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NCAA tournament live updates: North Carolina to face Gonzaga in NCAA championship game

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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)

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.”

ben.bolch@latimes.com

Twitter: @latbbolch

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

(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.”

ben.bolch@latimes.com

Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch

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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.
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.”

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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)

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.

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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’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.

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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)

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.

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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.

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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)

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.

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

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UCLA in need of a comeback in the final minutes

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Wildcats maintaining lead over Bruins in second half

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

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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 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.

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

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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)

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.

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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)

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.

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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)

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.

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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)

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.”

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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)

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.

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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)

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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It’s on to the Sweet 16 for UCLA

The celebrating started with just less than three minutes to play, Bryce Alford holding his hands high and wriggling his fingers to coax cheers from roaring UCLA fans.

The Bruins are headed back to the NCAA tournament’s second weekend.

It took some gutsy play from Alford and teammate TJ Leaf, who shrugged off a horrid first half to help power third-seeded UCLA to a 79-67 victory over sixth-seeded Cincinnati in an NCAA tournament second-round game Sunday evening at the Golden 1 Center.

Alford and Leaf combined for 24 of their 27 points in the second half and got plenty of help from teammate Lonzo Ball, who finished with 18 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in 38 minutes.

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The Bruins rally to take double-digit lead over Cincinnati midway through second half

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South Carolina upends second-seeded Duke, 88-81

South Carolina guard Duane Notice celebrates after making a three-pointer against Duke during the second half Sunday.
(Gregory Shamus / Getty Images)

South Carolina is heading to Madison Square Garden — and not for the NIT.

A Gamecocks program known largely — and mocked often by some — for its back-to-back NIT championships in 2005 and 2006 is now heading to the world’s most famous arena as part of the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16.

They are making their first appearance in the regional semifinals since the bracket expanded after an 88-81 victory Sunday night over No. 2-seeded Duke in the East Regional.

And Sindarius Thornwell says he believes bigger things are ahead.

“We’re not satisfied,” he said. “We’re in it, so why not win it?”

The Gamecocks (24-10) seem capable of anything after this one.

Thornwell had 24 points, Chris Silva scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half and Duane Notice had 17 points, 14 in a 65-point second half, as South Carolina rallied from 10 points down.

The 65 points were the most given up in a half by a Mike Krzyzewski-coached Duke team.

The Gamecocks shook off a 20% shooting first half for the win.

“I told the guys at halftime, someone’s got to have the courage and make shots,” South Carolina Coach Frank Martin said.

When the horn sounded, South Carolina players, coaches and staff rushed to the fans at Bon Secours Wellness Arena to celebrate — a crowd that included Houston Texans Pro Bowl defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, a former Gamecock.

Next up is the East Regional where South Carolina takes on third-seeded Baylor, an 82-78 winner over Southern Cal earlier Sunday.

Duke (28-9) was attempting to reach the round of 16 for the sixth time in eight seasons. The Blue Devils, though, could not surmount South Carolina’s stifling defense. Leading scorer Luke Kennard had his second straight subpar shooting game, finishing one of six for 11 points before fouling out.

The Blue Devils made five of their eight three-point attempts in the first half, yet only five of 19 after the break. They had tied a season high with 18 turnovers against the relentless Gamecocks attack.

Silva added 10 rebounds for his fourth double-double this season.

Grayson Allen led Duke with 20 points.

Krzyzewski said South Carolina’s physical nature wore down his team in the second half.

“That’s the most physical team we’ve faced all year,” he said.

Even as South Carolina got in front, Duke believed it could mount a comeback like the several it pulled off last week to become the first ACC champion to win four games on the way to a title.

“We’ve done it before. We thought we could,” Matt Jones said. “The shots just didn’t fall today. We couldn’t find enough energy to muster up that late push.”

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Oregon rallies in second half to turn back upset-minded Rhode Island

Rhode Island guard E.C. Matthews, center, battles Oregon guard Payton Pritchard (3) and forward Dillon Brooks for a loose ball Sunday.
(Jamie Squire / Getty Images)

Once the game ended and Oregon had narrowly advanced with a hard-fought NCAA tournament win, Tyler Dorsey considered his two missed free throws with 3:36 left and how there might have been no celebrations at all.

Instead, Dorsey delivered two clutch three-pointers to send the Ducks back to the Sweet Sixteen for a second straight year and third in five years.

Dorsey hit a contested go-ahead three-pointer from the top of the arc with 38.4 seconds left, then E.C. Matthews airballed a long three-pointer in the waning moments trying to force overtime, and third-seeded Oregon rallied in the second half to beat upstart No. 11 Rhode Island 75-72 on Sunday and reach the Midwest Regional.

“During the game I had to let it go. There was two minutes left, I dropped them and I had to keep playing, and we kept playing and kept fighting and hit the glass and got crucial offensive rebounds,” Dorsey said. “I just hit some big shots.”

With Oregon’s season on the brink, Dorsey and Dillon Brooks came through in the clutch as they have so many times this season.

Dorsey also tied the score with a three-pointer with 1:45 remaining on the way to 27 points before Brooks took a charge on the other end for Oregon (31-5).

Brooks found his shooting stroke as he typically does and scored 19 points despite a seven-for-20 shooting day. Dorsey made nineof 10 shots with four three-pointers.

Rhode Island nearly scrapped and hustled its way into the next round, with Stanford Robinson matching his career high of 21 points as the Rams (25-10) had their nine-game winning streak snapped to end the season.

Dorsey missed two free throws with 3:36 left but made up for it.

The Ducks led early behind Dorsey’s fast start, but Rhode Island grabbed momentum late in the first half.

URI closed the first half on a 14-2 run — including 7-0 over the final 1:30 with Matthews’ three-point play at 52.6 — in the last 3:23.

Robinson helped the bench contribute 30 points. He grinned from ear to ear after sinking a mid-range jumper at the 14:02 mark of the second half and Rhode Island appeared poised for another upset after stunning Creighton in the first round two days earlier.

The Rams kept crashing the offensive glass to create extra chances. They hit the court for loose balls. But Rhode Island missed a big stat line from star Hassan Martin, who had no points or rebounds playing just 14 minutes because of foul trouble.

Oregon committed 14 turnovers and failed to secure key defensive rebounds playing again without injured big man Chris Boucher, who tore the ACL in his left knee during the Pac-12 tournament semifinals.

“That defense we faced is as good as any defense we faced all year,” Oregon Coach Dana Altman said. “We were very fortunate today with our turnovers to get that done.”

Rhode Island exhibited the kind of good, old-fashioned hustle fifth-year coach Dan Hurley’s dad taught: Like Kuran Iverson’s putback with 10:53 left and a block of Brooks’ shot moments later on the other end.

Robinson, a transfer from Indiana who sat out last season, responded after being held to two points on one-for-five shooting against Creighton. The junior guard had gone just two of nine over his two previous games, but shot 10 for 12 on his biggest stage yet.

