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NCAA Tournament: N.C. State Shocks No.1-Seed Villanova

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. March Madness, we have lift off. Last night brought the first major upset of the tournament. A No. 1 seed went down. Eighth seeded North Carolina State's 71 to 68 win over No. 1 Villa Nova gave the NCAA tournament the kind of jolt hoops fans love and also hate since the results shredded more than a few office pool brackets. There was another surprise, though, out west from a surprising team. It happened at the tournament site in Portland, Ore. And NPR's Tom Goldman was there.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: A five seed over a four isn't exactly a stop-the-presses March Madness upset until you consider how far the fifth seeded Utah Utes have come in a very short time. More on that in a moment. First, let's go courtside for a taste of the intensity that has made the tournament the best sports show in town this opening week, whether that town's Jacksonville, Pittsburgh or Portland.

(SOUNDBITE OF BASKETBALL GAME)

GOLDMAN: Tied at half-time, Utah and No. 4 seed Georgetown were locked in a tight battle late in the game. That Utes had a four-point lead with a little over 2 1/2 minutes left when junior guard Brandon Taylor hit a long three-point shot. And that pretty much was it. Georgetown never seriously threatened after that. And Utah won 75-64. Watching the 5-foot-10 Taylor rise and effortlessly stroke that three-pointer, you'd never guess that, at times, he's a bundle of basketball nerves.

BRANDON TAYLOR: Sometimes I kind of get in my head a little bit. And if the first shot or the first two shots don't go in, I tend to psych myself out and start thinking about the next shots and probably going to miss that next shot and then start shooting myself out of the game, you know. And I don't think I did that this game.

GOLDMAN: Watching the Utes calmly take control of this rugged game when it mattered most, you might also never guess Utah won a grand total of six games in an entire season just four years ago. That was the first season under a new head coach, former nine-year NBA player Larry Krystkowiak. And it was the first season of Krystkowiak's grinded out philosophy of coaching and life.

LARRY KRYSTKOWIAK: I've always said you kind of take care of whatever list is on your desk that particular day. You try to fix what's broken. And you wake up the next morning, and you do it again, and you do it again. And then after 1,400 days, you hope that the graph is trending upward, and you're in a position to make some improvement.

GOLDMAN: Krystkowiak says he's always lived that way and avoided setting lofty goals.

KRYSTKOWIAK: I never dreamed of playing in the NBA. I never once talked about it or thought about it until I was there. It was just - I got to figure out a way to get a little bit better each day. And I think our kids have really latched on to that concept. And now we look around, it's like pinch me.

GOLDMAN: Krystkowiak's upward-trending graph has taken the Utes from that 6 and 25 season four years ago to 15 and 18 the next year, 21 and 12 last year, and now - pinch them - the sweet 16 where the opponent very well could be No. 1 seed Duke led by the legendary Coach K, Mike Krzyzewski. Larry Krystkowiak sometimes is called the other Coach K. Krystkowiak isn't close to Krzyzewski's gaudy record of more than 1,000 college wins. But the Utah Utes are more than happy with the guy they've got who has his team working every day and finally winning. Tom Goldman, NPR News, Portland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.