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North Carolina grabs another shot at an NCAA championship with win over Oregon, 77-76

North Carolina's Kennedy Meeks goes up with the ball against Oregon during a Final Four game on April 1 in Glendale, Ariz. (Chris Steppig / Getty Images)
North Carolina's Kennedy Meeks goes up with the ball against Oregon during a Final Four game on April 1 in Glendale, Ariz. (Chris Steppig / Getty Images)

The sequence that vacillated between hope and despair, a crowd of 77,612 disbelieving what was unfolding one way or the other, started with an outstretched hand.

Oregon’s Jordan Bell held the position but North Carolina’s Theo Pinson had the moxie. The Ducks trailed the Tar Heels by one point in an NCAA tournament semifinal Saturday night at University of Phoenix Stadium and needed to grab a missed free throw and go the length of the court with only 5.8 seconds left.

Pinson timed his jump perfectly after teammate Kennedy Meeks’ free throw bounced off the front of the rim, tapping the ball to North Carolina guard Joel Berry II. The Ducks quickly wrapped up Berry, who missed his first free throw. And then his second.

Four consecutive missed free throws had twice opened the door in a nearly inconceivable way for the Ducks. But Meeks closed it for good when he snatched the rebound on Berry’s second miss, outmaneuvering Bell amid a scrum of players under the rim. Meeks flipped the ball to Pinson, who dribbled toward halfcourt before hurling it into the air in triumph at the buzzer.

The Ducks quacked under the might of the moment and a more burly counterpart, falling to North Carolina, 77-76, in a game that will be cursed for eternity in the Pacific Northwest.

“I lost the game,” a despondent Bell said after his team had yielded 17 offensive rebounds. “I had it and I just lost it.” 

Bell had seemed to sense the possibility of an unhappy ending several minutes earlier. After Meeks had powered his way to one of his eight offensive rebounds midway through the second half, Bell waved his arm in frustration and muttered something to two teammates, presumably about not letting the Tar Heels stomp their way to so much success around the basket.

Apparently no one listened when it mattered most.

“I wish I had something I could say to make them feel better,” said Oregon Coach Dana Altman, whose team had rallied from nine points down in the final minutes. “It hurts.”

North Carolina (32-7) advanced to play Gonzaga on Monday night in its second consecutive appearance in the championship game. Not that Tar Heels coach Roy Williams was contemplating anything pleasurable after all the missed free throws.

“Oh, jump off a building,” he said of his thoughts.

There were plenty of opportunities for Oregon in the final minutes, some sloppy play by the Tar Heels letting the Ducks (33-6) stay within range of an improbable comeback. But Oregon continually missed three-point shots and misfired on other chances, such as when Dylan Ennis failed to connect with Bell while throwing an errant alley-oop pass.

Oregon did cut its deficit to 77-74 with 42 seconds left after Tyler Dorsey’s three-pointer hit the front of the rim and rolled toward the back before reversing course and dropping through the net. The Ducks had an opportunity to tie the score after Pinson missed a jumper during a disjointed possession for North Carolina.

Oregon never got off a three-pointer, however. Ennis hurled a pass underneath the basket to Keith Smith for a layup with six seconds left. The Ducks fouled Meeks on the inbounds pass and he missed both free throws, starting the madcap final sequence.

“If it wasn’t for Kennedy Meeks, we wouldn’t have been in the basketball game,” Williams said of the forward who finished with 25 points on 11-for-13 shooting to go with 14 rebounds. “To miss those two free throws, it just killed him, but he got the last rebound as well.

“He was sensational until the two free throws. But we’re still playing.”

Meanwhile, the title drought continues for the Pac-12 Conference, which has not produced a national champion since Arizona in 1997 or had a team make the final game of the season since UCLA in 2006. Oregon was trying to get to the championship game for the first time since 1939, when it won the inaugural NCAA tournament.

Dorsey nearly went from Mr. March to Mr. April, scoring 21 points to log his eighth consecutive game with at least 20. Ennis added 18 points in his final college game and Bell finished with 13 points and 16 rebounds. It wasn’t enough.

Ennis could only crouch in disgust near midcourt after an ending that left multiple Ducks feeling culpable.

“The first one got tipped out, they got it,” guard Casey Benson said of the Tar Heels’ late rebounds. “The second one, they got it again. I wish I could have gone up and gotten it. That was on me.”

Twitter: @latbbolch

Another first for Gonzaga: The Bulldogs dispatch South Carolina to make it to the NCAA title game

 (Matt York / Associated Press)
(Matt York / Associated Press)

College roommates often tell each other just about every thought, no matter how outlandish, assuming it will stay among friends. That confidence code apparently doesn’t apply to Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss, who freely disclosed what Zach Collins had expressed Saturday before the biggest game of their careers.

“He said, ‘Look, I wouldn’t want to be playing against me today,’ ” Williams-Goss said. “I looked at him and I said, ‘All right, let’s do it then.’ ”

They did it as one, Williams-Goss controlling the game with his shotmaking and Collins contributing across the board to help their tiny school come up big in a battle of Final Four newcomers.