Hurley hugged and comforted his distraught players, who captured the Atlantic 10 championship to earn the program’s first NCAA bid in 18 years then won the first NCAA Tournament game by the school since advancing to the 1998 Elite Eight and losing to Stanford.

“An amazing season for us, conference champions, the run we’ve been on, the heart we showed today and the high level of play,” Hurley said.

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UCLA struggles in the first half and trails Cincinnati, 33-30

Cincinnati guard Jacob Evans tries to steal the ball from UCLA guard Isaac Hamilton during the first half.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

UCLA was not winning in style points or on the scoreboard at halftime Sunday evening.

The gritty, grind-it-out way the game was going favored sixth-seeded Cincinnati, which held a 33-30 lead over the third-seeded Bruins at the midpoint of their NCAA tournament second-round game at the Golden 1 Center.

UCLA struggled to make shots or play the frenzied style it liked. The Bruins made only 37.5% of their shots and 28.6% of their three-pointers, with power forward TJ Leaf going scoreless while missing all five shots.

The winner will advance to play second-seeded Kentucky in a South Regional semifinal on Friday at FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tenn. Coach Steve Alford is trying to guide the Bruins to that round for the third time in his four seasons with UCLA.

Alford did not like what he saw from his team’s offense for stretches in the first half, yelling “Move the ball!” after his team ran back in front of him to play defense after another lost possession.

UCLA had trailed by six points when Cincinnati’s Jarron Cumberland drove for a layup but surged ahead, 27-26, on freshman goard Lonzo Ball’s three-pointer. Ball and center Thomas Welsh led the Bruins in the first half with seven points apiece.

Leaf struggled mightily, picking up two fouls in a matter of seconds and going to the bench with 10:01 left in the first half after having missed all four of his shots. He returned with 6:22 left and quickly had a shot blocked by Cincinnati’s Gary Clark.

UCLA reserve forward Ike Anigbogu returned after sitting out the Bruins’ previous game against Kent State because of a sprained foot. He played the final 2:40 of the first half, scoring three points.

Guard Kevin Johnson scored 11 points for the Bearcats, who made 50% of their shots and four of six three-pointers (66.7%). UCLA was still well within striking distance largely because it forced eight turnovers and committed only one.

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Baylor holds off USC to advance to Sweet 16

Manu Lecomte of Baylor hadn’t scored a single point during game against USC in the NCAA tournament’s second round on Sunday.

Instead, the game was going according to USC’s NCAA tournament schedule: Early deficit, a halftime awakening and, at least until Sunday, a win.

It held until Lecomte launched a three-pointer with four minutes and 39 seconds left from the top of the key. USC was leading. It would not lead again. The three-pointer went in. He was fouled, and he made the free throw too. Then he ripped away a steal from Jordan McLaughlin, made another pair of free throws and a layup on the next possession.

USC had flirted with collapse in its first two tournament games. In each, down big, it did what it has done so many times this season: Woke up, tightened its defense and rallied furiously. The Trojans won 13 times this season after falling behind by double-digits, exactly half its win total.

Third-seeded Baylor and Lecomte smashed the formula to defeat No. 11 USC, 82-78, denying the Trojans of their first regional semifinal appearance since 2007.

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USC trails Baylor at halftime, 36-31

Baylor forward Johnathan Motley tries to block a layup by USC point guard Jordan McLaughlin during the first half Sunday.
(J Pat Carter / Getty Images)

For USC fans keeping score at home, they can make a note of two minutes and eight seconds. That was the time USC reached a familiar milestone: down double-digits in the first half of an NCAA tournament game.

If anything, USC can be happy it is making progress. Baylor’s 36-31 lead over USC in Sunday’s Eastern Regional second-round game was USC’s smallest halftime deficit yet.

On Friday, trailing by eight against SMU, Coach Andy Enfield said his halftime message was simple: “This is awesome!”

He will need more adjustments against the Bears.

Baylor harassed USC with its length. USC outshot the Bears: 52% to 43%. But the Bears grabbed 10 more rebounds, forced three more turnovers and generated 10 more shots.

They took the paint away from USC. Twice, Jonah Mathews airballed close-range shots, trying to loft a shot over a thicket of Baylor defenders’ arms. USC forward Chimezie Metu had trouble finding a rhythm until late. He scored seven points. Bennie Boatwright led USC with eight. Elijah Stewart made a pair of three-pointers to help cut the deficit.

Baylor found scoring from an unfamiliar source: King McClure. McClure averages 4.6 points per game but had 14 in Sunday’s first half. He made all four of Baylor’s three-point attempts

Unlike its previous two games, USC’s defense didn’t suffer a total collapse in the first half. The Trojans allowed a 10-0 run starting about five minutes into the game, but otherwise they encountered their biggest problems on the boards.

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Top-seeded North Carolina answers Arkansas rally to avoid upset

North Carolina forward Justin Jackson tries to protect the ball as he's trapped by Arkansas forward Moses Kingsley (33) and Manuale Watkins (21) during the first half Sunday.
(Chuck Burton / Associated Press)

North Carolina’s players talked all year about their run to last year’s NCAA championship game — that, as painful as the loss was, it prepared them for another Final Four push.

On Sunday, down to a handful of possessions with their season suddenly in peril, the Tar Heels’ experience saved them from a stunningly early exit.

Kennedy Meeks had 16 points and a huge tip-in with 44.2 seconds left, helping top-seeded UNC barely avoid a huge upset by rallying late to beat Arkansas, 72-65, in the second round of the NCAA tournament’s South Region.

“I don’t mind saying I feel a little lucky,” UNC Coach Roy Williams said. “Every now and then, I knock in a long putt, too.”

The team with three returnees who were on the court for Villanova’s title-winning three-pointer at the buzzer last year had enough composure to shake off everything on a day rapidly going wrong.

A blown 17-point first-half lead.

Arkansas’ aggressive and harassing defense.

Even a 65-60 deficit in the final three minutes, which threatened to turn the game into the kind of March Madness moment that had befallen the fellow 1-seeded Wildcats only a day earlier.

Instead UNC closed on a 12-0 run to give Williams his 18th trip to the Sweet 16 dating to his time at Kansas.

“We could’ve easily laid down those three or four minutes and gave in,” junior point guard Joel Berry II said, “but like I said, we’ve got dreams and goals we want to reach. And we just didn’t want to go home.”

Justin Jackson added 15 points for the Tar Heels (29-7), including the win-capping dunk off a turnover with 3.5 seconds left. Senior Isaiah Hicks came up big late, too, with a dunk and four free throws in the final two minutes after being a no-show much of the way.

Daryl Macon scored 19 points before battling leg cramps for the eighth-seeded Razorbacks (26-10), who did just about everything right in the second half — except close out the Tar Heels.

“We came to dance and we didn’t come to do the one-step,” Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said. “We wanted to bust up some brackets here today.”

