College Basketball Nation: 2010 NCAA New Orleans

DeMarcus CousinsChris Graythen/Getty ImagesDeMarcus Cousins and Kentucky look like the team to beat in this year's tournament.

NEW ORLEANS -- When John Calipari entered the Kentucky locker room Saturday night in the prelude to what would be a second consecutive Big Blue stampede in the NCAA tournament, he found his players gathered around the television.

“We were trying to steal a peek at the Kansas game,” freshman guard John Wall admitted.

They got to see about a minute of the game before Calipari made sure the television was off. All they knew was that Kansas was losing. They said they didn’t find out that the Jayhawks had lost until after their 90-60 demolition of Wake Forest at New Orleans Arena.

Their reaction?

“Oh … I wonder which team is going to be favored now,” said freshman forward DeMarcus Cousins, trying his best to sport a quizzical look.

Surely, it will be the Wildcats, who’ve won their first two games be a combined 59 points while shooting better than 50 percent from the field in both games and handing out a combined 48 assists.

Right, DeMarcus?

“Probably,” he said.

Is that all right with you, DeMarcus?

“I don’t care. I liked it when they hated us,” he said. “We’re going to go play, but I love being the bad guy.”

If these guys are feeling the pressure of their first voyage through the NCAA tournament, they’re not showing it.

If anything, they seem to be soaking it up.

The television was on full blast in the Kentucky locker room after the game, and there was very little chatter about the Kansas upset.

[+] EnlargeEric Bledsoe
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesEric Bledsoe's tomahawk slam had his teammates talking.
The place went wild when Eric Bledsoe’s tomahawk dunk in the second half flashed up on the screen. Even Calipari came rushing over to see if they had shown it yet.

“Here it goes, here it goes,” said Wall, leaning back in his chair in anticipation. “Yes sir!”

Sophomore guard Darius Miller, who led the Wildcats with a career-high 20 points, marveled that it was one of the best dunks he’d ever seen.

“It has to be No. 1 on the Top 10 plays,” he said.

A few minutes later, ESPN college basketball analyst Digger Phelps popped up on the screen.

Every one of the players swarmed to the television then.

“What’s he going to say about us now?” somebody yelled.

Nobody could really hear what Phelps did say, but what goes unsaid is that this is a ridiculously talented basketball team playing at the top of its game when it matters most.

And even though they don’t talk much about it publicly, there’s a real sense of urgency among the freshmen that this will be their one and only chance to win a national championship.

The NBA beckons.

“We all look at it like that,” Wall said. “Me, Patrick (Patterson) and coach (Calipari) at the beginning of the season said, ‘This might be the only year that all of us play together, our only chance to do something special. Let’s make it happen.’ ”

The only pothole Saturday night came when Wake Forest senior center Chas McFarland – who has a rep for playing not so nice – cross-checked Cousins to the floor with just under 10 minutes to play and Kentucky leading by 30 points.

McFarland was hit with an intentional foul, and Kentucky’s Daniel Orton was hit with contact technical foul for coming to Cousins’ aid.

“That wasn’t even basketball,” said Cousins, who was 9-of-10 from the field for 19 points and eight rebounds. “He was doing a lot of cheap things. I caught an elbow to the jaw from him earlier in the game. He’s a dirty player. The whole world knows it, especially after tonight.”

Something else the whole basketball world knows is that these Wildcats are going to be hard to beat if they keep shooting this well. It’s a given they’re going to play defense and rebound.

But if they make their 3-pointers and keep spreading the wealth on offense with guys like Miller pumping in 20 points, look out.

“It’s going to be impossible to do anything about it,” Cousins said.

Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio wouldn’t necessarily disagree.

“I’ve been in the ACC 10 years,” Gaudio said. “That’s as good a basketball team as we’ve played against in the 10 years I’ve been here.”

For the record, that includes four national championship teams – Duke in 2001, Maryland in 2002 and North Carolina in 2005 and 2009.

Photoblog: Another Kentucky rout

March, 20, 2010
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Kentucky WildcatsCrystal LoGiudice/US PresswireKentucky has won its two tournament games by 29 and 30 points, respectively.