The Bulldogs survived a second half of epic momentum swings, holding on for a 77-73 victory over South Carolina in an NCAA tournament semifinal at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Bulldogs will play North Carolina for the national championship on Monday.

Gonzaga (37-1) persevered with some pluck and some luck, Collins’ three-pointer nudging them ahead to stay with 6:42 left after bouncing off the back of the rim and rolling into the basket.

Williams-Goss led all scorers with 23 points on nine-for-16 shooting and Collins was everywhere the Bulldogs needed him to be, finishing with 14 points, 13 rebounds and six momentum-shifting blocks.

“I knew I had a couple of rough games before this,” said Collins, a freshman forward. “And I wanted to come out and just play a lot better for my team. In my head, I just said I had no choice. And that’s when I told Nigel I just felt really good.”

Collins also was head cheerleader after Gonzaga reserve forward Killian Tillie made the first of two free throws with 2.2 seconds remaining, chest-bumping his teammate before Tillie’s second free throw dropped through the net to give his team a four-point lead. The Bulldogs surged onto the court in celebration after a halfcourt heave at the buzzer by South Carolina’s PJ Dozier was well off the mark.

It was a victory that was a tribute to Dan Dickau, Adam Morrison and all the other former Bulldogs greats, the school’s 19th consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament resulting in the Bulldogs’ first chance to win a title. Just don’t call them the darling underdogs.

“It’s not 1997 anymore,” South Carolina Coach Frank Martin said dryly. “They were Cinderella and all that pretty stuff in ’97. They’ve been in this thing for 20 consecutive years. They’re as high major as high major can get.”

Gonzaga showed some smarts in the final seconds, intentionally fouling South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell with 3.5 seconds left with the Gamecocks needing a three-pointer to tie the score.

“I thought we waited a little long to do that, quite honestly,” Bulldogs Coach Mark Few said. “But [Josh Perkins] went out and grabbed him before he was in the shooting motion and as it turned out you couldn’t be any better, you know?”

Thornwell made the first free throw but purposely bounced the second off the back of the rim, allowing Tillie to grab the rebound and make the free throws that put the game out of reach.

The wild ending came after Gonzaga had built a 14-point lead and withstood a 16-0 surge by South Carolina before generating a 7-0 run of its own. Collins’ lob over the top of the Gamecocks defense led to a layup by teammate Przemek Karnowski that gave Gonzaga a 72-67 lead. 

Karnowski, who had returned after taking an inadvertent hand to the eye in the first half that resulted in blurry vision, flapped his arms in celebration as he walked toward the bench during the timeout that followed.

The Gamecocks (26-11) closed to within 75-72 thanks in part to a spinning layup by Thornwell and a Dozier putback, getting possession with 12.7 seconds left after Gonzaga’s Johnathan Williams lost the ball out of bounds chasing a rebound. But Perkins’ foul several seconds later thwarted the Gamecocks’ plans to get off a tying shot.

Few, who had long been criticized for building a program that was good but not just good enough to beat its heavyweight counterparts, attempted a handstand in the locker room after the game.

“We’ve been on this team to show some emotion, because there’s always expectations with Gonzaga teams that they should win every game,” Few said. “Sometimes I worry that my guys get, like, it’s a job. And we’ve been on them to show emotion. So they’re always on me to show emotion after a win. So that’s my fairly weak effort of showing emotion.”

Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch

North Carolina has enough in reserve to edge Kentucky, 75-73

North Carolina forward Luke Maye reacts after making a shot against Kentucky late in the second half Sunday. (Andy Lyons / Getty Images)
North Carolina forward Luke Maye reacts after making a shot against Kentucky late in the second half Sunday. (Andy Lyons / Getty Images)

Luke Maye’s aspirations for the game’s final sequence matched his pedigree. A bit player for most of his career, the onetime walk-on forward figured maybe he could put himself in position to grab a rebound.

He ended up nudging North Carolina back into the Final Four.

As Tar Heels teammate Theo Pinson drove into the lane, cutting off two Kentucky defenders with the score tied in the closing seconds Sunday evening at FedExForum, Maye backpedaled toward the perimeter. Pinson flipped the ball to Maye, who rose for a jumper that fell through the net and into North Carolina lore.

“I saw an opening and I shot it,” Maye would say later. “I don’t know even if it was a three or a two. I’m still not sure.”

Maye’s long two-pointer with three-tenths of a second left lifted the top-seeded Tar Heels to a 75-73 victory over the second-seeded Wildcats in the NCAA tournament South Regional final, and into a national semifinal against Oregon on Saturday at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. 

It also served as a rebuttal of sorts to the soul-crushing ending his team had endured against Villanova last season in the national championship game.

North Carolina’s Marcus Paige had made a dramatic three-pointer to tie the score in the final seconds, only to be upstaged by Villanova’s Kris Jenkins, who made a three-pointer at the buzzer.

“For it to work in our favor this time,” said Tar Heels guard Nate Britt, “does feel a little bit better.”

