College Basketball Nation: 2011 Sweet 16



NEWARK, N.J. -- The whippersnappers steal the limelight. It’s what kids do. They come in all shiny and pretty like a new penny, and everybody pays attention to them.

Even here, they surrounded the freshman after the game, the whiz kid who struggled again all night only to make the impossible shot, the game winner.

It’s not that Brandon Knight didn’t deserve the attention. His leaner, a rise-out-of-the-ashes, over-a-defender shot that deserved extra points for difficulty, once again saved the day for Kentucky.

Twice now in the tournament he has struggled for 39 minutes only to make up for it in a flick of a wrist, beating Princeton on a drive to the hoop in the opening game and now ousting No. 1 seed Ohio State 62-60 on a jumper with five seconds remaining.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Knight
Howard Smith/US PresswireFor the second time in this NCAA tourney, Brandon Knight made the game-winning shot for Kentucky.
“Brandon does that on purpose,’’ teammate Doron Lamb deadpanned. “He misses them all in the first half and the second, and then makes it at the end. We call it the okie-doke.’’

The okie-doke technically decided the game, but this game wasn’t really won by Knight.

It was won by three upperclassmen, a commodity as rare as “I Love Louisville” T-shirts in the city of Lexington.

Josh Harrellson, DeAndre Liggins and Darius Miller put Kentucky into an Elite Eight blue-blood battle against North Carolina.

Ohio State brought five seniors to the floor to the Wildcats’ one (Harrellson). The powerful Buckeyes, with longtime starters William Buford, David Lighty, Dallas Lauderdale and Jon Diebler, owned a depth and breadth of experience Kentucky simply doesn’t have.

Sure, the UK players have logged plenty of time on campus, but not quite so much on the floor.

Yet together the trio scored 39 of the Cats’ 62 points and had 19 of their 32 rebounds.

And as good as those statistics are, they alone don’t tell all of what those three did. It was their ferociousness, their attitude that changed this game in Kentucky’s favor.

“Our freshmen were OK today,’’ coach John Calipari said. “Our veteran players who were not significant a year ago, who have now taken over this team, that’s why we’re still playing. It’s because of those guys.’’

Frankly, Ohio State is not playing anymore because its guys didn’t deliver. The Buckeyes, a team that looked absolutely unstoppable a weekend ago against George Mason, looked overwhelmed.

OSU shot just 33 percent for the game and was 7-of-27 outside the paint. Buford, who missed a jumper as the buzzer sounded, was only 2-of-16; Diebler drained four 3-pointers, but besides the final one, which would have sent it to overtime were it not for Knight, they were largely unimportant; Lauderdale didn’t take a single shot; and Lighty was only 5-of-12 from the floor.

“It hurts because we felt like we could make a run at the championship,’’ Diebler said. “Obviously every team wants to finish in Houston. You can’t take away what we did this year in the regular season, but it does kind of hurt to end like this.’’

Kentucky knows the pain of finishing before you’re supposed to. A year ago, the Wildcats -- with more NBA talent than the current Cleveland Cavaliers roster -- were predestined to a weekend in Indianapolis. West Virginia halted those plans a game early, upsetting UK in the Elite Eight.

Most of that roster pocketed that bad memory in their suitcases on the way to the NBA, leaving only Harrellson, Miller and Liggins to remember it.

“You can’t rely on freshmen in games like this,’’ Liggins said. “This was on us. We were the guys who knew what it felt like to play in a game like this and lose.’’

Still, these three aren’t supposed to do this. Harrellson dominated the conversation at the start of the season because of who he is not -- namely Enes Kanter. When the Turkish player was declared ineligible by the NCAA, it was practically a statewide day of mourning in Kentucky.

[+] EnlargeKentucky's Josh Harrellson
Chris Trotman/Getty ImagesKentucky veterans DeAndre Liggins (34) and Josh Harrellson celebrate a last-minute victory over No. 1 seed Ohio State.
There is no longer mourning. Instead, Harrellson has more than ably filled the void, bolstering his numbers from 1.3 points per game last season to 7.3 this season.

Against Ohio State, in a matchup in which he was supposed to lose his lunch, he stood toe to toe with Jared Sullinger, putting up 17 points and 10 rebounds to Sullinger’s 21 and 16. It was the big man’s third double-double in his past five games.

And then there is Liggins.

When Calipari took the job at Kentucky, he said, everyone told him to get rid of Liggins, that he wasn’t good enough or worth the effort to keep around. Instead, Calipari elected to keep him, reaping the rewards for the decision Friday night.