The Razorbacks had UNC wobbling with their aggressive, mistake-forcing defense harassing the Tar Heels all over the court. And when Jaylen Barford scored in transition off a turnover, Arkansas led 65-60 with 3:28 left.

But the Tar Heels responded in a huge way.

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Top-seeded Kansas takes over late to put away Michigan State

Kansas guard Frank Mason III tries to drive past Michigan State guard Cassius Winston during their second-round game Sunday.
(Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)

Everything about Josh Jackson’s demeanor screamed this game was personal, from the back-and-forth chirping with childhood friend Miles Bridges to his emphatic late-game dunk and celebration.

Playing against the school he grew up cheering for, Jackson channeled that emotion into a dominating performance to help top-seeded Kansas advance to the Sweet 16 for a second straight year with a 90-70 victory over Michigan State on Sunday in a Midwest Regional game.

The standout freshman scored 14 of his 23 points in the second half, finishing nine of 16 from the field and ousting a Spartans team from the NCAA tournament that he very nearly joined before signing with the Jayhawks.

“I knew it was going to be a fun game before it even started,” Jackson said. “So, it was just really fun to be able to go out there and play against those guys and I’m really proud to see them here and having success.”

Frank Mason III added 20 points for the top-seeded Jayhawks, who have advanced to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament in nine of Coach Bill Self’s 14 seasons.

But it was Jackson who shook off misses on his first three shot attempts — including an embarrassing failed dunk attempt — who shined the most in his second straight dominating performance in the tournament.

And he did so while matched up for much of the game against Bridges, his former elementary school friend in Michigan.

“It’s always good when going against Josh,” Bridges said. “It gets a little physical at times. We compete every time we play against each other. He’s a great player, so it’s always good playing against him.”

Bridges finished with 22 points to lead Michigan State, doing so despite leaving the game briefly in the first half with a hip pointer before returning.

Nick Ward also finished in double figures with 13 points and Joshua Langford had 10 for the Spartans, who saw their lower-seeded NCAA Tournament magic fail against the high-powered Jayhawks who shot 53.1 percent (34 of 64) in the win.

“Josh is a hell of a player,” Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo said. “ We wanted to beat his brains in today. I’m sure the feeling was mutual. But there’s respect, and respect means there will be a friendship when it’s over.”

Michigan State entered Sunday following a dominating win over Miami in the opening round, a victory that improved the school to 14-10 as a lower seed in the NCAA tournament under Izzo — the most wins by a lower-seeded school in tournament history.

The Spartans certainly played like anything but an underdog well into the second half against the regular-season Big 12 Conference champions, closing Kansas’ lead to 54-53 following a basket by Alvin Ellis.

Jackson took over from there, scoring eight of the next 10 points for the Jayhawks as they pushed their lead back to 64-57. He put the exclamation point on his strong second half with a drive down the middle of the lane and powerful one-handed dunk with 2:05 remaining.

“We’ve got three or four guys that can all do that, you know,” Self said. “And Josh deserves a ton of credit. He was great.”

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Kentucky relies on defense to outlast Wichita State, 65-62

Kentucky guard De'Aaron Fox tries to score over Wichita State's Landry Shamet, center, and Shaquille Morris during the first half Sunday.
(Joe Robbins / Getty Images)

Bam Adebayo timed it perfectly, slapping the shot away with his right hand less than a second before the buzzer sounded. For the 13th game in a row, Kentucky’s fabulous freshmen had their hands all over another win.

Wham, bam, move on Wildcats, right into the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16.

The youngest team in March Madness grew up in the closing minutes on Sunday and sent Wichita State to yet another second-round heartbreak, 65-62 in a South Regional game.

“They’re young, but they have a will to win and play with courage and are skilled basketball players and great kids who share,” Coach John Calipari said.

The freshman trio made all of the significant plays in the final minutes.

De’Aaron Fox had 14 points, including a late steal and dunk. Malik Monk blocked a shot and made two free throws in the final 13 seconds. Adebayo had 13 points and 10 rebounds, and he finished it off by swatting away Landry Shamet’s three-point attempt as it left his hand with less than a second left.

“He pump-faked, and I knew he had to shoot it so I just went up and tried to block it,” Adebayo said.

As simple as that.

Kentucky (31-5) moved into the Sweet 16 for the seventh time in nine years. The Shockers (31-5) were wiping away tears after another crushing second-round loss.

It felt familiar.

Three years ago, Wichita State was 35-0 when it lost to Kentucky 78-76 in the second round, crestfallen after Fred Van Vleet’s three-pointer missed at the buzzer. This time, their attempt at a tying three-pointer never had a chance. Shamet finished with 20 points.

Coach Gregg Marshall thought the Shockers were slighted when they got a No. 10 seed. He wasn’t sure what fans would make of another close call against the eight-time national champions.

“How many years do we have to do this to make people respect our program? I don’t know,” Marshall said. “I know that we have the heart of a champion.”

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Michigan rallies in second half to upset No. 2-seeded Louisville

Michigan forward Moe Wagner (13) celebrates with teammate D.J. Wilson after scoring against Louisville in the second half Sunday.
(Andy Lyons / Getty Images)

Michigan’s amazing March tournament run is headed to the Sweet 16.

Moe Wagner scored a career-high 26 points and spurred a furious second-half rally to send Michigan past second-seeded Louisville 73-69 on Sunday and into the Sweet 16.

The seventh-seeded Wolverines (26-11) have won seven straight — six since a frightening plane accident before the Big Ten Conference tournament. They also earned a ticket to the Midwest Regional in Kansas City, Mo, their first since 2014.

Donovan Mitchell scored 19 points and Deng Adel had 16 points to lead Louisville (25-9), which had made the Sweet 16 in its last four NCAA tournament appearances.

But Wagner bailed out the Wolverines from a poor game.

Trailing 45-36 with 16:09 to play, the German native scored on a layup to start a 17-6 run that gave Michigan its first lead since the opening minutes. And after Wagner’s three-pointer broke a 55-55 tie with 6:39 to go, the Wolverines led the rest of the way.

Afterward, the Michigan players celebrated by jumping around near midcourt, then walking by the pep band and pumping their fists toward fans as the school’s fight song played.

Inside the locker room, coach John Beilein squirted his players with a water gun. It was only his second win in five games against Louisville Coach Rick Pitino.

Early in the second half, it looked like there would be no celebration for the Big Ten tourney champs.

Louisville appeared to have Michigan on the ropes when it opened up a 9-point lead early in the second half. But Wagner was able to get to the basket, draw fouls, make free throws and even hit an occasional outside shot.

Louisville had no answer for him, and once Wagner got started the rest of the team joined in. D.J. Wilson had 17 points and Derrick Walton Jr. had 10 points and seven rebounds on a day he made only three of 13 shots from the field.

Michigan made six of 17 three-pointers just two days after setting a school record for theer-pointers in NCAA tourney games.