Kentucky’s Malik Monk played the role of Paige on Sunday, grabbing a handoff from Isaiah Briscoe, taking one dribble toward the top of the key and rising for a three-pointer over the flailing arms of two North Carolina defenders to tie the score at 73-73 with nine seconds left. The shot came three months after Monk had made another three-pointer in the final seconds to lift the Wildcats over the Tar Heels in Las Vegas.

As Kentucky players leaped in celebration on the bench and Wildcats fans who had spent most of the game howling at officials roared in delight, the Tar Heels pondered overtime.

“I was kind of like, oh my gosh, he did not just make that shot,” Britt said of Monk’s three-pointer, which capped a wild Wildcats rally from seven points down with 54 seconds left. The comeback included two three-pointers by Monk (12 points) and one by teammate De’Aaron Fox (13).

The Tar Heels (31-7) had a timeout left as they prepared to inbound the ball but knew Coach Roy Williams had no intention of using it because he likes his team to attack if there’s more than six seconds left.

“I was just screaming, ‘Go, go, go!’” Williams said.

“I probably should have called time out,” Kentucky Coach John Calipari said. “It entered my mind, but they got [the ball] in so quick, I couldn’t get to anybody to do it.” 

Pinson took the inbounds pass and zipped up the right side of the court before cutting back toward the middle after he crossed midcourt, momentarily ignoring Maye, who was raising his arm and calling for the ball.

Maye was the most unlikely player on the court to emerge as the hero. The sophomore entered the regional having averaged 5.1 points and 3.8 rebounds in only 13.8 minutes per game this season, his first on scholarship after being a preferred walk-on as a freshman.

He flashed his potential with 16 points and 12 rebounds in North Carolina’s victory over Butler in the regional semifinal and was in the game at the end Sunday because he had made five of his first eight shots.

“I don’t think Luke has put together two games like this all season,” North Carolina forward Justin Jackson said of the teammate who finished with a career-high 17 points and was selected most outstanding player of the regional.

Maye also made two free throws as part of North Carolina’s 12-0 run that wiped out the 64-59 deficit it faced with five minutes left. The Tar Heels switched to a zone defense that thwarted Kentucky’s dribble penetration and were emboldened by having completed a similar comeback against Arkansas in the second round last week.

“We’ve got the same situation,” Williams said he told his team. “You have shown that you can do this.”

Maye had played only 10 minutes in that game against the Razorbacks, scoring seven points. After sinking the jumper that provided the go-ahead points against the Wildcats (32-6), Maye pumped his fist and hoisted teammate Joel Berry into the air.

The subsequent full-court inbounds pass from Kentucky’s Derek Willis sailed out of bounds and the celebrating commenced for the Tar Heels. North Carolina fans bellowed “Luuuuuuke!” as Maye climbed a ladder underneath one basket, took two snips and held a strand of net aloft.

A few minutes earlier, as Maye conducted an interview in front of cameras, Pinson walked up from behind, patted his teammate on the back and interjected, “I passed him the ball.” Good things happened from there, the kid whose father once played quarterback for North Carolina’s football team having come of age in front of a nation.

“I came from a small town in North Carolina and always wanted to be in this opportunity,” Maye said, “and now that I’ve had it, it’s an awesome feeling.”

South Carolina knocks off fourth-seeded Florida, 77-70

South Carolina guard Sindarius Thornwell (0), who finished with 26 points, tries to drive against Florida forward Devin Robinson during the first half Sunday. (Frank Franklin II / Associated Press)
South Carolina guard Sindarius Thornwell (0), who finished with 26 points, tries to drive against Florida forward Devin Robinson during the first half Sunday. (Frank Franklin II / Associated Press)

It's only right that South Carolina's first trip to Final Four was earned through its defense. 

A team known for a swarming zone used it effectively down the stretch to beat Florida, 77-70, on Sunday and win the East Regional at Madison Square Garden on Sunday. 

Sindarius Thornwell scored 26 points for the seventh-seeded Gamecocks (26-10) against the fourth-seeded Gators (27-9) in the all-Southeastern Conference matchup. 

South Carolina will face Gonzaga, the No. 1-seeded team from the West Regional, in the Final Four on Saturday at Glendale, Ariz. 

“Gamecock Nation, we heard you loud and clear,” Coach Frank Martin roared as the team prepared to cut down the nets. “We'll see you in Phoenix.” 

The game was as close as expected until the final minute. There were 14 lead changes and 10 ties. The last lead change came on two free throws by Thornwell with 2:24 left that made it 65-63. Florida managed just three field goals over the final 3:55. 

Thornwell, the regional MVP, followed the deciding free throws with a nice assist to Maik Kotsar for a four-point lead. It seemed Thornwell, who scored eight straight points for the Gamecocks, was always where he needed to be during the game, including making a steal with 40 seconds left that turned into a 73-68 lead. 

“I just made plays,” Thornwell said. “Plays needed to be made down the stretch and I stepped up and made plays.” 