Liggins spent the night before the game unable to sleep. He was anxious, not anxious as in nervous, but anxious as in ready -- ready to silence the doubters and ready to prove that this Kentucky team, far more a work in progress than the last, was every bit as good as the last.

“I knew everybody was picking us to lose,’’ Liggins said.

And probably even those picking UK to win didn’t figure Liggins for the hero. He had 11 points combined in the first two games of the NCAA tournament and had been good defensively but forgettable offensively for much of the past few weeks.

Against the Buckeyes, he either scored or assisted on 12 of the Wildcats’ final 18 points.

“DeAndre carried us,’’ Miller said. “If he wasn’t scoring, he was creating for someone else. We would have gotten blown out if it wasn’t for him.’’

Instead, the Wildcats stayed neck and neck with a team that looked like an offensive juggernaut only a weekend ago. Kentucky completely forced Ohio State out of its comfort zone, using its speed to fly to the ball and its length to contest every shot. By halftime, virtually the entire UK roster had two fouls, yet the Wildcats kept coming, blocking 11 shots and forcing OSU into just 6-of-17 shooting from beyond the arc.

Which was why when Diebler drained a 3-pointer with 21 seconds to play, there was a momentary sense of dread.

“I was so down on myself,’’ said Liggins, who was defending Diebler.

And then along came the kid, the one who doesn’t know any better, doesn’t realize how rare it is to make a game-winning shot in the NCAA tournament, let alone two -- who doesn’t understand that when you’re two of your previous nine, the likelihood that you end up the hero is rare.

“It was like in the Princeton game; Coach just had faith in me,’’ Knight said. “I had a lot of confidence. It felt good when it left my hands.’’

The ignorance of innocence and the value of experience.

Perhaps Kentucky has found the combination to success.



NEWARK, N.J. -- One minute into a second half that he thought couldn’t possibly go any worse than the first, Buzz Williams called a timeout.

His Marquette team -- walked over, stomped on, chewed up and spit out in the first half -- had already given up two easy buckets to North Carolina, so the coach rallied the troops 60 ticks in.

And after the break, Dexter Strickland easily swiped the lazy inbounds pass and went coast to coast for the easy layup.

If college basketball had a mercy rule, it would have been called for here.

Instead, the Tar Heels, rebuilt and remodeled two months ago, showed absolutely no mercy, waltzing into the regional final with an 81-63 win that was more suited for a first-round game.

“This is just another phase of our development,’’ said UNC’s John Henson, who added an exclamation point to the win with a monstrous dunk following a Jae Crowder jumper that landed somewhere in Manhattan. “This is the kind of team we always knew we could be.’’

[+] EnlargeNorth Carolina's Tyler Zeller
Howard Smith/US PRESSWIRETyler Zeller scored 27 points and had 12 rebounds as UNC routed Marquette in the Sweet 16.
The UNC win means the Big East’s last hope rides on the Sherpa shoulders of Kemba Walker. Connecticut, the team everyone figured would have no legs left after five games in as many nights in New York, instead is the only one with any staying power.

The other 10 now are home.

Marquette might have bigger worries than shirking its duties as conference-pride carrier pigeon. Williams’ name has been attached to other jobs, most prominently at Oklahoma. And with the season officially in the books, the coach’s future is officially on the clock.

If this was his last game on the sideline for MU, at least the coach went down swinging. His team regained a modicum of respect in the second half, playing hard and, if not ever making this a game, at least making it respectable -- cutting a 33-point lead to 14 at one point.

But ultimately, the Golden Eagles’ first half of ineptitude, a 25-point deficit in which they put up only 15 points (their fewest in the first half in 11 years), was just too wide a chasm to overcome.

“I thought in the first half we were pitiful,’’ said Williams, summing up the Golden Eagles in nine simple words. “I thought that once I used our fourth timeout after their two layups to start the second half, I thought from that point forward, we were OK. And I thought we were much better. But to beat a team like that, you have to be that way from start to finish.’’

The caveat here is that North Carolina had a little something to do with Marquette’s woes.

The Tar Heels aren’t in the Elite Eight by accident, nor did they win this game simply because Marquette lost it.

Since a disastrous and humbling 20-point loss to Georgia Tech in January, the Tar Heels are a different team. Loaded with individual talent, they are finally playing like a team, something that was missing last season when they limped into the NIT and this season during a helter-skelter 9-4 start.

