell because of that team that beat Kansas and the team that beat Arkansas."

g.keefe@theday.com

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NCAA TV SCHEDULE
FIRST ROUND
Today
6:40 p.m., truTV
— UNC Asheville vs. Ark.-Little Rock
9:10 p.m., truTV — UAB vs. Clemson Wednesday
6:40 p.m., truTV — Texas-San Antonio vs. Alabama State
9:10 p.m., truTV — Southern Cal vs. Virginia Commonwealth

SECOND ROUND
Thursday
12:15 p.m., Chs. 3, 12
— West Virginia vs. UABClemson winner
12:40 p.m., truTV — Butler vs. Old Dominion
1:40 p.m., TBS — Louisville vs. Morehead State
2:10 p.m., TNT — Temple vs. Penn State
2:45 p.m., Chs. 3, 12 — Kentucky vs. Princeton
3:10 p.m., truTV — Pittsburgh vs. UNC Asheville-Ark.-Little Rock winner
4:10 p.m., TBS — Vanderbilt vs. Richmond
4:40 p.m., TNT — San Diego State vs. Northern Colorado
6:50 p.m., TBS — Florida vs. UC Santa Barbara
7:15 p.m., Chs. 3, 12 — BYU vs. Wofford
7:20 p.m., TNT — UConn vs. Bucknell
7:27 p.m., truTV — Wisconsin vs. Belmont
9:20 p.m., TBS — UCLA vs. Michigan State
9:45 p.m., Chs. 3, 12 — St. John's vs. Gonzaga
9:50 p.m., TNT — Cincinnati vs. Missouri
9:57 p.m., truTV — Kansas State vs. Utah State
Friday
12:15 p.m., Chs. 3, 12
— Texas vs. Oakland (Mich.)
12:40 p.m., truTV — Michigan vs. Tennessee
1:40 p.m., TBS — Notre Dame vs. Akron
2:10 p.m., TNT — George Mason vs. Villanova
2:45 p.m., Chs. 3, 12 — Arizona vs. Memphis
3:10 p.m., truTV — Duke vs. Hampton
4:10 p.m., TBS — Texas A&M vs. Florida State
4:40 p.m., TNT — Ohio State vs. Texas-San Antonio-Alabama State winner
6:50 p.m., TBS — Kansas vs. Boston University
7:15 p.m., Chs. 3, 12 — North Carolina vs. Long Island
7:20 p.m., TNT — Purdue vs. Saint Peter's
7:27 p.m., truTV — Xavier vs. Marquette
9:20 p.m., TBS — UNLV vs. Illinois
9:45 p.m., Chs. 3, 12 — Washington vs. Georgia
9:50 p.m., TNT — Georgetown vs. USC-VCU winner
9:57 p.m., truTV — Syracuse vs. Indiana State

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