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NCAA Elite Eight 2010: Separating The Contenders From Pretenders

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Half of the Final Four is set, and anybody who predicted it could be making a fortune.

Fifth-seeded Butler knocked off No. 1 seed Syracuse before upending second-seeded Kansas State on Saturday night, punching a ticket back home to Indianapolis. It will be the first time the Horizon League champions have ever played in the national semifinals.

Joining them at Lucas Oil Stadium will be second-seeded West Virginia, which is in the Final Four for the first time since 1959, when the Mountaineers lost to California in the title game. They beat Missouri and Washington this time before ousting top-seeded Kentucky.

The other two teams will be decided Sunday.

First up will be fifth-seeded Michigan State and Tom Izzo, one of the best tournament coaches in the country, taking on No. 6 seed Tennessee – the last two left standing from a region that once included overall No. 1 seed Kansas and second-seeded Ohio State.

They'll be followed by Duke, the only top seed still alive, against a Baylor team that has been on the road toward redemption ever since Scott Drew sailed into Waco.

March Madness has lived up to its name, and there's only a handful of games left before the national champion is crowned April 5. How much more can these teams take?

We'll soon find out.


Da'Sean Butler scored 18 points, Joe Mazzulla had the best game of his career and second-seeded West Virginia knocked off No. 1 seed Kentucky 73-66 to earn a spot in the Final Four.

Mazzulla had a career-high 17 points before fouling out for the Mountaineers, who haven't been in the national semifinals in 51 years. That Jerry West-led team in 1959 lost to Cal during its trip to the Final Four, but now Bob Huggins has West Virginia back in the spotlight.

Kevin Jones and Devin Ebanks also had big games for the Mountaineers, offensively and with their defense, helping to hold Kentucky to an atrocious 4-of-32 shooting performance from beyond the arc.

The Wildcats weren't much better without anybody in their face; they went 16 of 29 from the foul line, too.

John Wall had 19 points, nine rebounds, five assists and four steals before fouling out in what might very well be the final game of the freshman's career. He's expected to be a lottery pick if he chooses to declare for the NBA draft, which just about everyone expects.


West Virginia can't quite put this one away because it can't hit a foul shot. John Flowers just missed a pair – he's a 48-percent free-throw shooter – and Patrick Patterson hit a pair for Kentucky to make it a 69-63 game.

John West has checked in for the Mountaineers. He's the son of Jerry West and a good free-throw shooter, just like pops, but he's only played in 17 games all season.


John Wall has just fouled out after 19 points, nine rebounds and five assists.

Will it be the last time Wildcat fans seem him in their jersey?


West Virginia is beginning to feel it.

Kentucky had a chance to cut the lead to six, but missed two straight 3s – what else is new? – and Wellington Smith made three of four free throws for West Virginia.

Not bad for a 58.1-percent foul shooter.

John Wall banged in a 3-pointer off the glass, but Kentucky still trails 68-61 with 1:19 left. The Mountaineers are not a good free-throw shooting team, and they might very well be just starting a parade to the line.



DeAndre Liggins, of all people, finally hit a 3-pointer for Kentucky with just over 3 minutes remaining, although the Wildcats still trail by double figures.

It's become sloppy show on the court in the Carrier Dome, with a plethora of turnovers and ugly shots in the final few minutes. Bob Huggins was furious at West Virginia's ballhandling, but the Mountaineers got bailed out by Eric Bledsoe.

The Kentucky guard missed another foul shot, and is 1 of 6 for the game.


Kentucky is beginning to get desperate.

The Wildcats are now 0 for 20 from beyond the arc, and can't even get a three-point play conventional style. Freshman forward DeMarcus Cousins had a chance moments ago after scoring inside, but he missed the free throw.

The last time Kentucky didn't hit a 3-pointer was Nov. 26, 1988.

That's only part of the problem, though. The Wildcats are also an abysmal 11 of 23 from the foul line, including an 0 for 4 mark by Eric Bledsoe, normally a 70-percent foul shooter. John Wall is just 4 of 8 from the freebie line.

We're under 4 minutes left in Syracuse, and West Virginia still leads 61-49.


Darius Miller is having a night to forget for Kentucky, missing all five of his field goal tries, including three from beyond the arc. And he just missed a couple of free throws that would have trimmed the lead back to single digits with 6 1/2 minutes left.