“I always knew we had a great team, even when we were 4-3, we had a team meeting and we told each other that,’’ said Tyler Zeller, who led Carolina with 27 points and 12 boards. “But I will admit, at that point in time, when you get beat by 20 by anybody, you start to question how good you are.’’

It was all evident against Marquette. As poorly as the Golden Eagles played, North Carolina played that well. The Heels’ defense had plenty to do with Marquette’s problems. They slapped at the ball and crowded the lane, forcing 18 turnovers. And their size -- the long and lanky Henson and Zeller -- altered more than a few Eagles’ shots.

“I thought our whole defense was good,’’ UNC coach Roy Williams said. “We were so active, especially in the first half, probably more than we have been in any recent games.’’

Offensively, the Heels were far from perfect -- they swished just five of 16 3-pointers -- but played well to their strength, moving fluidly to make an athletic Marquette team look both sluggish and flat-footed.

Three players finished in double figures, a logical byproduct of such a lopsided win, but also a sign of just how many ways the Heels can hurt you.

If there is a criticism here, it is that the Heels stepped off the gas pedal in the second half. They got stagnant offensively and flat-out lazy defensively on some possessions.

Marquette never got in the ballpark of threatening -- unless you count cutting it to 14 as a threat -- but certainly UNC isn’t going to be able to let up in its next game, regardless of opponent.

There will be no mercy in that game.

And most definitely, no mercy rule.

Rapid Reaction: UNC 81, Marquette 63

March, 25, 2011
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NEWARK, N.J. -- A quick take on North Carolina's 81-63 win over Marquette on Friday night at the Prudential Center:

What It Means: The No. 2-seed Tar Heels (29-7) overpower the No. 11-seed Golden Eagles (22-15) in the NCAA tournament East Regional semifinals. After not making the Big Dance a season ago, North Carolina has secured a spot in this year's Elite Eight. UNC has now won 10 straight Sweet 16 games (dating back to 1993), the second-longest such streak in NCAA tournament history -- UCLA won 12 straight from 1964 to 1976.

Marquette fails in its bid to make the Elite Eight for the first time since 2003, when it was led by Dwyane Wade. With the Golden Eagles departing, 10 of the 11 Big East teams that qualified for this tournament have been eliminated -- only UConn remains.

The Skinny: Marquette hung with North Carolina for the first 10 minutes or so, even taking a 10-8 lead with 12:43 remaining on a Jae Crowder lay-in. But the Tar Heels launched on a 19-0 run from that point, and ended up outscoring the Golden Eagles 32-5 the rest of the half, taking a 40-15 lead at intermission. Tyler Zeller and John Henson had 12 points apiece for UNC, while Marquette shot 6-for-30 (20 percent), 0-for-8 from 3-point range, and committed 12 turnovers. Assist totals at the half? Carolina 9, Marquette 0. Enough said.

(The 15 first-half points was the second-fewest North Carolina has ever allowed in an NCAA tournament game. The fewest? Eight, versus Pittsburgh in 1941. It was also the fewest first-half points for Marquette in any game since 2000.)

The Tar Heels picked up where they left off after the break, with an 11-3 run to take their largest lead of the game, 51-18. With a margin that great, it's tough for a team to continue to go full-throttle, and North Carolina took its foot off the gas. Marquette kept plugging away -- as you'd expect a team coached by Buzz Williams would -- and got the deficit all the way down to 14 with less than five minutes remaining. But that's as close as the Golden Eagles came. Carolina was never threatened.

Star Watch: North Carolina's imposing front of line of the 7-foot Zeller, the 6-foot-10 Henson, and the 6-foot-8 Harrison Barnes certainly imposed its will on this undersized Marquette squad. Zeller had a monster game, with 27 points and 15 rebounds (the first UNC player with a 25-15 in the tourney since Brendan Haywood in 2000). Henson also had a double-double, with 14 points and 12 boards. Barnes scored 20 points, and point guard Kendall Marshall had six assists.

For Marquette, four players were in double-figures -- led by reserve forward Davante Gardner, who had 16 points.

Number Crunch: Marquette was the best shooting team in the Big East this season, and No. 33 in the country coming in, making 46.8 percent from the floor. On Friday night, the Golden Eagles shot just 36.5 percent (23-for-63). Also, Marquette was No. 23 in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.3-to-1) -- on Friday night it had 18 turnovers, and only nine assists.

What's Next: North Carolina will play the winner of No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 4 Kentucky on Sunday afternoon, with a trip to the Final Four on the line. Marquette flies home to Milwaukee -- its season is over.