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March Madness: Sunday’s NCAA tournament results

Bronson Koenig, the pride of the Ho-Chunk Nation, brought Wisconsin from a late seven-point deficit to knock off No. 1 Villanova.
(Maddie Meyer / Getty Images)

Second Round

Michigan 73, Louisville 69 (Midwest)

Kentucky 65, Wichita State 62 (South)

Kansas 90, Michigan State 70 (Midwest)

North Carolina 72, Arkansas 65 (South)

Oregon 75, Rhode Island 72 (Midwest)

Baylor 82, USC 78 (East)

South Carolina 88, Duke 81 (East)

UCLA 79, Cincinnati 67 (South)

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Purdue outlasts Iowa State in a wild one, 80-76

Purdue forward Caleb Swanigan pulls up for a shot over Iowa State guard Deonte Burton during the second half Saturday.
(Stacy Revere / Getty Images)

When Purdue needed him the most, when the Boilermakers were on the brink of a heartbreaking loss, Caleb “Biggie” Swanigan lived up to his nickname — over and over again.

Swanigan had 20 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists, and Purdue reached the Sweet 16 for the first time in seven years with a wild 80-76 victory over Iowa State in a Midwest Regional game on Saturday night.

The Cyclones erased a 19-point deficit in the second half, taking their first lead of the game on Deonte Burton’s two free throws with 3:11 left. But P.J. Thompson responded with a critical 3-pointer for the Boilermakers, and Swanigan made several huge plays in the final minutes.

“It was an amazing game,” Thompson said. “I thought we were pretty special tonight, at different moments we were really clutch when we needed to be. A lot of different guys made a lot of different plays tonight.”

After Dakota Mathias missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 11 seconds left and Purdue clinging to a 78-76 lead, Swanigan tracked down the rebound to set up Thompson’s free throws with seven seconds remaining. Monte Morris missed a three-pointer on the other end, and time ran out for Iowa State.

Vince Edwards had 21 points and 10 rebounds for No. 4 seed Purdue (27-7), which will play the winner of Sunday’s Michigan State-Kansas game on Thursday in Kansas City, Missouri. Isaac Haas finished with 14 points, helping the Boilermakers to a 23-5 advantage in bench points.

“I’m excited. I’m ready to get back to campus and get to work and watch the game tomorrow, Kansas-Michigan State, and see who is left,” Swanigan said.

Swanigan’s typically clipped response drew a smile from coach Matt Painter.

“That’s great,” a grinning Painter said. “That’s all we get? That’s beautiful.”

Yup, Swanigan did all his talking with his play. It was the 28th double-double of the season for the Big Ten player of the year.

Fifth-seeded Iowa State (24-11) had won 10 of 11, moving to the brink of its third appearance in the Sweet 16 in four years. But it eventually ran out of gas against the bigger Boilermakers.

Burton scored 17 of his 25 points in the second half, putting on a show in his hometown of Milwaukee. Matt Thomas, another Wisconsin kid, had 20 points on nine-for-11 shooting, and Morris finished with 18 points and nine assists in the final game of his standout career.

“We didn’t rebound that ball at the end,” Coach Steve Prohm said. “But you know, game like this you can look back at a lot of difficult things.”

For a while, it looked as if Iowa State’s storied senior class was headed for a rough ending.

Swanigan helped Purdue pull away at the start of the second half, showing off his well-rounded game. He found Mathias and Edwards for layups on backdoor cuts in the first minute. He made a three-pointer and Edwards got loose for a dunk as the Boilermakers grabbed a 58-39 lead with 14:23 left.

But the Cyclones responded with a furious comeback, backed by a boisterous crowd filled with red and yellow. Two free throws by Burton and a jumper by Thomas tied the score at 71 with 3:45 remaining.

“Once we got on that run, you know, we made things happen and we made it interesting,” Thomas said. “We just were one or two plays short of capping that win off.”

After Burton put Iowa State in front, Thompson rattled in his only three-pointer of the game. Burton then missed a stepback jumper, and Swanigan and Edwards each scored to give Purdue some breathing room at 78-73 with 1:36 left.

“I kept trying to tell myself (to) stay poised, stay calm,” Edwards said. “And we were all just talking out and kept telling each other we got this, we got this. We were able to stick it out and win.”

The Boilermakers shot 48.4% (31 for 64) and had 27 assists on 31 field goals. The Cyclones shot 50%, but Naz Mitrou-Long only had five points after averaging 15.4 coming into the game.

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Florida clamps down and topples Virginia, 65-39

Florida guard Kasey Hill tries to score between Virginia center Jack Salt and guard Darius Thompson during the first half Saturday.
(Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press)

For a team that puts so much energy and effort into defense, Florida’s performance against Virginia was as close to perfect as possible.

Devin Robinson had 14 points and 11 rebounds, the fifth double-double of his career, and the fourth-seeded Gators handled the No. 5-seeded Cavaliers, 65-39, on Saturday night in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Justin Leon added 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Gators (26-8), who advanced to the Sweet Sixteen for the 11th time in school history and fifth in the last seven years. They will play No. 8-seeded Wisconsin in the East Regional semifinals in New York City on Friday.

They can thank stingy defense and a ridiculous run spanning halftime for this trip to Madison Square Garden.

“That’s about as well as we’ve played defensively,” Florida Coach Mike White said. “We put a lot of it together tonight.”

Florida held Virginia (23-11) to a season-low 17 points in the first half and 29.6% shooting on the night. The Cavaliers hadn’t scored fewer than 40 points since December 2013, a 48-38 loss to the Badgers.

The turning point in this game came late in the first half, when the Gators started a 21-0 run that was their most lopsided of the season. Speedy guards Kasey Hill and Chris Chiozza repeatedly broke down Virginia’s “pack line” defense, creating open looks for Leon and Robinson.

“We just had had to get them uncomfortable and play our tempo,” said Robinson, who scored 24 points in his NCAA opener. “We knew if we played at their methodical tempo, it would have been a tough game for us. We tried to stay aggressive on defense and get in transition as best as we can, and that turned to great offense.”

Florida closed the first half with a 12-0 spurt and built a 14-point lead at the break. The Gators came out of the locker room with the same intensity, scoring nine straight points that included two three-pointers from Leon.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett called time out, but it was too little, too late.

The Gators were up 23 points against a team that has dealt with offensive challenges all season.

“If we’re not shooting well, it’s hard for us,” Bennett said.

It surely didn’t help that the Cavaliers played without forward Isaiah Wilkins, who missed the game while dealing with strep throat.

Wilkins leads the team in rebounds, blocked shots and steals, and Bennett called him the “heart and soul of our defense.” Without him, the Gators attacked the post regularly, with Leon and Robinson the beneficiaries.

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Arizona rallies late to fend off St. Mary’s, 69-60

Arizona forward Lauri Markkanen works in the post against St. Mary's center Evan Fitzner during the first half Saturday.
(Christian Petersen / Getty Images)

Arizona and St. Mary’s are no strangers after scrimmaging during the preseason three times in the last four years. So, the Wildcats weren’t surprised when the Gaels punched them in the mouth early.