“Thornwell was just being Thornwell,” Florida Coach Mike White said of the SEC player of the year. “He's one of the best players in the country.” 

PJ Dozier added 17 points for the Gamecocks, Chris Silva had 13 and Kotsar 12. 

It all totaled to a Final Four trip for Martin, he of the booming voice and terrifying faces. 

Justin Leon had 18 points for the Gators who managed a 40-33 halftime lead on seven-for-12 shooting from three-point range. But that was it. Florida missed all 14 of its shots from beyond the arc in the second half, a lot like the 0-for-17 effort the Gators had in their first meeting with South Carolina this season. 

South Carolina, which forced Florida into 16 turnovers, finished 23 for 31 from the free-throw line, including a nine-for-10 effort from Thornwell.

Oregon fends off top-seeded Kansas for first Final Four since the first one

Oregon'a Casey Benson and Dylan Ennis celebrate at the end of the first half an Elite Eight game on the NCAA tournament on March 25. (Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)
Oregon'a Casey Benson and Dylan Ennis celebrate at the end of the first half an Elite Eight game on the NCAA tournament on March 25. (Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)

Oregon’s Jordan Bell is a mild-mannered forward from Long Beach Poly who has a curious effect on opponents on the basketball court. Eyes widen. Limbs stiffen. The body does things the brain does not want.

With nine minutes left in Oregon’s program-quaking, 74-60, win over No. 1 seeded Kansas that sent the Ducks to the Final Four on Saturday, Bell elicited only one palpable emotion: abject fear.

Oregon was up 13 but looked shaky on offense. A heavy pro-Kansas crowd was latching to any signs of life when Landen Lucas, the Jayhawks’ 6-foot-10, 250-pound forward, raced alone toward the basket. He soared. Bell appeared from behind like a boogeyman. He rejected the layup, hard, his hand somewhere near the square on the backboard.

The ricochet found Kansas’ Devonte’ Graham, who geared up for another try. He dashed into the lane. His eyes landed on Bell. His floater never even reached the rim, even though
 Graham was only a couple of feet away.

At the next break, Kansas’ stone-faced point guard, Frank Mason III, looked up at the replay. Mason’s expression didn’t change the entire game. But seeing the block again, his eyebrows twitched.

Bell and his fellow Southern Californian, Maranatha High’s Tyler Dorsey, brutalized the tournament’s hottest team in the Midwest Regional final. Bell scored 11 points and had 13 rebounds. He blocked a game-changing eight shots. There were few Kansas possessions that were not affected by Bell’s strong right hand — or just his presence.

“I’m scared of him when I go to practice, man,” guard Dylan Ennis said.

“He was a dominating figure,” Coach Dana Altman said.

When Bell arrived at Oregon, he said he promised to send Coach Dana Altman to the Final Four. Oregon fell a game short last season. After that game, Bell found Altman.

“I said, ‘Coach, I got you next year, for sure,’” he said.

The last time the Ducks reached the Final Four was also the first Final Four, in 1939. Oregon ended up winning the whole thing, which probably impressed Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of basketball. He attended the game.

For the Pac-12 Conference, the drought was shorter but more embarrassing. No conference team had reached the Final Four since UCLA in 2008. This season, it produced three top-tier teams but the many coaches and players felt mostly ignored by the rest of the country.

“They can keep talking, and we’re going to try to keep winning and silence them,” Dorsey, confetti stuck to his neck, said after cutting down the nets. “But we’re not really worried about no respect. I guess they probably respect us now.”

For Kansas, it was another agonizing end in the regional final. The Jayhawks had obliterated their first three opponents by a credulity-straining average of 30 points.

But Oregon owned the game from the start. Were it not for Mason, it might have been a runaway. He scored all 15 Kansas points over one six-minute span in the first half.

But Dorsey made two three-pointers in the final minute of the first half, including a bank shot at the buzzer, to give Oregon a 44-33 halftime lead.

Dorsey had been a rare miss for Kansas in recruiting — to which UCLA and USC could relate.

“We wanted Tyler, bad,” Kansas Coach Bill Self said.

Dorsey had been just good until the postseason began. Since, he has been a star. After ending the regular season with one point against Oregon State, he has accumulated seven 20-point games in a row.

Dorsey finished with 27 points on nine-of-13 shooting. That helped Oregon take an 18-point lead five minutes into the second half.

But then Oregon’s offense short-circuited. Kansas was charging. The lead was down to six with less than two minutes left. A missed Oregon shot came right to Kansas. Josh Jackson leaped. So did Mason. They missed it.

The ball found Bell. He passed to Dorsey. The three-pointer went in, and the Ducks’ party could begin.

Gonzaga topples Xavier, 83-59, to reach Final Four

Gonzaga players celebrate after beating Xavier, 83-59, to advance to the Final Four of the NCAA tournament on March 25. (Tony Avelar / Associated Press)
Gonzaga players celebrate after beating Xavier, 83-59, to advance to the Final Four of the NCAA tournament on March 25. (Tony Avelar / Associated Press)

Nigel Williams-Goss scored 23 points while orchestrating Gonzaga's efficient offense, and the Zags finally shook their overrated tag by routing Xavier, 83-59, on Saturday to reach the Final Four for the first time. 