Final: Kentucky 90, Wake Forest 60

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NEW ORLEANS – Kentucky might have broken a sweat in reaching its first Sweet 16 since 2005, but it wasn’t much of one.

In fact, it was almost too easy.

The Wildcats (34-2) put the wraps on their second straight blowout win of the NCAA tournament Saturday night, ripping and running past Wake Forest for a 90-60 second-round beatdown at New Orleans Arena.

Up next for Kentucky is the winner of the Cornell-Wisconsin game on Thursday in Syracuse.

After a 29-point win in the first round over East Tennessee State, Kentucky put the Demon Deacons away with a knockout-sized run to end the first half.

A 16-point halftime lead was closing in on 30 points a few minutes into the second half, and the Wildcats were wowing the crowd with tomahawk dunks and flashy fast breaks.

The only drama in the second half came when Wake Forest 7-foot senior center Chas McFarland took down Kentucky freshman forward DeMarcus Cousins with a hard foul. The officials quickly separated the two teams, and after the officials sorted everything out, McFarland was hit with an intentional foul and Kentucky’s Daniel Orton with a contact technical foul.

Kentucky freshman guard Eric Bledsoe scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half, and Darius Miller led the Wildcats with a career-high 20 points. Cousins had 19 points and eight rebounds.

The Wildcats shot 60.3 percent from the field. That’s two games in a row now that they’ve shot the ball well.

And if they keep shooting it like this, they’re going to be tough to beat.

Lomers to the rescue for Bears

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NEW ORLEANS -- LaceDarius Dunn, Baylor’s sharpshooting junior guard, said the beauty of the Bears’ team is that anybody can beat you on any given night.

But Josh Lomers?

[+] EnlargeJosh Lomers
Crystal LoGiudice/US PresswireJosh Lomers was dominant in the second half and was a key reason No. 3 seed Baylor advanced.
Even the 7-foot, 280-pound Lomers describes himself as a “big goofy white guy.”

Or as somebody put it in the postgame press conference, “the big clumsy guy that sets screens.”

That may be, but Lomers was dominant Saturday in the second half and the chief reason No. 3 seed Baylor was finally able to shake Old Dominion for a 76-68 victory at New Orleans Arena, sending the Bears to the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history.

They were national runners-up in 1948 and lost in the national championship game to Kentucky, but that’s when the NCAA tournament had just eight teams.

Lomers, surrounded by reporters in the locker room afterward, admitted he wasn’t a big talker. He also downplayed his contribution.

His 14 points matched a career high, and six of his eight rebounds came in the second half. He also had four steals and three blocks and kept the ball alive on the offensive glass several times, leading to key second-chance points for the Bears.

Keep in mind that this is the same guy who took one shot in 14 minutes against Sam Houston State in the first round and had scored in double figures only three times in his last 18 games entering Saturday’s contest.

“It’s great to win. I don’t know that contributing really matters to me,” shrugged Lomers, a three-time Academic All-Big 12 first-team selection. “I’d rather have a bad game and win rather than a good game and lose. The ‘W’ is what counts.

“But it definitely feels good that this is not the last time I’m going to put on this jersey.”

Dunn, who led the Bears with 26 points, said Lomers was being modest. He said there was a stretch there in the second half after Old Dominion surged ahead by two points with 6:29 to play where Lomers put the Bears on his wide shoulders and carried them.

“He woke up with something different on his mind today,” Dunn said. “He didn’t want this to be his last game in a Baylor jersey, and I hope he brings that same game next week.

“He came out and played his butt off.”

Lomers picked a good time to have the game of his career, too, because junior forward Ekpe Udoh hit just 2-of-7 shots and was held to eight points and four rebounds.

The Monarchs, an excellent rebounding team and equally good on the defensive end, had to be wondering where Lomers came from.

Something says he wasn’t at the top of their scouting report.

“I mean, he’s 7-foot. You can’t teach that,” Old Dominion junior forward Frank Hassell said. “He was pretty heavy. I was trying to box him out and push him out, but I guess I didn’t get low enough.”