The Mayne Event: Kenny in Richmond

March, 25, 2011
3/25/11
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Kenny Mayne visits the neighboring campuses of VCU and Richmond.

Video: Friday Sweet 16 preview

March, 25, 2011
3/25/11
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Rick Pitino, Dick Vitale and Jay Bilas preview Friday's Sweet 16 matchups.

Anderson embodies team of giant-killers

March, 25, 2011
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Kevin Anderson's now famous, high-arcing floater was seemingly an act of defiance.

In order to hit the shot heard ‘round Richmond -- the basket that helped the Spiders upset Vanderbilt on their road to the Sweet 16 -- Anderson first had to outfox Festus Ezeli. Anderson threw the ball up just before the center, who is 11 inches taller, got the chance to jump.

The 6-foot senior point guard, who was the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year for the 2009-10 season, has embodied Richmond's giant-killer tag. The Spiders face another challenge when they take on top-seeded Kansas on Friday in their first Sweet 16 appearance since 1988.

[+] EnlargeKevin Anderson
AP Photo/Ed AndrieskiKevin Anderson has led the Spiders to their first Sweet 16 appearance since 1988.
Anderson's trademark shot also once served another purpose. Back in grade school, it was his way of making an extra buck.

Shirley Brown, who raised Anderson in Atlanta as a single mother until she remarried when he was a teenager, said her diminutive son was once so shy about taking shots in grade school that she offered a dollar for every one that he hoisted up during games. The two would break down film afterward to calculate the total, and inevitably Anderson would have to go with the floater to shoot over the defense.

“That was the only shot I would shoot,” Anderson said. “Whether I was wide open for a 3, I would shoot a floater, it didn’t matter.”

Brown, whose father was in the military, aggressively pushed Anderson to get better. He didn’t get an allowance growing up other than the money he earned during the games. She was hard on him with her critiques, wanting to make sure he played to the best of his ability.

“I call her Coach Brown,” Anderson said. “She loves me, and she analyzes my game every day. If I play bad, she chews me out. She lets me have it.”

Said Brown: “That’s my style. My mother was Korean. With an Asian upbringing, you’re tough on your kids.”

What put Anderson at a disadvantage was that he began high school 5-foot-1 and weighing 90 pounds. He remembers the numbers because he constantly thought about how his measurements would affect him on the court, and he charted his growth.

“Every time he went to the bathroom, you would hear the beep of the scale,” Brown said.

Anderson was overshadowed on his talented AAU team and transferred to a larger school (Peachtree Ridge High) only when he was a senior. But he showcased enough skills that Richmond coach Chris Mooney offered him a scholarship -- one that Anderson accepted before even visiting campus.

“His intelligence on the floor and his ability to make shots is so incredibly impressive,” Mooney said. “We knew right away we had something very special.”

Little did Mooney know that he had signed a player who would become the school’s second-leading all-time scorer (2,152 points). Besides being honored as the A-10 Player of the Year last season, when he averaged 17.8 points per game, Anderson was named the conference’s Rookie of the Year in 2008.

Anderson declared for the NBA draft after Richmond‘s loss to Saint Mary’s in the first round of the NCAA tournament last season, but he returned for one final journey. He also decided to become more of a vocal leader.

“We all know how quiet Little Man is,” senior Kevin Smith said. “It speaks volumes to his growth as a player, how much he's come from being a quiet point guard to being a floor general, somebody who is able to lead a team by not only example but with his mouth, what he's able to bring to the team outside of just his play.”

While Anderson has struggled with his shot at times this season (.432 field goal percentage), he has come alive at the right time. He averaged 22 points during the Spiders’ championship run in the A-10 tournament and was named MVP. Against No. 5-seeded Vanderbilt in the second round of the NCAA tournament last week, he scored 25 points including the hanging floater with 18.7 seconds left that extended the lead.

The floater was one that his mother instantly recognized.

“Everyone who remembers Kevin remembers that shot,” Brown said. “That was his hip pocket. If things weren’t going well, that was his shot. That was money.”

Diamond Leung covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at diamond83@gmail.com.

Sweet 16 preview: Florida State vs. VCU

March, 25, 2011
3/25/11
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SAN ANTONIO -- Here's a quick preview of the Florida State-Virginia Commonwealth matchup:

No. 11 seed VCU (26-11) vs. No. 10 seed Florida State (23-10) 9:57 p.m. ET (TBS)

What to watch: Turnovers. Specifically, how many do the Seminoles commit and/or the Rams force? VCU is at its best when pressuring opponents and taking away the ball. The Rams are plus-129 in turnover margin in 26 victories, and plus-four in 11 defeats. If they’re not creating havoc, they’re in trouble. Florida State just happens to be susceptible to being sloppy with the ball -- the Seminoles are a minus-25 turnover margin on the season and have 109 more turnovers than assists. FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said Thursday his team has been better with the ball lately, but the Rams figure to be a more in-your-face defensive matchup than Notre Dame or Texas A&M.