Gonzaga (36-1) has been dogged by criticism through the years despite winning consistently, in part for playing in a weak conference but also for never making the Final Four. 

On the cusp of history, the Zags took it head on with a superb all-around game to give coach Mark Few the one missing piece of his resume. 

Gonzaga found the range from the perimeter after struggling the first three NCAA tournament games, making 12 of 24 from 3-point range. The defense, a soft spot in the past, shut down the underdog and 11th-seeded Musketeers (24-14) to win the West Region. 

The Zags will face the winner between South Carolina and Florida in next week's Final Four in Arizona. 

J.P Macura led the Musketeers with 18 points. 

The Musketeers brought their turn-the-page jar of ashes to the NCAA tournament, where they burned through a string of upsets to reach their third Elite Eight and first since 2008. They beat Maryland and Florida State and took down No. 2 Arizona in the regional semifinals, setting up a matchup of small Jesuit schools seeking their first Final Four. 

The Final Four was the only thing missing on Few's resume, which includes 18 straight NCAA tournaments, eight trips to the Sweet 16 and a third Elite Eight after surviving West Virginia's constant pressure in the regional semifinals. 

The Zags struggled to find an offensive rhythm against the Mountaineers — who doesn't? — but had it flowing against Xavier. 

Gonzaga came into the Elite Eight hitting 29 percent of its 3-point shots after making 37 percent during the season. The Zags found the range early against Xavier, hitting 8 of 13 from the arc in the first half, mostly against the Musketeers' zone or on kick-outs from center Przemek Karnowski. 

Xavier got off to a good start offensively by working the ball around, but hit a dry spell and made 1 of 5 from 3-point range as Gonzaga stretched to lead to 49-39 by halftime. 

Halftime did little to slow the Zags, who pushed the lead to 59-42 on 3-pointers by Williams-Goss and Jordan Mathews. Gonzaga kept the machine rolling in the second half, continuing to make shots while its defense prevented the Musketeers from making any kind of run. 

Florida beats Wisconsin, 84-83, with buzzer-beating three-pointer in overtime

Chris Chiozza went end to end and made a three-pointer at the buzzer to give Florida an 84-83 victory against Wisconsin on Friday night in the first overtime game of this NCAA Tournament. 

Nigel Hayes had given the Badgers (27-10) a 2-point lead with four seconds left on two free throws. With no timeouts left, the Gators inbounded to Chiozza and the point guard stopped right at the top of the arc and dropped in the winner for Florida (27-8). 

Wisconsin's Zak Showalter forced overtime with a leaning 3-pointer off one leg with 2.1 seconds left in regulation as the Badgers wiped out a 12-point deficit in the last 4:15. 

The fourth-seeded Gators will play South Carolina on Sunday in an all-Southeastern Conference regional final at Madison Square Garden. Florida is in the Elite Eight for the first time since 2014, and for the first time with second-year coach Mike White — the man who replaced Billy Donovan in Gainesville. 

Wisconsin built a five-point lead in overtime, but with star guard Bronson Koenig hobbled by a leg issue the Badgers couldn't close out Florida. 

After Wisconsin's Khalil Iverson hit the front of the rim on a breakaway dunk, Chiozza drove by the Badgers defense at the other end for a layup that tied it at 81 with 24 seconds left. 

The Badgers put it in Hayes' hands on their final possession. The senior who scored the winning bucket in Wisconsin's upset of defending champion Villanova, used a spin move to draw a foul going to the hoop. 

Making their fourth straight Sweet 16 appearance, it looked as if the experienced Badgers had once again found a way to survive and advance. 

Chiozza then earned himself a spot in the “One Shining Moment” montage with a shot that will go down in Gators' history. 

KeVaughn Allen carried Florida most of the way, breaking out of a slump with a career-high 35 points. 

Hayes had 22 in his last game for Wisconsin.


The Wildcats finish off the Bruins, 86-75

UCLA guard Bryce Alford checks the scoreboard late in the second half. (Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)
UCLA guard Bryce Alford checks the scoreboard late in the second half. (Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)

The nation’s highest-scoring team found out what it felt like to get overrun at the worst possible time.

UCLA was trampled in the second half Friday night, its star freshmen unable to keep pace with their Kentucky counterparts. Now the Wildcats will move on while at least two Bruins may play their next games in the NBA.

The third-seeded Bruins were no match for the second-seeded Wildcats in a rematch between the teams, an 86-75 setback in an NCAA tournament South Regional semifinal ending their season far short of the intended destination.

Kentucky (32-5) will play top-seeded North Carolina on Sunday in the regional final. The Tar Heels defeated Butler, 92-80, in an earlier regional semifinal.