Baylor coach Scott Drew has seen Lomars assert himself like that in practice.

“And he’s had them in different spurts of the game in games,” Drew said. “He just hasn’t had them on as big a stage as today.”

Lomers, who was 6-of-7 from the field, said he’ll gladly be there for his team in whatever role the Bears need him the rest of this tournament. If that means setting screens and clogging up traffic in the lane, so be it.

You know, the stuff the big goofy guys do.

“We have so many weapons and such a unity on this team that we’re not worried about one person stepping up,” Lomers said. “We’re worried about the team stepping up.”
NEW ORLEANS – Kentucky turned on the jets to turn a close game into a 44-28 lead at the half Saturday against Wake Forest in second-round NCAA tournament action at New Orleans Arena.

The Wildcats, the No. 1 seed in the East, were at their best running and dunking as they pulled away, and 6-11 freshman forward DeMarcus Cousins was especially active.

But the entire complexion of the game changed after Wake Forest’s top player, sophomore forward Al-Farouq Aminu, picked up his third foul at the 11:39 mark of the first half. He went to the bench and didn’t return.

It wasn’t a smart foul by Aminu, who was called for a reach-in on a rebound.

The game was tied at 19 when he went to the bench, and the Deacons were never the same afterward. They failed to score on their next eight possessions.

The Wildcats shot 66.7 percent from the field in the first half, and sophomore guard Darius Miller was the catalyst. He was 6-of-7 from the field and 3-of-3 from the free-throw line for 16 points. Cousins also hit all four of his shots and had four rebounds.

If Wake Forest doesn't play well in the first five minutes of the second half, this one could get ugly in a hurry.

Final: Baylor 76, ODU 68

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NEW ORLEANS -- Baylor is headed to the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history and had to earn it.

A scrappy Old Dominion team fought the No. 3 seed Bears every step of the way, even after falling behind by as many as 14 points in the first half, but Baylor used its inside muscle to pull away in the final minutes for a 76-68 victory in the second round of the NCAA tournament at New Orleans Arena.

The Bears (27-7) will face St. Mary’s on Friday in Houston in the South Regional semifinals.

Had it not been for 7-foot senior center Josh Lomers, they might be watching at home.

Lomers dominated the interior in the second half, scoring 12 of his 14 points. He also pulled down eight rebounds, collected four steals and blocked three shots. Six of his rebounds were on the offensive glass, as he kept giving the Bears second chances after keeping the ball alive. He matched his career high in points before fouling out with 1:05 to play.

By that time, the Bears already had the game in hand. Even though this will be their first Sweet 16 trip, they were national runners-up in 1948 when they lost to Kentucky in the championship game. The NCAA tournament included just eight teams back then.

The Bears shot 51.9 percent from the field, and when things got tight down the stretch, they took the ball inside every time.

After the Monarchs (27-9) went ahead 58-56 with 6:29 to play on Gerald Lee’s three-point play, the Bears scored five of their next six field goals on layups, put-backs or drives to the basket. The only one that wasn’t inside was LaceDarius Dunn’s 3-pointer at the 3:25 mark.

Dunn led all scorers with 26 points and was 4-of-11 from 3-point range.

Previewing Saturday in New Orleans

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NEW ORLEANS -- A couple of Sweet 16 berths will be decided Saturday in the Big Easy.

And no matter how it shakes out, some droughts will be coming to an end. Some longer than others.

Kentucky, with all its tradition, hasn’t been to the Sweet 16 since 2005.

Wake Forest’s last Sweet 16 trip came during the 2004 season when a guy named Chris Paul was running the show in Winston-Salem.

Baylor and Old Dominion have never reached the Sweet 16 under the current format. The Bears lost in the national championship game to Kentucky in 1948, but the tournament included just eight teams back then.

Here’s a preview of Saturday’s East Regional second-round games at New Orleans Arena:

Game 1: (3) Baylor vs. (11) Old Dominion, 5:45 p.m. ET

How they got here: The Bears (26-7) beat Sam Houston State 68-59 in the first round, a game that was tied with a little more than three minutes to play. It was Baylor’s first NCAA tournament win in 60 years. The Monarchs (27-9) beat Notre Dame 51-50 in the first round. It was their first NCAA tournament win in 15 years. They’ve won six straight games and nine of their last 10 heading into Saturday’s game.