Who to watch: Jamie Skeen is VCU’s leading scorer and rebounder, but he’s gotten ample help from Bradford Burgess and Joey Rodriguez in this NCAA run. Burgess has averaged team highs of 14.7 points and 8.7 rebounds, while Rodriguez has had a ridiculous 23 assists and three turnovers while averaging 12.3 points. The Rams are too diverse to single out Skeen on the scouting report.

For Florida State, guard Derwin Kitchen has been its leading scorer and best player in the NCAAs. But the X-factor is Chris Singleton -- the injured star player who returned to the court in Chicago after missing eight games with a broken foot. Singleton didn’t do a lot in two games, producing five points and four rebounds in 26 minutes of play, but Hamilton said he had two great practices this week. If arguably the nation’s best defender is able to give the Noles more here, he could be the difference between losing and going on to Houston.

Florida State wins if: The Seminoles execute offensively the way they did in Chicago. This is a defense-first program that has started to find its groove on the other end of the court. In victories over Texas A&M and Notre Dame, Florida State improved its season field-goal percentage two points, it’s 3-point percentage five points and its free-throw percentage two points. Perhaps most importantly, the Seminoles had more assists (29) than turnovers (25). Everyone knows the Noles will guard until the last dog dies -- but if they shoot a decent percentage, take care of the ball and get to 70 points, they’ll be tough to beat.

VCU wins if: The Rams hold their own on the glass, hit some perimeter shots and keep FSU unsettled with their pressure defense. In its losses, VCU has been outrebounded by more than eight per game and shot just 31 percent from 3-point range. In its wins, VCU is only a minus-1.2 on the glass and shot 38 percent from 3.

What they’re saying: VCU coach Shaka Smart, on playing the underdog card with his team: “It’s something that we still do. It’s still a factor. I saw somebody had us rated 16th out of the 16 teams still left in the Big Dance, although I think some of my friends in the media are starting to do it on purpose, just to give us something to use. Thank you for those of you who are, because we do use it.”

Florida State’s Bernard James, on no-nonsense coach Hamilton: “He tells you how he wants it, and basically that’s how it’s going to be. I think any good coach needs to be like that. The coaches, they’re there to manage the program, to manage the players. They can’t take their cues from the player. You can’t let a player take over the team or there’s just going to be chaos.”

Noteworthy: Smart got TV analyst and legendary shooter Steve Kerr to take on Rodriguez in a 3-point shooting competition at the end of VCU’s open practice Thursday. Rodriguez won, which surprised his coach. “I thought Steve would win because he’s the best shooter I’ve ever seen,” Smart said. “But Joey stepped in there and knocked them in.” … Florida State is trying to make its third Elite Eight in program history, and first since 1993. It has been to one Final Four (1972). VCU has never been this far before.

NEW ORLEANS -- The question that comes to mind is not how Butler got back to the Elite Eight, but rather how did these Bulldogs lose to Evansville and Youngstown State?

The reason is the Bulldogs weren’t perfect this season. They were flawed like every other team. They needed to go through some growing pains, and mercy, have they grown -- a team that started 6-5 in the Horizon League is one win away from another Final Four appearance after beating Wisconsin 61-54 on Thursday night. Meanwhile, Duke -- the team that beat Butler in a thrilling national championship game -- is out of the field after being pummeled by Arizona.

“I thought this team had a chance to be a good team, but even I’ve been unbelievably impressed with its resiliency and ability to play at a higher level,’’ said the calmest coach in Division I, Butler’s Brad Stevens.

“When we lost to Youngstown and to Evansville, it was a few possessions that we didn’t control,’’ added Butler junior guard Shelvin Mack. “We didn’t dive on the ball, we didn’t take charges, we didn’t do the things we needed to win.’’

Well, the Bulldogs haven’t lost since their Feb. 3 defeat to a Youngstown State team that finished 2-16 in conference play. And that includes a road win over Milwaukee -- a team that beat Butler twice this season -- in the Horizon League championship to secure a bid.