Lauri Markkanen and Allonzo Trier shined and No. 2-seeded Arizona rallied to defeat No. 7 St. Mary’s, 69-60, on Saturday night and advance to the West Regional’s Sweet 16.

The Wildcats were on the ropes in the first half, but found life in the second to pull away for the win.

“These guys really knew how Saint Mary’s was,” Arizona Coach Sean Miller said. “In a small way, (the scrimmages) really helped us tonight.

“Not until you’re actually playing against them do you realize how physical they are, how good they are. I look at this as one of the great wins we’ve had in the tournament because of the team that we beat.”

The teams went back and forth in the second 20 minutes until Arizona went on an 11-2 run sparked by Trier, who took over the second half. He scored nine of those 11 points during the stretch with a dribble-drive layup, midrange jumpers and a three-pointer. The run gave the Wildcats a 55-48 lead and St. Mary’s never led again.

Arizona shot 59.1% from the field in the second half.

“Our advantage was driving,” Miller said. “Our advantage eventually was able to get the ball inside. Getting the ball to the basket whether it be on drive or post catch, we delivered. We scored. We got fouled. That was the big difference.”

Markkanen finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds while Trier scored 14 points. Miller said Trier seemed to lose his confidence early, but was one of the biggest differences in the game once he got going.

Jock Landale battled with Markkanen and Arizona’s bigs throughout and had his 17th double-double of the season with 19 points and 11 rebounds for the Gaels. However, he was held to just seven points after halftime. Teammate Calvin Hermanson added 14 points.

“Got a little more comfortable as the game went on,” Markkanen said. “I just tried to be as physical as I can and don’t let (Landale) get the ball.”

St. Mary’s took a 30-29 lead into halftime as the Gaels controlled the tempo and locked down Arizona defensively for much of the half.

The Gaels used a 10-2 run started by Tanner Krebs’ three-pointer to take a 24-14 lead. Everything was going wrong for the Wildcats as their top scorers were held in check and starting guard Rawle Alkins missed much of the half with a dislocated finger.

Nothing came easy for Arizona in the half court on offense and the Gaels kept it from getting out in transition and using their athleticism advantage.

Arizona found life late in the half and finished on a 15-6 run thanks to six points from Markkanen and a three-pointer from Parker Jackson-Cartwright, the Wildcats lone three-pointer of the first half. They shot just 34.5% from the field in the first 20 minutes.

“It seemed like they started hitting some tough shots at the end,” Hermanson said. “We did a pretty good job on defense the first 10, 14 minutes or so.

“And then in the second half it seemed like they were a little more aggressive attacking the paint. We just have to do a better job of limiting that.”

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Butler stops Middle Tennessee’s run of upsets

Butler forward Kelan Martin tries to power his way past Middle Tennesse forward Reggie Upshaw during the second half.
(Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images)

Butler Coach Chris Holtmann had heard enough about Middle Tennessee.

The Blue Raiders were a trendy mid-major pick this year to bust NCAA tournament brackets, a role Butler once assumed with regularity.

This time, the Bulldogs played the role of college basketball Goliath, and they brought Middle Tennessee’s feel-good story to a close.

Kelan Martin scored 19 points, and Butler played smothering defense on Middle Tennessee’s versatile scorers in a 74-65 victory Saturday night to advance to the regional semifinals. The Bulldogs (25-8) are going to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2011, when they wrapped up back-to-back appearances in the national title game.

“I had a coach-friend send me a clip saying we weren’t good enough to beat Middle Tennessee. It absolutely burned me up,” Holtmann said. “There’s no question they were the trendy pick to beat us. We’re still here.”

Andrew Chrabascz added 15 points for fourth-seeded Butler, including a three-pointer with 3:25 left that snapped a 7-0 run for Middle Tennessee to get the lead back to 62-56.

The senior forward played an even more important role in helping to lead a sterling defensive effort for the Bulldogs.

Conference USA player of the year JaCorey Williams finished with 20 points, but had to work hard for nearly every bucket for No. 12 seed Middle Tennessee (31-5).

Giddy Potts, who averaged nearly 16 points a game this year, was held scoreless, missing all eight of his shots from the field.

“We knew we (weren’t) going to the Sweet 16 without playing defense,” said guard Kethan Savage, who defended Potts for much of the night.

Two turnovers in the final 43 seconds ended a frustrating night for Middle Tennessee. Senior Reggie Upshaw, playing his final college game, paused briefly before heading down the tunnel, appearing to wipe tears from his face.

He played an instrumental role in helping Middle Tennessee win a school-record 31 games this season and get to two NCAA tourneys in his career.

“Our guys have had a lot of big games, but we were loose with the ball,” Coach Kermit Davis said. “Our team just didn’t play with the identity we’ve played with all year.”

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Xavier pulls off another upset, topping third-seeded Florida State

Xavier guard Trevon Bluiett looks to pass as his drive is cut off by Florida State forward Phil Cofer during the second half Saturday.
(Rob Carr / Getty Images)

The Xavier Musketeers didn’t have the regular season they hoped to have. They are making up for it now.

The 11th-seeded Musketeers dominated third-seeded Florida State for a 91-66 victory during Saturday’s second round of the NCAA tournament. Their second upset in the West Region put them back into the regional semifinal round for the second time in two years and eighth time in program history.

“I’m so excited for the guys next to me and the guys in the locker room. They earned it,” Xavier Coach Chris Mack said from the postgame podium. “Our team’s gone through a lot of adversity this year, and we stayed the course.”

But the Musketeers (23-13) found little adversity Saturday as they dominated the bigger and more athletic Seminoles throughout the game. Trevon Bluiett led Xavier with 29 points while Kaiser Gates came off the bench to add 14.

Xavier, which knocked off No. 6 Maryland in the first round, hit big shots on perimeter and then forced FSU to try to shoot long range by sitting in a 2-3 zone much of the game. Led by Gates’ four three-pointers, the Musketeers converted 11 of 17 from beyond the arc, nearly 65% shooting.

The Seminoles, meanwhile, made only four of 21 three-point shots as they struggled to make up ground.

“We’ve been a very inconsistent 3-point shooting team this year, and obviously they knew that, and they packed it in,” said FSU Coach Leonard Hamilton, whose team finished second in the ACC this season. “We determined that if we were going to win the game we were going to have to hit from the perimeter, and they did a good job of denying.”

Xavier knew the Seminoles like to slash to the basket and get out on fast breaks in transition. The Musketeers made it difficult for FSU to get into its comfort zone by playing zone and also by limiting their turnovers to just nine to force the Seminoles to have to play half-court offense.

Dwayne Bacon led FSU with 20 points but he missed all five of his shots from three-point range. Xavier Rathan-Mayes was the only Seminoles starter to convert a three-pointer.

