Kentucky stops perfection

DAVE SKRETTAAP Sports Writer Published:

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- John Calipari stood frozen on the Kentucky sideline. Every player on the Wichita State bench held his breath. Everything seemed to stop inside the Scottrade Center as Fred VanVleet let loose with a 3-pointer that could have kept the Shockers perfect.

When it bounced harmlessly off the rim, everything was set in motion once again.

Calipari spontaneously leaped into the air, bad hip and all, as the eighth-seeded Wildcats poured off their bench to celebrate their 78-76 victory over the Midwest Region's top seed.

The boys from Wichita State slumped to their seats, their faces buried in their jerseys.

"I've been doing this so long. I've been in wars," Calipari said later. "You all understand this was an Elite Eight game. The winner of this should have gone to the Final Four."

It certainly had that kind of drama.

Andrew Harrison had 20 points, Aaron Harrison had 19 and Julius Randle contributed 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Wildcats (26-10), who advanced to play bitter rival Louisville on Friday in Indianapolis, at long last looking like the preseason No. 1 team in the country.

Cleanthony Early scored 31 points and Ron Baker had 20 for the Shockers (35-1), who hadn't lost since last year's Final Four while taking an entire city -- and state -- on quite a ride.

"You're going to go through some humps in your life, kind of like this one. It's tough to see us go out like this," Baker said. "At the end of the day, someone's got to go home."

The showdown Sunday matched the bluest of the blue-bloods, the most successful program in Division I history with eight national titles, against a gritty bunch upstarts from Wichita State that was trying to become the first team to finish off a perfect season since Indiana in 1976.

The game went back and forth the entire way, Kentucky finally taking a 73-71 lead when James Young knocked down a 3-pointer with less than 2 minutes to go. Early answered with a basket for Wichita State, and Andrew Harrison made two free throws for Kentucky. Baker banked in a 3 for the Shockers, and Randle made two more foul shots for the Wildcats.

"Both teams were making plays," Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said later, his voice sounding tired. "Back and forth, back and forth."

Early's two free throws with 9.8 seconds left got the Shockers within 77-76, and they got their chance to add another chapter to their miraculous story when Andrew Harrison made the second of two free throws and Early pulled down the rebound.

VanVleet raced up court and called timeout with 3.2 seconds left.

Marshall drew up a play that had Tekele Cotton inbounding the ball to VanVleet, and after a couple dribbles he took a shot from the top of the key. But it was wide the entire way, clanking off the rim and sending the Wildcats pouring onto the court to celebrate.

"We just felt so good beating a great team," said Andrew Harrison, who considered sitting the game out after hurting his elbow in a second-round win over Kansas State. "It shows how much work we've put in, how much we're getting better."

Kentucky was successful early using its superior size, not only in the paint but also on the perimeter, where the 6-foot-6 Harrison twins dwarfed the 5-11 VanVleet. But after the Wildcats took a 19-15 lead midway through the half, Wichita State ramped up its trademark defense, forcing a series of turnovers and getting right back in the game.

VanVleet was the catalyst. On one sequence late in the half, he stripped Aaron Harrison and hit Early in transition, and he was fouled slamming over 7-foot Willie Cauley-Stein. Early made the free throw as the Shockers built a 37-31 lead at the half.

"I just feel like I'm always there when my team needs me," said Early, who was the breakout star of the Shockers' Final Four run a year ago. "We feed off each other in positive ways."

Early hit another 3-pointer right out of the locker room to match the Shockers' biggest lead at 40-31. But VanVleet picked up his third foul moments later, and Kentucky took advantage of the Shockers missing their floor general by gradually pulling ahead.

"I would have liked to have been a little more aggressive," VanVleet said. "We had to switch some matchups at the end because of my foul trouble. It's hard to play like that."

The game remained a back-and-forth prizefight the rest of the way, neither team leading by more than five, each answering the other with clutch 3-pointers and pressure-filled free throws.

It only made sense that the game would come down to the final possession.

"I feel for their team and I feel for their coach," Calipari said. "I'm happy we won. I'm happy for our guys. And I'm disappointed, because they had a heck of a run."

SOUTH REGION

STANFORD 60, KANSAS 57

ST. LOUIS -- Dwight Powell had 15 points and seven rebounds and No. 10 seed Stanford wrapped up its second straight upset at the free throw line, knocking off No. 2 Kansas 60-57 in the South Regional.