[+] EnlargeButler's Shelvin Mack
Derick E. Hingle/US PRESSWIREShelvin Mack scored 13 points for Butler, which reached the Elite Eight for the second year in a row.
Since the tournament started, the Bulldogs have made winning plays in the final seconds. Against Old Dominion, Matt Howard made a last-second bucket. Against Pitt, Howard's rebound and subsequent free throw saved the game after a foul by Mack nearly cost Butler the match.

“The foul is over. I keep telling my teammates that, to let it go and move onto the next one,’’ said Mack, in jest. “Yeah, it’s been crazy, there were just a few plays here and there in the first game or we’d be home, and then a few plays here or there in the second game against Pitt or we’d be home. So we wanted to make sure we got off to a fast start.’’

And they did just that. Butler busted out on Wisconsin with a nine-point halftime lead and grew it to 20 in the second half before UW mounted a furious comeback to make it a one-possession game in the final minute. But then Mack hit yet another jumper, and after he missed a free throw a possession later, Howard was there with an offensive rebound. The senior forward finished with 20 points and 12 boards

Butler now faces Florida here at New Orleans Arena on Saturday, with a trip to Houston on the line.

“They’re scrappy, relentless,’’ said Wisconsin junior guard Jordan Taylor. “I don’t know, they’re just tough kids. They never quit. That’s what makes them winners.’’

Taylor finished with 22, but Wisconsin senior forward Jon Leuer was pestered so much defensively that he finished just 1-of-12 from the field. As a team, the Badgers shot 30.4 percent, their second-worst performance of the season.

“They’re just tough kids that are all-around good players,’’ Leuer said. “They play to their strengths.’’

Butler is hardly some cuddly, lower-profile team. You can't name a lock for the NBA draft on the Pitt team, but Mack is a first-round pick and Howard, at the very least, is a second-round pick, according to multiple NBA decision-makers. So that would mean that in the past two seasons the Bulldogs will have produced three NBA players, three more than Pitt and at least one more than Wisconsin.

But Butler still had to earn its NCAA tournament berth the hard way, since the Horizon League does not receive much respect. Losing five conference games changed the perception of this team. The nonconference slate was rugged, with games at Louisville and Xavier and against Duke in New Jersey -- all losses. But let’s not forget that Butler did win the Diamond Head Classic by taking down Florida State and Washington State; the former is in the Sweet 16 and the latter in the NIT Final Four.

“We played Valparaiso early in the year and we lost and we gave up 60 points in a half,’’ Mack said. “That’s not us. We usually don’t give up 60 points in a game. We knew what we had to get back.’’

Howard added that he isn't shocked by Butler’s recent run of 12 straight wins.

“I knew what this team was capable of,’’ Howard said. “I knew the type of guys we had and [what we're capable of] if we buy into Coach’s game plan and are able to execute it.’’

Junior guard Ronald Nored said the Bulldogs found their sense of urgency after some ugly games in league play. He added that when the Bulldogs lost three in a row (to Milwaukee, Valparaiso and Youngstown State), “it set us up for what we’re doing now.’’

“People like to put down our conference, but it’s tough,’’ said senior guard Shawn Vanzant. “The coaches got on us to lock teams down.’’

And that’s exactly what occurred against Wisconsin. Stevens said he knew this week that the Bulldogs were playing at a different clip defensively.

“I was concerned about getting out to those shooters because once Taylor comes off those ball screens you have to pay attention to the guys out there,’’ Stevens said. “Once I saw the way we were rotating out there, I knew we’d be a tough out.’’

So at the end of the night, Butler is 40 minutes away from the Final Four. And Duke is done. Who had that?

“That’s this tournament,’’ Stevens said.

It is unforgiving for the losers. And for the team that can make plays, winning plays -- like Arizona did against Duke for most of its game, and the way Butler did to Wisconsin both early and late -- the tournament can be an incredible natural high.

“Teams go through lulls, and we were in a deep one,’’ Howard said. “Fortunately, this team came together, and no doubt we went through a stretch that looked like we could have had a mediocre season. But we didn’t. I’m very, very proud to be a part of this team.’’

Duke no match for underdog Arizona

March, 25, 2011
3/25/11
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ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Derrick Williams had sensed the disrespect. In his mind, not many thought Arizona could actually upset defending national champion Duke.

But with Williams, the Wildcats have a game-changer unlike any other. By the time he got done scoring 32 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in a 93-77 win against Duke, Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski was left heaping praise on the star sophomore and telling the 6-foot-8 forward that he was indeed special.