Kentucky opens a double-digit lead, 73-61, with 4 ½ minutes left


UCLA in need of a comeback in the final minutes


Wildcats maintaining lead over Bruins in second half

Florida erases 11-point deficit to take halftime lead over Wisconsin


TJ Leaf starts strong, but Bruins trail the Wildcats by three points at halftime

UCLA forward TJ Leaf takes off for a dunk against Kentucky during the first half Friday. (Andy Lyons / Getty Images)
UCLA forward TJ Leaf takes off for a dunk against Kentucky during the first half Friday. (Andy Lyons / Getty Images)

UCLA relied on a familiar formula in the early going against Kentucky on Friday night: lots of TJ Leaf.

The power forward who had been so good against the Wildcats in December was strong again in the first half of the Bruins’ NCAA tournament South Regional semifinal at FedEx Forum.

Leaf had 13 points on five-for-eight shooting along with four rebounds to lead third-seeded UCLA, which trailed second-seeded Kentucky, 36-33, at halftime.

Leaf got his team rolling with five early points on a three-pointer and a put-back dunk, helping the Bruins take an early 11-6 lead. But Kentucky’s De'Aaron Fox was a sly scorer, making his first five shots on the way to 15 first-half points, including a floating jumper in the seconds before halftime.

The winner will play top-seeded North Carolina on Sunday in the regional final. The Tar Heels defeated Butler, 92-80, in the earlier South semifinal.

Leaf was reprising his role from three months ago, when he had 17 points, 13 rebounds and five assists during the Bruins’ 97-92 victory over Kentucky at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky.

UCLA’s Thomas Welsh logged seven points and six rebounds and Lonzo Ball had six points, three assists and two rebounds.

But the Bruins got essentially no contributions from senior guards Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton, who combined for three points in the first half on one-for-six shooting. Hamilton missed a layup in transition after Ball whipped a pass through all five Kentucky defenders.

Lakers executive Magic Johnson was at the game to scout the slew of potential lottery picks, seated three rows in front of UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero. A North Carolina official settled into a seat in front of Johnson during the first half.

The discrepancy in fan support was evident from the moment Alford jogged onto the court ahead of his teammates. The Bruins were greeted by some cheers as the senior guard raised his arm to call for a ball. Moments later, the Wildcats appeared and the roar of the Kentucky fans filled the arena.


It's a back-and-forth game between UCLA and Kentucky

South Carolina pulls away from Baylor, 70-50, and into East Regional final

South Carolina guard Duane Notice celebrates after making a three-pointer against Baylor during the second half Friday night. (Elsa / Getty Images)
South Carolina guard Duane Notice celebrates after making a three-pointer against Baylor during the second half Friday night. (Elsa / Getty Images)

Sindarius Thornwell scored 24 points and seventh-seeded South Carolina cruised past third-seeded Baylor, 70-50, on Friday night in the East Regional semifinals, the Bears' worst NCAA tournament loss. 

The Gamecocks (25-10) were in control from the middle of the first half on, mixing defenses and hustling all over the Madison Square Garden court to advance to the Elite Eight for the first time. 

South Carolina will meet the winner of the late Wisconsin-Florida game on Sunday with a trip to the Final Four at stake. 

DJ Dozier and Chris Silva had 12 points each and Duane Notice added 11 for the Gamecocks. 

Johnathan Motley had 18 points, 12 in the second half, for Baylor (27-8), which just couldn't get any offense going. The Bears missed 11 of their first 13 shots from the field and it didn't get a whole lot better the entire game. They made only 17 of 56 shots from the field (30.4%), including three of 13 from three-point range.

South Carolina opened the second half on a 12-6 run to get the lead to 49-28. The Gamecocks' largest lead was 63-41. 

Baylor was able to close to 11 points but that was as tight as the game would get. 

The Gamecocks went on a 16-0 run that lasted 7:44 in the first half. They turned a 15-15 tie into a 31-15 lead with 2:50 left in the first half. The Bears went 0 for 10 from the field and committed four turnovers in the run. South Carolina's biggest lead of the half was 37-20 on a three-pointer by Notice with 29 seconds left until halftime before Baylor scored before intermission. 

The Bears shot just 25% (eight of 32) from the field in the first half and committed seven turnovers.

North Carolina coasts past Butler, 92-80, to reach Elite Eight

North Carolina's Nate Britt (0) celebrates with his teammates Tony Bradley (5) and Justin Jackson (44) during the second half of a Sweet 16 game against Butler on March 24. (Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)
North Carolina's Nate Britt (0) celebrates with his teammates Tony Bradley (5) and Justin Jackson (44) during the second half of a Sweet 16 game against Butler on March 24. (Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)

Joel Berry II scored 26 points and Justin Jackson added 24 as top-seeded North Carolina moved to the Elite Eight with a 92-80 victory over Butler in the NCAA South Region on Friday night. 

Luke Maye recorded his first career double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds, helping fuel a quick start for Carolina (30-7). The Tar Heels never let their lead get under double digits in the second half. 

Andrew Chrabascz led the fourth-seeded Bulldogs (25-9) with 21 points and seven rebounds, while Kelan Martin finished with 16 points for Butler, which struggled shooting early and did not recover. 