The Musketeers, meanwhile, got production on the perimeter from several different areas with Bluiett also knocking down three three-pointers. But Xavier also dominated inside, outscoring the Florida State, 27-17, in the paint with Sean O’Mara coming off the bench to contribute 11 points.

Xavier’s bench outscored the Seminoles’ 27-17.

“That’s the great thing about his team is we’ve got a lot of guys who can play,” said J.P. Macura, who had 10 points and five assists. “If somebody is not stepping up, another person is.”

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Gonzaga fends off furious Northwestern rally to advance to Sweet 16

Gonzaga forward Zach Collins looks for room to maneuver as he's defended by Northwestern center Dererk Pardon (5) and forward Gavin Skelly on Saturday.
(Gene Sweeney Jr. / Getty Images)

Chris Collins was right. It was goaltending all the way. The Northwestern coach was also wrong. At the worst time possible.

After not getting the call, Collins stomped onto the court and drew a technical foul with 4:54 left in Saturday’s game, sucking the life out of a frenetic comeback that fell short in a 79-73 loss to top-seeded Gonzaga.

What a strange, heartbreaking way to close out the school’s first-ever trip to the NCAA tournament.

Adding to the awkwardness: The NCAA released a statement acknowledging the call was missed, and Collins was sitting at the postgame interview when he learned about it for the first time.

“I appreciate the apology,” Collins said, the venom practically dripping off his tongue. “It makes me feel great.”

Nigel Williams-Goss finished with 20 points, eight rebounds and four assists to power Gonzaga (34-1), which led by as many as 22 points in the first half, then saw the lead dwindle to five with a little more than five minutes left.

The arena, drenched in purple, was rocking, and all the momentum was in Northwestern’s corner.

The Wildcats (24-12) got the ball down to Dererk Pardon for a point-blank shot that was on its way in. Gonzaga 7-footer Zach Collins reached up through the net and deflected the ball out. No whistle blew. Gonzaga got the rebound and started down court. Collins ran onto the court, charged toward the referee and gestured as if he were knocking a ball out of the hoop from the bottom.

An automatic “T.” The NCAA’s postgame statement also said Collins was hit with the technical for violating “bench decorum” rules by stepping onto the court with the ball in play.

On the other end, Williams-Goss made both free throws. Northwestern never got closer after that.

Regrets? If the coach had any, they weren’t apparent in the aftermath.

“If I see a guy from another team put his hand through the rim and block a shot, I’m going to react to it if the play isn’t called,” Collins said. “I think all of you would. Of course. That cuts it to three. We’re all emotional. We’re coming back from 20 down.”

What a comeback it was. Bryant McIntosh scored 13 of his 20 points in the second half, when Vic Law had 15 of his 18, as Northwestern finally found an answer for Gonzaga’s quick guards and smooth-as-can-be ball movement.

Law dunked an offensive rebound to cut the deficit to 63-58, and on the other end, Scottie Lindsey swatted Williams-Goss down low to give Northwestern the ball with a chance to draw within a three-pointer.

Pardon took a pass from McIntosh and went up strong against Zach Collins for what should have been two points. After the game, the Gonzaga center was still unclear about what, exactly, happened.

“I thought I blocked the shot and they thought it was a foul,” he said. “We weren’t really worried about (that). I honestly can’t really remember.”

Gonzaga Coach Mark Few wasn’t pinning Gonzaga’s win on that single turn of events. But he more than understood the emotion of the moment.

“You guys feel it and see it when it comes to these games,” he said. “You lose, your season’s over. You win, in Northwestern’s case, it’s probably the best thing they’ve done in the history of the school. You react spontaneously and stuff happens.”

Gonzaga is onto its third straight Sweet 16, in search of the program’s first trip to the Final Four.

Painful as the late sequence was for the Wildcats, chances are it won’t be the only thing about this magical season that they remember.

“To me, the second half is who that group was,” Chris Collins said.

But losing, especially that way?

“It stinks. That’s the part of the tournament that’s really hard,” he said.

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Wisconsin upsets top-seeded Villanova, 65-62

Wisconsin guard Nigel Hayes drives to the basket against Villanova guard Kris Jenkins during an East Regional game on Saturday.
(Maddie Meyer / Getty Images)

When the season ended suddenly and shockingly, much earlier than Villanova expected, Kris Jenkins bent over in disbelief near mid-court.

There would be no game-winning shot, no confetti-filled celebration, no more games. The defending champions — and No. 1 overall seed — are done.

On Wisconsin.

After two relatively routine days, madness returned to the NCAA Tournament on Saturday as top-seeded Villanova was bounced from the brackets and the East Region, 65-62, by No. 8-seeded Wisconsin, which added another major upset to its resume and stormed into the Sweet 16 for the fourth consecutive year.

Nigel Hayes scored 19 points, dropping a layup in traffic with 11.4 seconds left, and Bronson Koenig shook off foul trouble and added 17 for the tournament-toughened Badgers (27-9), who will play next week at New York’s Madison Square Garden after knocking off a Villanova team that never found its traction in snowy Buffalo.

“Seeds don’t matter,” Wisconsin Coach Greg Gard said. “I told these guys I don’t care where we’re seeded. We have to win six games. Let’s start with these two this weekend.”

Mission accomplished.

Senior Josh Hart scored 19 to lead the Wildcats, but the guard was bottled up and stripped by Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ and Vitto Brown on a drive to the basket in the final seconds. Brown then split two free throws with four seconds left, but Villanova struggled to corral the rebound and then couldn’t get off a final shot.

It was a bitter ending for the Wildcats, who were trying to be the first team to repeat as champions since 2007. But starting with an unimpressive performance against No. 16 Mount St. Mary’s in its opener on Thursday, Villanova looked vulnerable and instead became the first No. 1 seed to be sent home.

“To me, there’s no dishonor in losing in this tournament,” said Coach Jay Wright, whose team lost as a No. 2 in Buffalo three years ago. “We’ve lived through it. You are judged by how you play in this tournament and that’s the reality of it. So, you have to accept it.”

When the horn sounded, Wisconsin’s red-clad fans erupted in celebration and the Badgers stormed the court after taking down a No. 1 seed for the third time in four years. Wisconsin beat Arizona in 2014, Kentucky in 2015 and now can add Villanova to its list.

Flushed with pride, Gard hugged his wife and children as the Badgers’ pep band played their hearts out. A few minutes later, Wisconsin’s players doused each other with water and tore a few signs off the walls in KeyBank Center for souvenirs.

Hayes has been part of all those previous upsets by Wisconsin.

“All of those games we’ve been the underdog,” he said. “You have all types of ranking systems, statistics. The thing with all those algorithms is they can’t calculate heart, will to win, toughness, desire. And that’s the thing we have.”

Villanova came into the NCAA tournament on a roll after winning the Big East Tournament and was expected to at least escape the East but had their hopes busted and will have to relish those moments from last year when they won their first title since 1985.