Also struggling for the Wildcats is DeAndre Liggins, who is 1 for 5 from the field, and John Wall, who has been shut down after scoring eight early points. He is 5-of-14 shooting.

Think that Bob Huggins 1-3-1 zone defense has anything to do with it?


Clang, clang, clang. That's the sound of Kentucky's 3-point shooting.

The Wildcats are now 0 for 17 from beyond the arc, although Eric Bledsoe and John Wall hit consecutive baskets and DeMarcus Cousins made one of two free throws to make it 51-43.

Joe Mazzulla scored on a nifty reverse layup, though, giving him a career-high 16 points to keep the Mountaineers' lead in double digits with 7:30 left in the East Regional final.


West Virginia coach Bob Huggins just called a timeout with his team leading 49-42.

The Mountaineers have cooled off from the perimeter, where they're still 10 of 22, but that's only because they've been getting some wide open lanes to the basket.

Kentucky, meanwhile, still can't hit from the perimeter. The Wildcats are 0 for 16 on 3-point attempts and fell behind 49-38, before a brief flurry made it a seven-point game.

West Virginia leads 18-3 in points off turnovers.


Most fans have forgotten about Joe Mazzulla, easy to do when you miss half a year because of a shoulder injury that required surgery, then averaged only 2.2 points the next season.

They've forgotten, for instance, that Mazzulla had 13 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists when West Virginia upset Duke in the 2008 NCAA tournament. Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski said he was the difference in that game.

Well, the son of a basketball coach has been the difference against Kentucky, too.

Mazzulla has a season-high 12 points on 4 of 9 shooting, most of them coming on wide open drives to the basket. Clearly he wasn't very high on the scouting report put together by Kentucky coach John Calipari.


Most fans have forgotten about Joe Mazzulla, easy to do when you miss half a year because of a shoulder injury that required surgery, then averaged only 2.2 points the next season.

They've forgotten, for instance, that Mazzulla had 13 points, 11 rebounds and eight asssists when West Virginia upset Duke in the 200


Eric Bledsoe is on the bench with four fouls and 12 1/2 minutes to go, depriving Kentucky of one of its best outside shooters – all the more important considering the Wildcats are 0 for 13 from beyond the arc.

Joe Mazzulla has surpassed his season-high with 12 points for West Virginia, six times his season average, and he's done a nice job distributing the ball. He helped rotate it to John Flowers and then Devin Ebanks for an easy layup that restored the lead to 43-36.

Mazzulla then made a couple of foul shots and a layup to make it a double-digit lead.


DeMarcus Cousins is getting frustrated.

The Kentucky freshman got whistled for a foul early in the second half when he swiped at the ball and hit Da'Sean Butler in the groin. He checked out of the game and came back in, only to get stuffed at the offensive end by the Mountaineers' Kevin Jones. Cousins got trampled under the basket on Kentucky's ensuing possession, falling to the floor on the baseline, then was slow getting up as West Virginia got an easy 5-on-4 transition basket from Joe Mazzulla to make it 40-31 with 14 1/2 minutes left.

Cousins is 5 of 10 from the field for a team-high 10 points, but he also has three fouls.


Kevin Jones kept the 3-point shooting run going early in the second half for West Virginia, hitting 50 seconds in to make the Mountaineers 9 for 16 from beyond the arc.

They were still 0-for-everything from 2-point range. The last team not to score a field goal from inside the arc in any half was Marquette in the 2007 tournament.

Joe Mazzulla finally broke the two-point slump with a drive to the basket, giving West Virginia a 33-26 lead. But you didn't really think that would last, did you?

John Flowers came back after yet another Kentucky turnover and hit yet another 3-pointer for the Mountaineers, giving them a 36-26 lead – their biggest of the game. They're now 10 of 17 from beyond the arc, against 1 for 17 from inside it.

Da'Sean Butler took a hand to the groin a few minutes ago from DeMarcus Cousins, although it didn't look like it was on purpose. Cousins immediately checked out of the game, however.


The two men's regional finals aren't the only college basketball games going on Saturday.

Over in the women's NCAA tournament, fourth-seeded Baylor and star Brittney Griner knocked off top-seeded Tennessee 77-62 to prevent a potential grudge match between the Lady Vols and Connecticut. Second-seeded Duke rolled to a 66-58 win over San Diego State in the round of 16, while No. 1 seed Stanford plays Georgia and third-seeded Xavier faces Gonzaga later.