“He’s as good as anybody we’ve played, or I should say better than anybody we’ve played,” said Krzyzewski, who finished the season with 900 career Division I wins. “Even when he’s not scoring, he spreads you out. There is a physicality to his game. Clean, beautiful -- he’s a beautiful player.”

Williams’ 32 points tied a school record for most points in an NCAA tournament game, and it was the first time since 1990 that any player has scored that many in a win over the defending champs. It was a dominating performance that carried the Wildcats into a matchup with Connecticut in the Elite Eight, a place the Cats haven't been in six years.

For all the doubters who thought a young Arizona team under second-year coach Sean Miller was not yet ready to experience glory days, Williams provided the response on the court and with words of his own.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Williams and Kyle Singler
AP Photo/Jae C. HongDerrick Williams and Arizona sent Kyle Singler and Duke hurtling out of the tournament.
“It just proves a lot of people wrong right there,” Williams said. “I think a lot of people -- media, fans, friends -- said that we couldn’t do it, and this proved them all wrong. I think that next time that they pick somebody else to beat us, they’ll think differently.”

Williams, whose season has been defined by last-minute heroics -- including each of UA's first two tourney games -- this time made his deepest impact in the first half, when he scored 25 points on 8-of-11 shooting. He made five 3-pointers, including one with a second left on the clock to give the Wildcats a manageable six-point halftime deficit.

For all its NCAA tournament experience, Duke ended up getting dominated in a 55-point second half for Arizona, which ended up scoring more points than any Blue Devil tourney opponent in 14 years. The Wildcats went on a 19-2 run during which Lamont Jones tied the score at 53 with a jump shot and Jamelle Horne hit a 3-pointer to give Zona the lead. Horne, Williams and Brendon Lavender later soared for dunks, and the Wildcats got plenty of second-chance opportunities as well.

“In the second half, I just think they were the aggressor,” said Duke guard Kyrie Irving, who scored 28 points in his third game since returning from a toe injury. “They were throwing a lot more punches than us. Tonight they were the better team.”

While Irving said after the game that he remains undecided about his future at Duke, it was the end of the line for seniors Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler. Krzyzewski had them both check out for the last time with 2:01 left and the Blue Devils trailing by 17, drawing them close and saying a few words.

The abrupt realization that his career was over caused Smith to bury his head in a towel and choke back tears on the bench. He scored eight points, going only 3-for-14 from the field while committing six of the team’s 11 turnovers. “Everybody on their team stepped up,” said a stunned Smith.

Singler had 18 points and eight rebounds, but the Wildcats shot 54 percent and controlled the glass by a 40-27 margin (25-9 in the second half). With the Blue Devils unable to stop Williams from further improving his NBA draft stock, they never made a serious run to get back into the game.

“Seeing them on the sideline and the name on their jerseys, we were bracing for it,” Horne said.

But the expected Duke run simply never came.

Said Krzyzewski: “They were phenomenal in the second half. We couldn’t stop ‘em. We just couldn’t stop ‘em.”

Duke could never find its rhythm, with Williams’ talent unmatched and his motivation for beating Duke made clear after the game. He knew all about the last meeting between the two schools in the 2001 national championship game that Duke won.

“One fan told me, ‘My shirt is getting small from the 1997 championship. I need another one,’” Williams said. “That flipped the switch. I want to give everyone what they want.”

In front of family and friends near his hometown and plenty of Arizona fans who made the short trip, Williams will now have a chance to help the Wildcats reach the Final Four for the first time since that '01 title game. A one-man wrecking crew at times, he’s destroying the notion that these Cats can’t start a new chapter in the program’s storied history.

“If we win this game on Saturday," Williams said, "we’re going to be known as one of the best Arizona teams to play."

Video: Arizona's Jamelle Horne

March, 25, 2011
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Arizona senior Jamelle Horne on how it feels to be part of a victory over top-seeded Duke.
NEW ORLEANS -- Butler coach Brad Stevens strolled toward his postgame interview, gave a little exhale and that was the extent of his emotion after the Bulldogs beat Wisconsin 61-54.

Butler is in the Elite Eight for the second straight season. Ho hum.

Stevens’ postseason run at Butler's helm is becoming epic as the Bulldogs face Florida Saturday at the New Orleans Arena with a chance to go to the Final Four.

OK. After last season's title game, did anybody have Butler in this year's Elite Eight but not Duke? I’d like to see that bracket.

Butler dominated the Badgers for 35 minutes before Wisconsin mounted a furious rally to make it a one possession game. But once again it was Butler making plays, notably Shelvin Mack with a step-back jumper to push the Bulldogs to a six-point lead with 51 seconds remaining. Matt Howard came up with a key rebound off a missed free throw to ensure Wisconsin didn’t get any closer with less than 30 seconds remaining.