Scouting the game: If you like defense, then settle in. Old Dominion wouldn’t mind “uglying” this one up. The Monarchs win with defense and rebounding. Notre Dame was their 12th opponent this season to be held to 50 points or less. The Bears also play smothering defense, ranking ninth nationally in field-goal percentage defense. They held Sam Houston State to 34 percent shooting on Thursday. The difference in the two teams is that Baylor wants to get out and run, make the game an up-and-down affair and force Old Dominion to play in the 80s. The Monarchs are extremely balanced offensively and don’t lean on one or two players. Seven different players have led Old Dominion this season in scoring. Baylor’s Ekpe Udoh could end up being the ‘X’ factor in this game. He’s a shot-blocking machine in the middle and doesn’t give up anything easy around the basket.

Bear to watch: Senior guard Tweety Carter is coming off a subpar game with a season-low two points on 1-of-3 shooting. He was just never able to get involved in the offense and was neutralized by Sam Houston State playing a triangle-and-two defense. That was just one game, though, and Carter is just as capable of going off for 20-plus points in Saturday’s game.

Monarch to watch: Senior forward Gerald Lee is the only player on the team averaging in double figures. He was quiet in the first-round win over Notre Dame with just nine points and three rebounds. But with Baylor starting three players 6-10 or taller, the Monarchs will need more out of Lee offensively. He’s an unselfish player and will get the ball to the open man. But he’s also Old Dominion’s most reliable option when they need big baskets.

They said it: “They’ve got an outstanding defense and have done it against quality teams. They beat Georgetown by holding them to 57 points, so they’re a Top 20 defense in the country for a reason. They’ve got size and length and have a lot of similarities to our team.” -- Baylor coach Scott Drew

Game 2: (1) Kentucky vs. (9) Wake Forest, 8:15 p.m. ET

How they got here: The Wildcats (33-2) routed East Tennessee State 100-71 in the first round and were never threatened. They shot 51.7 percent from the field and led by as many as 40 points in the second half. The Demon Deacons (20-10) beat Texas 81-80 in overtime in the first round on Ishmael Smith's pull-up jumper with 1.3 seconds to play. Wake Forest had lost five of its last six games coming into the tournament.

Scouting the game: Wake Forest is one of the few teams in the country that can match Kentucky’s size. That said, keep an eye on the Deacons’ 7-foot senior center, Chas McFarland, and the Wildcats’ 6-11 freshman forward, DeMarcus Cousins. McFarland has gotten under more than a few players’ skin in the ACC, and Cousins has had a problem at times this season with keeping his emotions in check. He vowed not to be lured into any extra-curricular stuff with McFarland. “I’m telling you all now. I’m not trying to get in a fistfight. I’m just trying to play ball,” said Cousins, who's drifted in and out of foul trouble this season. The Deacons insist they want to run with the Wildcats, who are scary in the transition game when everything’s clicking. Smith was called a one-man fast break by Texas coach Rick Barnes, but he has to keep his turnovers down against the Wildcats. He had eight in the win over Texas. The Wildcats turn turnovers into points, and it starts with freshman point guard John Wall, who leaves his own vapor trail when he’s blazing up the court. The Deacons killed the Longhorns on the boards Thursday. If they’re going to hang around in this one, they’re going to need their share of second-chance points.

Wildcat to watch: Freshman guard Eric Bledsoe has been on a tear. He made a Kentucky NCAA tournament-record eight 3-pointers in the first-round win over East Tennessee State and is 15-of-21 from 3-point range over his last three games. When he’s shooting well and scoring at a high clip, the Wildcats are just about impossible to defend with all of their other weapons. In Kentucky’s only two losses this season against South Carolina and Tennessee, he was a combined 5-of-17 from the field and 1-of-6 from 3-point range.