Wright was concerned about Wisconsin, calling them a “great number eight” seed and compared them to Butler, which beat Villanova twice during the season. As it turned out, the Badgers were more than that, as savvy seniors Koenig and Hayes made several key plays in the closing minutes as Wisconsin overcame a 57-50 deficit.

Super sub freshman Donte DiVincenzo scored 15 and Jalen Brunson added 11 for Villanova. But the Wildcats got little from Jenkins, the hero of last year’s title game when he drained a three-pointer to beat North Carolina. Jenkins couldn’t shake a prolonged shooting slump and made only two of nine shots Saturday and four of 22 in two games.

Jenkins and fellow seniors Hart and Darryl Reynolds finish their career 129-17 in four years, but the sting of their last loss might linger.

“We’re close on and off the court and that bond is never going to be broken,” Hart said.

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Jevon Carter leads West Virginia past Notre Dame and into Sweet 16

West Virginia guard Jevon Carter reacts after making a three-pointer against Notre Dame.
(Elsa / Getty Images)

Don’t be fooled by the Mountaineers referring to themselves as “Press” Virginia as a result of their relentless defensive pressure.

This team can score.

Led by Jevon Carter’s 24 points, West Virginia outshot the Notre Dame in an 83-71 win on Saturday to clinch their third Sweet 16 berth since 2010.

“They thought of us as defensive players,” guard Tarik Phillip said. “But the coaching staff instilled a lot of confidence in us, helped us develop our offensive game, and we became pretty good offensive players.”

The Mountaineers entered the tournament leading the nation in forcing 20.4 turnovers, while also ranking 15th in averaging 82 points. The Mountaineers topped 80 points for the 18th time, while also breaking the single-season school scoring record set by the Jerry West-led 1958-59 squad.

Daxter Miles scored 18 points, and Esa Ahmad had nine rebounds.

Carter led the way in matching a season high, while making eight of 15 shots from the field, including four of five from three-point range.

His last three-pointer all but finished the fifth-seeded Fighting Irish (26-10) as they attempted one final comeback bid.

Notre Dame’s Matt Ryan hit a three-point basket in the right corner to cut West Virginia’s lead to 72-66 with 3:06 left.

Carter responded by crossing through the middle and pulling up to hit a fall-away three-pointer about 25 seconds later.

“Just staying confident,” said Carter, the Big 12’s defensive player of the year. “When we step on the court, we feel like we can beat them. We got hot early and kept going from there. We keep that chip on our shoulder.”

The Mountaineers continue to overcome the sting of last year’s first-round tournament collapse, when they lost to 14th-seeded Stephen F. Austin.

Now they’re off to the round of 16 for the first time since 2015, for the fourth time since coach Bob Huggins took over in 2007, and seventh time since the NCAA field expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

Notre Dame was denied a chance to reach the Elite Eight for a third consecutive year .

Bonzie Colson led the Fighting Irish with 27 points on 10-of-15 shooting and eight rebounds. Otherwise, the rest of his teammates were stymied.

Guard Matt Farrell was limited to eight points, while V.J. Beachem made two of 14 attempts and finished with nine points.

Coach Mike Brey said the difference was Notre Dame falling behind 10-0 and eventually getting worn down from attempting to dig out of such a hole. The Irish did eventually cut the lead to 32-29 only to give up two baskets over a 20-second span in a game the Mountaineers never trailed.

“Any time we thought we’d get this thing to four or get it to two possessions, somebody hit a big 3 or they got a putback,” Brey said. “It’s really spirit-breaking after a while.”

Brey had to gamble in keeping Colson in after the star forward picked up his fourth foul with 9:47 left and with West Virginia up 59-47 Colson scored 10 of Notre Dame’s next 14 points over a five-minute span.

“It’s horrible,” said Colson, whose shoulders were heaving in emotion as he left the court. “It’s frustrating when you try to play your tail off and play with everything you have and just leave everything out there.”

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March Madness: Saturday’s NCAA tournament results

Rakym Felder of South Carolina celebrates his team's 93-73 win over Marquette during the first round of the 2017 NCAA tournament on March 17 in Greenville, S.C.
(Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)

Second Round

All times Pacific (*time approximate; game will begin 30 minutes after the completion of the previous game):

West Virginia 83, Notre Dame 71 (West)

Wisconsin 65, Villanova 62 (East)

Gonzaga 79, Northwestern 73 (West)

Xavier 91, Florida State 66 (West)

Butler 74, Middle Tennessee 65 (South)

Arizona 69, St. Mary’s 60 (West)

Florida 65, Virginia 39 (East)

Purdue 80, Iowa State 76 (Midwest)

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South Carolina defeats Marquette for first NCAA tourney win since 1973

South Carolina guard PJ Dozier drives down the lane against Marquette forward Sam Hauser during the first half.
(Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)

South Carolina Coach Frank Martin had a message for long-suffering fans: It won’t take the Gamecocks 44 years to win another NCAA Tournament game.

Sindarius Thornwell had 29 points and 11 rebounds to lead seventh-seeded South Carolina to a 93-73 victory over Marquette to close first-round play in the East Region on Friday night.

When Martin took the job five years ago, you could hear about every instruction he called out, the cavernous, 18,000-seat home arena was so empty. This time, the host arena about two hours north of campus was filled with boisterous Gamecock fans.

“We’re not there yet,” Martin said after the cheers died down. “But it’s fun right now.”

It might get less fun come Sunday. If the Gamecocks (23-10) want an NCAA winning streak, they will have to beat No. 2-seeded Duke, which blew past Troy, 87-65, in an earlier game.

South Carolina last won a game in the NCAAs when it topped Southwestern Louisiana 90-85 in a regional consolation game on March 17, 1973. Exactly 44 years later, the drought — the Gamecocks were one-and-done in their next five appearances — finally came to end in front of a boisterous, South Carolina crowd who traveled the 2 hours north from Columbia to witness the end of an ugly run they couldn’t have imagined would last this long.

“This is a great day for Gamecock basketball,” said Alex English, the Denver Nuggets great who scored 22 points in that long-ago South Carolina win.

Marquette (19-13) gave fans some serious worries in the opening half, going up by 10 points. But the Gamecocks used an 11-0 run midway through the second half to take control. When Thornwell, voted Southeastern Conference player of the year by league coaches, nailed his third three-pointer with 6:37 to play, South Carolina was up 76-67 and pulling away.

P.J. Dozier had 21 points, 13 in the South Carolina’s second-half rally.

Jujuan Johnson had 16 points to lead Marquette.

South Carolina’s win spoiled a made-for-TV second-rounder between Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski and his former Blue Devils point guard and longtime assistant, Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski.

Wojciechowski said his team could not match the Gamecocks’ physicality in the second half. “We couldn’t sustain that as long as we needed to and they created separation,” he said.

The Golden Eagles could not keep up with the Gamecocks defensive pressure or high-tempo play in the second half.

Marquette came out firing — Rowsey opened the game with a four-point play — and moved in front 26-16. South Carolina, though, cut things to 40-39 at the half on Maik Kotsar’s layup with 42 seconds left.