Carolina, which reached the Elite Eight for the 27th time, will face the winner of Friday's second game between UCLA and Kentucky. The Tar Heels connected on 54.4 percent of their shots, while Butler was at 43.5 percent. 

The Tar Heels broke out of the gate early, building a double-digit lead and really weren't threatened after halftime, although Butler did get within 10 at one point. 

North Carolina used early accurate shooting to build a 16-point lead as the Tar Heels connected on 13 of their first 18 shots, including missing only one of seven from outside the arc. 

Meanwhile, the Bulldogs were suffering through a scoring drought the stretched beyond 4 minutes. 

That helped Carolina build the advantage to 30-14 when Maye connected on a 3-pointer near the midway point of the first half. 

While Butler managed to whittle the deficit to single digits on a couple of occasions before halftime, North Carolina would simply answer with another rally, the last one of the half stretching the Tar Heels lead to 52-32 on its eighth 3-pointer of the half. 

By halftime, Jackson had 17 points, and Maye had already reached his career-high in points with 14, plus grabbing nine of the Tar Heels' 22 boards. That helped Carolina carry a 52-36 lead into the break. 

Chrabascz led the Bulldogs with 11 points. 

The Tar Heels lead would stretch the lead back to 20 near the 12-minute mark of the second half, but Butler didn't exactly allow North Carolina to coast home. A 13-4 Bulldog run made a dent in the advantage as Martin had seven in the stretch with Avery Woodson connecting on a 3-pointer. Martin closed out the run with another 3-pointer to pull Butler within 71-60. 

But while the Bulldogs would cut the Carolina advantage to 10 points 2 minutes later, they would get no closer the rest of the way.

Xavier upsets No. 2-seeded Arizona, 73-71

Xavier guard Trevon Bluiett drives past Arizona center Chance Comanche (21) during the first half Thursday night. (Tony Avelar / Associated Press)
Xavier guard Trevon Bluiett drives past Arizona center Chance Comanche (21) during the first half Thursday night. (Tony Avelar / Associated Press)

Trevon Bluiett scored 25 points, Sean O'Mara scored inside with 40 seconds left and No. 11 seed Xavier upset No. 2-seeded Arizona, 73-71, in a West Regional semifinal on Thursday night. 

Xavier (30-13) stayed with the second-seeded Wildcats behind Bluiett's 18 first-half points and tracked down the Wildcats after they tried to pull away in the second half. O'Mara scored on a power move inside, but missed a free throw to give Arizona (32-5) a final chance. 

Allonzo Trier missed a three-pointer in the closing seconds and Xavier was able to dribble out the clock, earning its first trip to the Elite Eight since 2008. 

The Musketeers held Arizona scoreless over the final 2:52 to earn a spot in the West final against No. 1-seeded Gonzaga on Saturday. 

Trier scored 15 of his 19 points in the second half and Dusan Ristic had 17 for Arizona.

Xavier made an improbable run to its fourth Sweet 16 in eight years under Coach Chris Mack, overcoming a late six-game losing streak and slew of injuries that included the loss of point guard Edmond Sumner to a torn left ACL in late January.

The Musketeers were the lone double-digit seed left in the bracket after knocking off Maryland and Florida State in the first two rounds, setting up their second Sweet 16 game against Arizona in three years. 

Arizona won the previous meeting to reach the Elite Eight, putting Coach Sean Miller one up on Mack, his former assistant. 

Bluiett kept the Musketeers in San Jose, converting seven of eight shots and both of his free throws to score 18 points in the first half. 

Arizona led 37-35 after turning 11 offensive rebounds into 13 second-chance points. 

Xavier came out hot to start the second half, making six of its eight shots to build a 48-45 lead. Arizona answered with a run of its own and Trier started lighting it up, scoring 15 straight points as Arizona built a 67-61 lead. 

With super fan Bill Murray cheering them on — his son is an assistant coach — the Musketeers battled their way back with a 7-0 run, tying the score at 71-all with less than two minutes left.

Frank Mason III leads Kansas to a 98-66 rout of Purdue

Kansas guard Frank Mason III makes a pass around Purdue center Isaac Haas during the first half Thursday. (Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)
Kansas guard Frank Mason III makes a pass around Purdue center Isaac Haas during the first half Thursday. (Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)

No team left in the tournament provides the raw, visceral viewing experience that Kansas does.

Witness: In the second half of Jayhawks’ 98-66 victory over Purdue, Lagerald Vick swiped the ball, tooled away, spun 360 degrees in the air and slammed the ball hard — a dunk contest move in the middle of a regional semifinal game.

“I lost my mind,” forward Josh Jackson said. “I forgot I was out there playing for a minute.”

Right now, this tournament belongs to the Jayhawks. They spotted Purdue an eight-point lead late in the first half as if it were charity.

Their average margin of victory in the tournament is now 30 points. They’re the first team since Connecticut in 1995 to score 90 or more points in their first three games.

“I would say we’re pretty good,” forward Svi Mykhailiuk said.