UConn will try to keep rolling during one of the most dominant seasons in history – regardless of the sport – when it plays Iowa State on Sunday. Fellow top seed Nebraska plays Kentucky, second-seeded Notre Dame plays Oklahoma, and third-seeded Florida State plays Mississippi State in the other regional semifinals.


Perimeter shooting has trumped post play after 20 minutes – just barely.

West Virginia has hit eight 3-pointers but missed all 16 of its shots from inside the arc, and is clinging to a 28-26 lead over top-seeded Kentucky in the East Regional final.

Da'Sean Butler has hit 4 of 5 from beyond the arc and is 3 for 3 from the foul line to lead the way with 15 points. Kevin Jones also has a pair of 3s and has scored seven points.

Kentucky is countering the deep shooting with the powerful inside duo of Patrick Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins, and the quickness of guard John Wall getting to the basket. The Wildcats are 0 for 8 from beyond the arc but 10 of 20 from 2-point territory, and pounded the boards in building a 25-12 rebounding advantage.

Wall has eight points, seven rebounds and six assists, but he also has three of the Wildcats' 10 turnovers. West Virginia has only three turnovers.

Twenty minutes left. Will it be the Big East tournament champions or the Southeastern Conference tournament champ joining Butler in the Final Four?


Curtis Shaw may be having the worst first half of anybody on the court in Syracuse.

The referee blew a backcourt violation on Kentucky guard John Wall earlier in the half, and Wall promptly hit a deep jumper. Then a moment ago, Shaw missed a clear traveling call on West Virginia, and called a quick technical foul on Kentucky's DeAndre Liggins.

Officials are virtually invisible when they're doing their job well. Shaw has been anything but invisible in the first half.


West Virginia has hit four straight 3-pointers and has seven for the game, accounting for all its points against Kentucky. Until a moment ago, the Wildcats had turned the ball over on five of their last six possessions.

It's not as if West Virginia is a good team from beyond the arc, either. It hit just 33 percent of its shots from there this season, tied for ninth in the Big East.

Da'Sean Butler has three of the 3-pointers, including two straight, the last forcing Kentucky coach John Calipari to call a timeout. The Carrier Dome crowd is leaning toward West Virginia, and it's getting loud for the Big East tournament champions.


West Virginia has no post presence against Kentucky, which has outscored the Mountaineers 12-0 in the paint. The Wildcats, by contrast, are 0 for 6 from beyond the arc.

Da'Sean Butler just hit a 3-pointer for West Virginia, his first points of the game, and the Mountaineers are 4 of 9 from beyond the arc and 0 for 9 from inside of it.

Strange game in the first half.


John Wall is showing he can play a little defense, too.

The Kentucky freshman just stuffed Joe Mazzulla on a drive to the basket, and West Virginia now has scored on only one of its last 17 possessions. The Mountaineers also have been doubled up in the rebounding category, 14-7, even though they've forced six Wildcat turnovers.

Wall might have a double-double by halftime. He has eight points and six boards already, and Kentucky leads 16-9 with about 7 minutes to go before the break.


Bob Huggins just called a timeout for no other reason then to complain to the officials.

John Wall tried to gather the ball coming around a screen and Joe Mazzulla poked it into the backcourt. The officials allowed Wall to grab the ball – it was a toss-up on whether it should be a backcourt violation – and the freshman guard came back to hit a deep jumper.

Clearly, Huggins didn't think the backcourt call was a toss-up.

Kentucky leads 16-9 and Wall has already done a little bit of everything. He has a team-high eight points, five rebounds and two assists to go with the Wildcats' only steal.


Without injured point guard Darryl Bryant, Joe Mazzulla might become a critical component for West Virginia if it wants to beat top-seeded Kentucky.

Ever since he hurt his right shoulder in December 2008, missing the rest of that season, the junior guard has struggled with his shot. Mazzulla had missed all six of his 3-point attempts this season coming into the East Regional finals, so Kentucky had been leaving him wide open around the perimeter.

Mazzulla averages only 2.2 points, but he just hit his first 3-pointer of the season to get the Mountaineers within 13-9. All of their baskets in the game, in fact, have been 3s.


Kentucky has been pretty good when it gets a shot off, but it has turned the ball over on four of its last five possessions. It's a wonder the Wildcats still lead 13-6.

The reason is that West Virginia has gone about 6 minutes without a basket, missing 10 straight shots after hitting a pair of early 3-pointers.