Deacon to watch: Sophomore forward Al-Farouq Aminu had 20 points and 15 rebounds in the Deacons’ first-round win over Texas. He was the only player in the ACC this season that averaged a double-double with 15.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. At 6-9, he’s the kind of inside-outside threat that could cause trouble for Kentucky’s big men and is also an explosive finisher in transition.

They said it: “The one thing I talked about is we’re not a 3-point shooting team. That’s not why we win. We win because of defense. We win because of rebounding. We win because of our shot-blocking ability and our ability to create good shots for each other. If we make 3s, we’re better than that. But that’s not why we win.” -- Kentucky coach John Calipari
Ishmael SmithAP Photo/Patrick SemanskyKentucky faces its first real challenge in Ishmael Smith and the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.
NEW ORLEANS –- Getting into an up-and-down, shoot-'em-up game with Kentucky is like chumming off the coast of South Africa … and doing it while sitting in one of those blowup floats.

In other words, you just don’t do it.

Try telling that to Wake Forest, which not only wants to run with Kentucky, but wants to run the No. 1-seeded Wildcats ragged Saturday in their East Regional second-round game.

“We’re not going to change it up for nobody,” Wake Forest sophomore forward Al-Farouq Aminu said. “I remember last year it was the same situation. North Carolina was a running team, and everybody was saying, ‘You don’t want to run with North Carolina.’ But that’s what we do, no matter what.

“The thing we’ve got to do is get back in transition, but I don’t think they’re going to discourage us from running.”

There you have it.

The Wildcats (33-2) face their first real challenge of the NCAA tournament. They streaked past overmatched East Tennessee State 100-71 in the first round and looked spectacular doing so.

The Demon Deacons, meanwhile, won 81-80 in overtime against Texas when Ishmael Smith swished a pull-up jumper with 1.3 seconds to play. They also did a number on the Longhorns on the boards, outrebounding them by a staggering 59-34.

“We just have to do what we do, play the way we play, and come out and compete,” Wake Forest senior guard L.D. Williams said. “We can’t go out there in awe. If we do, we’ll get out butts kicked. We know Kentucky’s a good team, but we know we’re a good team as well.”

There was no lack of confidence in the Wake Forest locker room Friday as the once-forgotten-about Deacons –- suddenly revived thanks to Smith’s late-night heroics on Thursday -- prepared to hit the practice floor at New Orleans Arena.

This is the same team that had lost five of six games entering the tournament. But as Smith points out, it’s also the same team that was 18-5 at one point.

“We were the ones everybody was saying could do some damage,” Smith said. “We’re still that team, and now’s the time to do it.”

Wake Forest is one of the few teams that can match Kentucky’s size. The Deacons’ starting front line goes 7-foot, 6-11 and 6-9, while 6-11 sophomore Tony Woods is one of the first guys off the bench. He had seven offensive rebounds against the Longhorns, and four of those were dunk-backs.

“We match up with them in size, and it’s not like we don’t see a lot of talented players in the ACC,” said the 6-9 Aminu, who had 20 points and 15 rebounds against Texas. “Nobody on our squad is going to be intimidated.”

While it’s obvious that Wake Forest was already tired of hearing about how big, talented and good Kentucky was by Friday afternoon, the Wildcats have their own chip on their shoulder.

They’re tired of hearing about how young they are.

“I want this thing to end on a good note, which is a national championship,” Kentucky freshman forward DeMarcus Cousins said. “Why not end it on a good note? To be honest, I really don’t feel pressure at all. We want it bad but everybody’s expectation is for us to lose because we’re young.”

Cousins also wasn’t buying that there were a whole lot of similarities between the Wildcats and Deacons.

“They don’t remind me of us,” Cousins said. “They’re in the ACC. We’re in the SEC. Our coaches have different names. They’re a big, athletic team. We’ll just see how the game turns out.”

The always loquacious Smith gigged some of the media Friday, wondering aloud if everybody already had the Wildcats moving on in their brackets.

“I know a lot of you guys probably have them winning the national championship in your brackets,” said Smith, who wants to get into broadcasting after his hoops days are over. “If I were you guys, I probably would, too, just watching them play.