“We’re spoiled,” Coach Bill Self said.

And to think, some questioned point guard Frank Mason III’s ability to play against bigger competition such as Purdue. He scored 26 points, missed just two shots and had seven rebounds and assists.

“He settled a lot of debates a long time ago,” Jackson said. “Tonight, if that didn’t, then I don’t know what to tell you.”

Top-seeded Gonzaga holds off West Virginia, advancing to West Regional final

Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski looks to score inside against West Virginia forward Elijah Macon during the first half Thursday night. (Tony Avelar / Associated Press)
Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski looks to score inside against West Virginia forward Elijah Macon during the first half Thursday night. (Tony Avelar / Associated Press)

Jordan Mathews made the go-ahead three-pointer with less than a minute to play as top-seeded Gonzaga survived a rough shooting night for both teams to beat No. 4-seeded West Virginia, 61-58, on Thursday night to advance to the West Regional final. 

On a night that featured 51 fouls and only 34 made baskets, Mathews delivered the big shot that sent the Bulldogs (35-1) to their third Elite Eight in school history. 

It didn't come easily.

West Virginia (29-8) had three shots to tie the game, but Tarik Phillip missed a shot from the lane and Jevon Carter missed two three-pointers after Silas Melson made one foul shot.

The Mountaineers rebounded both misses but couldn't get another shot off before the buzzer.

Despite shooting 26.7% for the game, West Virginia stayed close and took a 58-55 lead on a three-pointer by Carter with 1:47 to play. Nigel Williams-Goss answered with two free throws. 

After Daxter Miles Jr. missed two fouls shots and Nathan Adrian was blocked by Josh Perkins on the put-back attempt, Williams-Goss found Mathews in the corner for the open three-pointer that proved to be the game-winner. 

Mathews, Przemek Karnowski and Johnathan Williams all had 13 points to lead the Bulldogs. 

Carter led the Mountaineers with 21 points. 

The game was tied at 30 after a first half that was far from an aesthetic masterpiece with 27 fouls and just 16 baskets. The teams combined for 29% shooting, including 2 of 16 from three-point range. 

The Bulldogs created some space early in the second when Mathews hit three-pointers on consecutive trips and added a free throw for a four-point play on the second to make it 41-34. But the Mountaineers fought back and the game stayed tight until the end.

Oregon edges Michigan, 69-68, to advance to NCAA's Midwest Regional final

Oregon guard Tyler Dorsey comes up with a steal against Michigan's Zak Irvin (21) and Derrick Walton Jr. (10) during the second half Thursday night. (Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)
Oregon guard Tyler Dorsey comes up with a steal against Michigan's Zak Irvin (21) and Derrick Walton Jr. (10) during the second half Thursday night. (Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)

How to repay a friend who just saved you from infamy? Dylan Ennis sat in Oregon’s locker room after the Ducks’ 69-68 win over Michigan and considered what he owed Jordan Bell.

“I gotta buy him dinner,” Ennis said. “I definitely gotta buy him dinner.”

Cheesecake Factory, maybe, he said — Bell’s favorite.

“Dylan owes me a car,” said Bell, sitting across the locker room, unimpressed.

Ennis was in no position to negotiate, not after Bell bailed him out after two crucial missed free throws late in Thursday’s first Midwest Regional semifinal.

Two Los Angeles-area guys, Long Beach Poly’s Bell and Maranatha High’s Tyler Dorsey, did mop-up duty for the Ducks to put the Pac-12 Conference one win from the Final Four. A masterpiece the game was not. Only Dorsey and Michigan’s Derrick Walton Jr. dazzled. Each scored 20.

With two minutes left, Walton made a slick jumper that rattled almost in, out, then back in again. It was the kind of roll a team gets after it has been in a minor plane crash, which, coincidentally, Michigan was this month before winning six in a row. The make kept the magic alive. Michigan led by three.

Ennis got his first free throw 12 seconds later. Clank. But Bell wriggled past Michigan’s box-out and scored a putback.

Dorsey hit the go-ahead basket on the next possession.

Ennis’ trials weren’t over. With 15 seconds left, another Bell rebound (he scored 16 points with 13 rebounds) gave Ennis a chance at redemption. Clank.

During a timeout, Ennis thought to himself, “Damn, Dylan. Good job. I almost pissed away the season.”

He looked for sympathy; he found his dad.

“Free throws, Dylan,” his dad said.

Oregon Coach Dana Altman had more pressing issues. He needed Ennis to foul Walton before he could hoist a game-winning shot. The Ducks had fouls to give. Altman made that clear.

Walton pulled up. Ennis played it clean.

“I was a little upset,” Altman said.

He waited. Michigan waited.

“No one else on the team we wanted taking that shot,” guard Zak Irvin said.

Sometimes, a mess of a game can produce pleasing symmetry. Oregon and Michigan finished with the same number of shots: 58. Oregon made 26. Michigan made 25.

Michigan was one short: The magic expired, Walton’s try hit the front rim and Ennis was free.

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