Butler has two NBA players in Mack and Howard. The Bulldogs getting to the Elite Eight may not be as much of a shock when think about the talent, the winning plays and the makeup of this group.

The bigger question now is how did this team lose at Youngstown State and Evansville at home?

But that means nothing now. The Bulldogs are tournament tough, tested and in position to return to the Final Four where plenty of other contenders have failed.

Key stats: The Bulldogs dominated the backboard, outrebounding the Badgers by seven and getting 25 defensive rebounds to limit the Badgers’ possessions. The Bulldogs’ defense bottled up plenty of Badger scorers, notably Jon Leuer, who was 1-of-12 and 1-for-6 on 3-pointers.

Stars of the game: Howard scored 20 points and grabbed 12 boards. If you’re an NBA personnel director you must start positioning him in the draft. Mack was once again a solid contributor with 13.

Quite a finish: Wisconsin junior guard Jordan Taylor scored 22 but was 3-of-10 on 3s. Still, he’s a gamer and should be a contender for Big Ten player of the year next season.

What’s next: Butler is off to play Florida Saturday for a berth in the Final Four. Wisconsin can look back at a strong season where they overachieved once again.

Video: Jimmer Fredette on his last game

March, 25, 2011
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BYU's Jimmer Fredette comments on the last game of his memorable college career.

Rapid Reaction: Arizona 93, Duke 77

March, 25, 2011
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ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Arizona stunned defending national champion Duke 93-77, as the Wildcats head to the Elite Eight after outscoring the Blue Devils 55-33 in the second half. Derrick Williams had 32 points and 13 rebounds in a dominating performance that won't soon be forgotten. The last player with 30 points and 10 rebounds in a win over a No. 1 seed? Carmelo Anthony against Texas in the 2003 Final Four. Lamont Jones scored 16, and Solomon Hill added 13. Duke was led by Kyrie Irving's 28 points, but Nolan Smith struggled mightily in his final game. Smith scored eight points on 3-for-14 shooting and committed six turnovers. The national player of the year candidate averaged just 13.6 points per game in the NCAA tournament.

Turning point: A Williams dunk extended the Arizona lead to 73-61, and it wasn’t just any other dunk. Williams faked out his defender and then drove the lane for an uncontested slam. The exclamation point came during a relatively quiet second half for Williams, who scored 25 points in the first. But the power dunk sent the message to Duke that it wasn’t going to be the Blue Devils’ night.

Key player: Williams was simply masterful, finishing 11-for-17 from the field and going 5-for-6 from beyond the arc. Six of his 13 rebounds were on the offensive glass. The Pac-10 player of the year's NBA draft stock shot up, but first comes a chance at making it to the Final Four.

Key stat: Arizona outrebounded Duke 40-27 (25-9 in the second half), capitalizing on Williams' dominance and relying on 16 offensive rebounds for numerous easy shots. Williams had a putback dunk in the first half that rattled the rim and wowed the crowd. Jesse Perry had six rebounds, and Hill had five.

Miscellaneous: The Wildcats are back in the Elite Eight for the first time since 2005. ... Duke now has five losses in the Sweet 16 as a top seed in the NCAA tournament. According to ESPN Stats & Information, no other program has more than two. ... Despite Irving's performance, the Blue Devils lacked an outside shooting presence and couldn't match up with Williams. ... Kyle Singler had 18 points and eight rebounds in his final game, but it wasn't enough. ... Entering Thursday, 5-seeds were 6-38 all time against No. 1 seeds. There's now a seventh member of that club. ... This was the fifth-most lopsided tournament loss in Duke history and the second-worst ever by a 1-seed prior to the Elite Eight. Ohio State's 17-point loss to St. John's in 1991 tops the list. ... Arizona's 93 points were the most scored by a Duke opponent in the NCAA tournament since 1997.

What’s next: No. 5 seed Arizona moves on to play No. 3 seed UConn on Saturday for the right to go to the Final Four.

Video: Kemba Walker can't be stopped

March, 24, 2011
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Hubert Davis on UConn advancing past San Diego State to the Elite Eight.

Video: Connecticut freshman Jeremy Lamb

March, 24, 2011
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UConn's Jeremy Lamb tied a career-high with 24 points in the Huskies' Sweet 16 victory over San Diego State. In three NCAA tourney game, the freshman is shooting 74.1 percent and averaging 18.0 ppg.

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