“We just want to put ourselves in position.”

It may not be an enviable position, especially when the Wildcats shoot like they did Thursday. Freshman guard Eric Bledsoe tossed in a Kentucky NCAA tournament record eight 3-pointers, and junior forward Patrick Patterson was 9 of 10 from the field.

Told that the Wildcats don’t think there’s a team in the country that can touch them when they’re stroking it from the perimeter, Smith offered a confident smile and then a shrug.

“They’re a heck of a team,” said Smith, his smile widening. “I believe if they say that, they feel that way.

“Let’s just hope that they’re not making jump shots so we can have a chance.”
NEW ORLEANS -- Wake Forest’s Ishmael Smith was careful not to immerse himself in basketball Thursday while waiting for his game later that night.

Playing the late game, he knew it would be a midnight finish or later and was determined to get his rest.

[+] EnlargeIshmael Smith
AP Photo/John Bazemore Wake Forest guard Ishmael Smith shoots the game winner over Texas guard Avery Bradley.
Plus, he’s a big “Law and Order” fan, and that’s where the television in his hotel room stayed for much of Thursday afternoon.

He did break away long enough from all the courtroom drama to see Murray State’s Danero Thomas beat Vanderbilt with his game-winner.

Little did Smith know that about eight hours later he would cap what had already been a wild and drama-filled day in the NCAA tournament with a buzzer-beater of his own.

“That’s how this tournament is,” said Smith, whose pull-up jumper with 1.3 seconds remaining sent Wake Forest to a thrilling 81-80 victory over Texas in overtime.

“You’re on top one minute, and the next minute you’re not. You’ve just got to keep fighting and keep gutting it out, and that’s what we did.”

The Demon Deacons (20-10) have seemingly been in survival mode ever since the middle of February. That’s after starting this season 18-5 and making a brief appearance in the Top 25.

And then last season, they were No. 1 in the polls after starting out 16-0.

But coming into this tournament, the only team in the field more disappointing than Wake Forest might have been the one on the other bench Thursday night at New Orleans Arena.

“It was a heck of college basketball game, two resilient teams kind of with the same storyline,” said Smith, who flirted with a dubious quadruple-double.

He had 19 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists … and eight turnovers. A lot of those turnovers came in the final minutes of regulation, as Texas climbed back into the game.

But it was Texas, which had lost nine of 16 games coming into this tournament, that couldn’t hold an eight-point lead in overtime.

While Smith’s shot might have won it for the Deacons, he said freshman Ari Stewart’s 3-pointer from the corner was actually bigger. Stewart’s 3 with a defender flying at him came with 15.9 seconds to play and pulled Wake Forest within a point

“We’re not the prettiest team in the world,” Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio said. “We don’t shoot the ball straight at lot of times, but our defense was the difference in the basketball game, as was the backboard.

“So we live to fight another day.”

The Deacons obliterated the Longhorns on the boards and finished with a 59-34 rebounding advantage. It’s the worst Texas coach Rick Barnes can ever remember one of his teams being decimated on the boards.

But in the end, it was Wake Forest’s senior leader and point guard who ensured the Deacons would get a shot at No. 1 seeded Kentucky on Saturday in the second round.

That John Wall vs. Smith matchup ought to be one continuous blur.

“I’m sure everybody will be asking who’s the fastest,” Smith said.

Gaudio won’t enter that debate, but he knows who he wants if the game’s on the line.

“If I took that little guy out there right now, he wouldn’t make three straight 3s if he shot 100 of them,” Gaudio said. “But he makes big shots, makes big free throws. He’s a lion. This team is led by a tough son of a gun at the point guard.”

Yep, it’s amazing how the complexion of an entire season can change with one shot come March.

Video: Kentucky tops East Tennessee State

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Eric Bledsoe drains eight three-pointers to lead Kentucky past East Tennessee State.

Final: Wake Forest 81, Texas 80 (OT)

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NEW ORLEANS -- Two of the most disappointing teams coming into the NCAA Tournament ended up giving us one of the better games of the tournament.