Chasson Randle added 13 points, six steals and four assists for the Cardinal (23-12), who advanced to the round of 16 for the first time since 2008 -- also their last NCAA appearance. They beat No. 7 seed New Mexico on Friday.

Stanford will play 11th-seeded Dayton, which beat No. 3 Syracuse 55-53, in the round of 16 in Memphis, Tenn.

Freshman Andrew Wiggins had just four points on 1-for-6 shooting with four turnovers in his final college game for Kansas (25-10). Wiggins is a likely NBA lottery pick and had averaged 28 points the previous four games.

Kansas is the second No. 2 seed to be eliminated. Villanova lost 77-65 to seventh-seeded Connecticut in the East Regional.

Tarik Black had 18 points and six rebounds for the Jayhawks, but he fouled out with 5:25 to go. Conner Frankamp had 12 points on four 3-pointers, the last two in the final 23 seconds to make it close after Stanford had pulled ahead by seven.

Stanford was 9 for 12 at the free throw line over the final 2:04 and needed all those points. Frankamp's second 3-pointer narrowed the gap to 59-57 with 14.9 seconds left.

Anthony Brown hit just one of two free throws with 12.9 seconds and Frankamp banged a third 3-point attempt off the glass near the buzzer in a bid to tie it.

Kansas went to a full-court press down five points with about 11 minutes to play and forced five turnovers the next 6 minutes to tie it

Kansas had been 0 for 10 from 3-point range for the tournament, seven of the misses against Eastern Kentucky, before Frankamp connected with 3:34 to go in the half.

Frankamp hit another one just before the halftime buzzer off a turnover to put the Jayhawks up 24-22, their first lead of the game with both teams shooting just 32 percent. They trailed most of the first half against Eastern Kentucky, too, before pulling away for an 80-69 victory.

Powell hit his first shot on a drive after going 0 for 8 against New Mexico on Friday. He had 10 points before drawing his fourth foul early in the second half.

UCLA 77, STEPHEN F. AUSTIN 60

SAN DIEGO -- Jordan Adams scored 19 points and UCLA reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008.

The fourth-seeded Bruins (28-8) will play Florida, the tournament's overall top seed, in the South Regional semifinals on Thursday in Memphis. First-year coach Steve Alford has won as many NCAA tournament games in three days as the Bruins had in the previous five seasons combined.

Alford replaced Ben Howland, who was fired a year ago after the Bruins lost to Minnesota in their NCAA tournament opener. This is UCLA's first trip to the regionals since Howland got the Bruins to their third straight Final Four in 2008.

Stephen F. Austin (32-3), the No. 12 seed, had its 29-game winning streak snapped. The Lumberjacks hadn't lost in exactly four months.

Florida beat UCLA in the national championship game in 2006 and again in the national semifinals the following season.

EAST REGION

IOWA ST. 85, NORTH CAROLINA 83

SAN ANTONIO -- DeAndre Kane drove for the game-winning layup with 1.6 seconds left and No. 3 seed Iowa State advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2000.

The Cyclones (28-7) head to Madison Square Garden next week to face No. 7 seed Connecticut in the East Regional semifinals.

The Tar Heels (24-10) are gone in the NCAA tournament's opening weekend for the first time in consecutive seasons under coach Roy Williams.

North Carolina's Nate Britt raced the ball up court after Kane's basket, but time expired before he could reach halfcourt and call a timeout. Officials huddled for several minutes reviewing clock replays before ruling the game was over.

Marcus Paige led the Tar Heels with 19 points.

VIRGINIA 78, MEMPHIS 60

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Joe Harris scored 16 points and top-seeded Virginia shot 56 percent, earning its first trip to the NCAA tournament round of 16 in nearly two decades.

Anthony Gill added 13 points for the Cavaliers (30-6), who turned in a dominating performance while controlling the tempo and shutting down the eighth-seeded Tigers (24-10) at nearly every turn.

Virginia led by 15 at halftime and pushed that to 27 points late, picking right up where it left off in its strong finish to Friday's tournament-opening win against Coastal Carolina.

In what has already been the program's most successful season in decades, Virginia added another milestone: its first regional semifinal appearance since making it to a regional final in 1995. And the Cavaliers, carrying a No. 1 seed for the first time since the days of Ralph Sampson, look ready to go even farther.