This might as well be an NBA tryout for Kentucky freshman sensation John Wall.

He converted a follow, fed fellow freshman DeMarcus Cousins for consecutive layups, then took a one-man break to the basket and converted the three-point play. A couple minutes later, Wall caused another turnover and was headed on another break when he stepped out of bounds.

John Calipari has compared Wall favorably to Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans, two guards who jumped to the pros early after successful stints at Memphis. ___

There's a lot at stake in the Kentucky-West Virginia game.

The Wildcats are trying to add an eighth national championship banner to Rupp Arena, while coach John Calipari is trying to reach a Final Four that counts – trips with Memphis and Massachusetts have been vacated by the NCAA.

The Mountaineers haven't been to the Final Four since 1951, while coach Bob Huggins hasn't been there since 1992, when he led Cincinnati to the national semifinals.

Calipari and Huggins are good friends, by the way. In fact, when Huggins had his heart attack, Calipari was one of the first to visit him in the hospital. And it was Calipari's nephew in the ambulance that transported Huggins there.


Kentucky wants to make West Virginia play at a quicker tempo, something Kansas State tried unsuccessfully to do against Butler. Just like in that game, the Mountaineers would love to see the winning score in the 60s.

The Wildcats have used a little token full-court press to speed things up – that, and the fact that West Virginia had 23 turnovers in its win over Washington. Remember, the Mountaineers are missing a good ballhandler in Darryl Bryant, who broke his right foot Tuesday.

West Virginia has hit a couple of outside shots and took an early 6-4 lead.


Da'Sean Butler's shooting hand looks just fine in Syracuse, where West Virginia and Kentucky soon will be trying to join Butler in the Final Four.

The West Virginia star clutched his right hand in pain after a hard fall in the Mountaineers' 69-56 win over Washington on Thursday night, and he had the hand and wrist wrapped in ice after Friday's practice as a precaution.

The East Regional final is the classic case of a thoroughbred in Kentucky – how apropos – facing a Clydesdale in West Virginia. Both teams play good defense, but the Mountaineers are far stingier, while the Wildcats have the ability to score points in bunches.

Kentucky has won its first three games in the NCAA tournament by an average of 25 points.

Big East tournament champion West Virginia, meanwhile, has held its last six opponents under 60 points, including Washington, Missouri and Morgan State in the NCAA tournament.

Something has to give.


Butler coach Brad Stevens, the guy with the choirboy looks, may have said it best after donning a hat proclaiming the Bulldogs' place in the Final Four: "We were going back to Indiana regardless, but we're going to wear these hats all the way home."

The contingent of Butler fans who made their way from Indianapolis to Salt Lake City chanted "Final Four!" and "Let's Go Home!" as the players put on their championship hats and T-shirts before cutting down the nets. They had flooded the court and were celebrating, with Stevens delivering a flying chest bump to one of his players, while Kansas State players trudged back to the locker room after one of the best seasons in school history.

One that ends in bitter disappointment.

"We just want to come out and defend, and focus on our job," Stevens said, "and these guys did a great job. We were just trying to stay with the two guards, every ball screen they set, we were going to trap them."

Those guards were Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente, who never seemed to be in the game for Kansas State. They combined for 32 points, about 20 fewer than they had against Xavier.

Butler got out to a 10-point lead in the second half, Kansas State responded with a run that gave them a brief – oh so brief – lead, before the Bulldogs put down the hammer in the final 5 minutes. Their nation-leading win streak now stands at 24 games.

And right now, there's nothing to believe it won't be 26 by the time next season starts.


Butler has earned a trip home for the Final Four.

Gordon Hayward made a driving layup with under a minute to go, and the fifth-seeded Bulldogs used the same tenacious defense they exhibited all game in the closing seconds to knock off second-seeded Kansas State 63-56 in the West Regional finals.

Hayward finished with 22 points to lead Butler, but the scoring was secondary to the defense, which caused trouble for Kansas State stars Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen all game.

Clemente finished with 18 points, all but two in the second half, but he missed a critical free throw in the closing seconds. Pullen was just 3 of 12 from the field and turned the ball over twice with the Wildcats behind by four and under 30 seconds left.

So the Horizon League school that practices at the same place they filmed the championship game in the movie "Hoosiers," Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, will have a chance to win its own championship in the city it calls home.

Butler will play Michigan State or Tennessee in the national semifinals next weekend.

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