Senior guard Ishmael Smith buried a jumper with 1.3 seconds remaining in overtime to send Wake Forest to an 81-80 win over Texas in an East Regional first-round game that went back and fourth Thursday night.

It looked like the Longhorns were going to survive after going up by eight points in overtime. They scrapped back from a seven-point deficit in the final five minutes of regulation to force the extra period.

But the Demon Deacons (20-10) made one clutch play after another in the final minutes of overtime, including freshman Ari Stewart’s 3-pointer from the corner to make it a one-point game with 15.9 seconds to play.

The Longhorns missed four free throws inside the final 50 seconds. Gary Johnson missed two with 10 seconds to play, setting up Smith’s game-winner.

Wake Forest had lost five of its last six games coming into the tournament. The Deacons take on No. 1 seed Kentucky in Saturday’s second round.

They advanced to that second round despite turning it over 20 times, eight of those by Smith.

It’s safe to say he made up for those eight turnovers with his high-arching game-winner.

At the half: Texas 38, Wake Forest 37

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NEW ORLEANS -- Wake Forest was the best team out of the gate and built a lead as large as 11 points early.

But with the referees letting the teams go at it inside, Texas battled back to take a 38-37 halftime lead in the first round of the East Regional at New Orleans Arena.

Both teams have good size, and the paint was no place for the meek in the first half.

The Demon Deacons made it a one-point game when Tony Woods slammed back a missed shot to beat the buzzer.

Wake Forest shot the ball better (46.9 percent) and squashed Texas on the boards by a 27-15 advantage, but Jordan Hamilton came off the bench to go 4-of-8 from 3-point range and score 16 first-half points.

Without him, the Longhorns are in deep trouble right now.

The key for Texas has been that it hasn’t turned the ball over much – only twice in the first half.

Final: Kentucky 100, ETSU 71

March, 18, 2010
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NEW ORLEANS -- Kentucky at its best is a scary proposition for any team in the country.

But an outmanned East Tennessee State team never had a chance.

The No. 1 seed Wildcats put on a show Thursday night with a 100-71 pasting of the Buccaneers in the first round of the East Regional at New Orleans Arena.

For a team that had virtually no NCAA tournament experience coming into the game, Kentucky and its band of freshmen looked like old pros and were never threatened.

The Wildcats (33-2) will move into the second round to face Wake Forest.

Kentucky played a bunch of players and shot lights out from 3-point range. They finished 15-of-33. Freshman Eric Bledsoe was 8-of-9 from behind the arc and scored a career-high 29 points.

At times, the Wildcats have tended to turn it off and on this season because they’re so talented. But they were wide open Thursday from the outset and showed no signs of any tournament jitters.

The bottom line: If they continue to play like this and shoot like this -- with their size, athleticism and talent -- their first Final Four trip since 1998 looks more and more like a lock.

Photoblog: Kentucky in control

March, 18, 2010
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John WallCrystal LoGiudice/US PresswireJohn Wall and his Kentucky Wildcats are running away from East Tennessee State.

At the half: Kentucky 54, ETSU 26

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NEW ORLEANS -- Upset Thursday won’t be wreaking havoc with No. 1 seed Kentucky’s weekend plans.

The Wildcats were on top of their game in the first half, running, dunking and tossing in 3-pointers at a dizzying pace on their way to a 54-26 halftime lead over East Tennessee State.

This one is a total mismatch, especially with Kentucky deciding to come out and play from the outset. There was no toying around.

The only upset is that there aren’t more Kentucky fans in New Orleans Arena. After taking over Nashville last week for the SEC tournament, the Kentucky fans haven’t converged on the Big Easy like they usually do anywhere the Cats play.

The upper deck is barely a fourth of the way full, and the place isn’t painted blue.

That’s OK, because the Kentucky team did the painting in the first half. The Wildcats had three straight dunks on three straight possessions at one point, two of them alley-oops, and they also were 7-of-14 from 3-point range.

You know what Kentucky coach John Calipari said happens when they’re hitting their 3s.

They bury people.

Freshman guard Eric Bledsoe and junior forward Patrick Patterson combined to make 11-of-13 shots in the first half.

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