MIDWEST REGION

TENNESSEE 83, MERCER 63

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Jarnell Stokes had 17 points and a career-high-tying 18 rebounds, and Tennessee denied Mercer a second straight upset in the NCAA tournament.

Josh Richardson had a career-high 26 points and Antonio Barton added 18 for the 11th-seeded Vols (24-12), who outrebounded Mercer 41-19 and kept the Southeastern Conference perfect in the tournament.

They joined Florida and Kentucky in the round of 16 -- the first time three SEC teams made it that far since 2007.

Tennessee will face second-seeded Michigan (27-8) in a Midwest Regional semifinal Friday night in Indianapolis.

Langston Hall had 15 points to lead the 14th-seeded Bears (27-9), who beat Duke in the signature upset of the tournament but couldn't answer Tennessee's size.

WEST REGION

BAYLOR 85, CREIGHTON 55

SAN ANTONIO -- Isaiah Austin and Brady Heslip each scored 17 points and Baylor shut down Creighton's Doug McDermott with suffocating defense, ending the career of the one of the most prolific scorers in college history.

Baylor's size and speed overwhelmed the third-seeded Bluejays (27-8) and their national scoring leader, earning a third trip to the Sweet 16 since 2010.

McDermott, who averaged 27 points this season, finished with 15 but had just three in the first half as Baylor built a 20-point lead. McDermott ranks fifth on the NCAA career scoring list.

No. 6 seed Baylor (26-11) had five players score in double figures and shot 64 percent in one of the dominant performances of the NCAA tournament. The Bears advance to play Wisconsin in the West Regional semifinals.

ARIZONA 84, GONZAGA 61

SAN DIEGO -- Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson scored 18 points each, and Arizona looked every bit the No. 1 seed in the West.

After four days of upsets and buzzer beaters, Arizona (32-4) closed out the NCAA tournament's first weekend with a display of domination.

The Wildcats harassed the eighth-seeded Bulldogs (29-7) into 21 turnovers -- 15 on steals -- that led to 31 points.

Arizona led by 21 in the first half and continued to work over Gonzaga to earn its third trip to the Sweet 16 in four years.

Up next for the Wildcats is a trip up the coast to Anaheim, where they'll meet San Diego State, a team they beat in this same arena early in the season.

Przemek Karnowski scored 14 points and Kevin Pangos added 12 for Gonzaga.

LATE SATURDAY

WISCONSIN 85, OREGON 77

MILWAUKEE -- Ben Brust hit a 3-pointer with 1:07 left and second-seeded Wisconsin overcame seventh-seeded Oregon for a thrilling 85-77 win Saturday night to get into the Sweet 16.

Brust's clutch 3 from the corner gave the Badgers (28-7) the lead for good in a heavyweight fight of an NCAA tournament game.

Traevon Jackson followed with three free throws, but missed one with 21 seconds left to give the Ducks (24-10) one more chance to tie trailing by three.

Oregon gave it to Joseph Young, who had made big shots all night and scored 29 points. But he missed a rushed 3 from the wing, and the Badgers sealed it at the foul line.

An arena filled with Wisconsin fans erupted into a deafening roar.

MICHIGAN STATE 80, HARVARD 73

SPOKANE, Wash. -- For 18 seconds, it was happening. Harvard owned basketball, too.

Laurent Rivard made a 3-pointer from the corner, flashed his 3-point goggles toward an unhinged group of Crimson fans and ran down the court. The Ivy Leaguers had overcome a 16-point deficit to take a two-point lead over a Michigan State team that always comes up big at March Madness.

The next time down the court, Travis Trice came back with a 3 to put the Spartans back in the lead. A few minutes later, Michigan State was out of danger -- not by much, though -- on the way to an 80-73 victory that put basketball back in a more familiar, but arguably less-scintillating orbit.

CONNECTICUT 77, VILLANOVA 65

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- In a span of three days, Shabazz Napier and Connecticut knocked out both Philadelphia schools in the NCAA tournament.

Now, the seventh-seeded Huskies are off to the East Regional semifinals in New York City to see how much more bracket busting they can do a year after being barred from the postseason because of academic sanctions.

Napier scored 25 points in leading UConn.

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