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Kentucky stomps out Northern Kentucky, 79-70

Northern Kentucky's Lavone Holland II heads to the basket past Kentucky's De'Aaron Fox during the second half of an NCAA tournament game on March 18 in Indianapolis.
(Jeff Roberson / Associated Press)

Kentucky’s freshmen showed the new kids on their block how it’s done at tournament time.

Bam Adebayo had 15 points and 18 rebounds on Friday night as Kentucky overcame plenty of freshmen mistakes and beat stubborn Northern Kentucky, 79-70, in the South Region of the NCAA Tournament .

The second-seeded Wildcats (30-5) won their 12th straight and got their first-game jitters out of the way. They also wound up with a surprisingly close finish after pulling ahead by 18 points in the second half, showing their inexperience on the March stage.

“Well, that’s freshmen, so I will tell you this is all a learning curve,” coach John Calipari said. “We know we’ve got to play better, no question. I expect that we will.”

The Norse (24-11) closed within 75-68 on Drew McDonald’s 3-pointer with 35 seconds left. Malik Monk made four free throws to close it out. Monk, the SEC’s player of the year, missed all of his six shots from beyond the arc and finished with 12 points, eight below his average. Freshman De’Aaron Fox scored 19 points.

Northern Kentucky reached the tournament in its first year of eligibility, only the seventh team to do so since 1970. For the Norse, the tournament was more of a starting point than the end of a season.

Norse players shook some of their fans’ hands before leaving the court.

“I looked up and I saw my dad specifically, and he gave me a thumbs-up,” McDonald said. “And that’s what put a tear in my eye really, just to realize the impact we’ve put on our community and the university as a whole. It just struck me.”

The contingent of Northern Kentucky fans dressed in black and gold enjoyed the start. Cole Murray had a chance to give the Norse a lead late in the first half, but missed on a 3-point try. The Wildcats outscored the Norse 15-3 the rest of the half , and they were in control until the closing flurry.

Northern Kentucky went only 8 of 32 from beyond the arc, well below its norm.

“We were the best shooting team in the Horizon League the entire season,” coach John Brannen said. “Tonight was not our night from the 3-point line. I’d liked to have seen what happened if we had made a few more.”

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Kent State puts up a fight, but UCLA pulls away for the win

UCLA forward TJ Leaf goes up for a dunk against Kent State on Friday night.
( (Jamie Squire / Getty Images))

For more than 30 minutes Friday night, UCLA appeared in danger of a first this season: a bad loss.

The Bruins struggled mightily on defense against a heavy underdog, allowing Kent State to hang around until an amazing run of accuracy carried third-seeded UCLA to a 97-80 victory over the 14th-seeded Golden Flashes in an NCAA tournament first-round game at the Golden 1 Center.

The Bruins made 12 consecutive field goals and 13 of 14 starting midway through the second half, finally pulling away toward the end of the run after their lead had remained stuck in single digits because of their inabilty to get stops.

UCLA power forward TJ Leaf had 23 points and six rebounds and point guard Lonzo Ball had 15 points and three assists while playing through a bruised right hip sustained late in the first half and with white tape over the left thumb he strained last week.

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UCLA pulling away from Kent State

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Bruins leading by 10 midway through second half

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Michigan State has no letdown in beating Miami, 78-58

Michigan State forward Nick Ward scores on a layup between Miami guard Dejan Vasiljevic, left, and forward Kamari Murphy during the first half.
(Sue Ogrocki / Associated Press)

Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo wasn’t sure if his talented but inexperienced freshmen were ready to abandon their more comfortable up-tempo ways and play “smash mouth” basketball.

Two of those freshmen showed they could play any way they wanted in their NCAA tournament debuts, leading the ninth-seeded Spartans (20-14) to an opening-round 78-58 win over No. 8-seeded Miami on Friday night.

Freshman forward Nick Ward led the way for Michigan State, scoring 19 points on eight-of-nine shooting, while fellow newcomer Miles Bridges was eight-of-12 shooting and added 18 points in the win.

“I was worried about whether these freshmen would handle the big stage, even though they’ve been on one, but it’s still the NCAA tournament, and the difference now is it’s one-and-done time,” Izzo said. “ What a cool thing to watch happen, and I’d like to keep it going a little while.”

The win came a year after the Spartans suffered a shocking first-round NCAA tournament loss as a No. 2 seed, and after they trailed 17-5 early in the game. Michigan State blitzed past the stunned Hurricanes (21-12) after that, using a 20-2 first half run to take control for good and shooting 64% (16 of 25) in the second half.

Ward made his first six shots and capped his night with a putback dunk in the closing minutes, and Joshua Langford added 13 points in a win that improved Izzo’s record to 47-18 in the NCAA tournament.

Ja’Quan Newton scored 16 points to lead Miami, which had won at least one tournament game in each of its previous three trips. Davon Reed added 12 points and Bruce Brown 11 for the Hurricanes, who shot just 40.4% (21 of 52) and struggled to slow Michigan State’s tandem of Ward and Bridges.

“Miles Bridges and Nick Ward basically made every shot they took,” Miami Coach Jim Larranaga said. “ We just couldn’t stop them.”

The injury-riddled and youthful Spartans suited up only three players on Friday who saw action in last year’s opening-round loss as a No. 2 seed to Middle Tennessee State.

That inexperience showed early in the first half against an experienced Miami team that reached the Sweet 16 last season, one that had won at least one NCAA tournament game in five of its six previous appearances.

With Brown hitting his first three shots and the Spartans committing six early turnovers, the Hurricanes bolted out to a 17-5 lead in the early minutes of the game and appeared comfortable against a Michigan State team that narrowly earned its 20th straight tournament appearance.

It was all Sparty from there.

Michigan State followed its early stumble by outscoring Miami 33-10 to close out the half, including a 20-2 run at one point, and took a 38-27 halftime lead — one it only added to in the second half.

“When we feed off each of each other, we’re hard to beat,” Ward said.

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TJ Leaf leads UCLA to a 47-39 halftime lead over Kent State

UCLA guard Lonzo Ball powers his way to the basket for a score against Kent State's Kevin Zabo, who was called for a foul on the play during the first half.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

TJ Leaf made the Golden 1 Center his personal showcase in the first half of UCLA’s NCAA tournament opener on Friday evening.

The Bruins power forward threw down a vicious one-handed dunk in transition, made two three-pointers, an up-and-under layup and made a running jumper while getting fouled.

Leaf’s 16 points powered third-seeded UCLA to a 47-39 halftime lead over 14th-seeded Kent State in a first-round game in which the Bruins more closely resembled the run-and-fun team from earlier in the season than the largely joyless one from the Pac-12 Conference tournament.

UCLA freshman point guard Lonzo Ball also got off to a strong start with 10 points in the first half on four-for-four shooting and appeared to escape injury after landing awkwardly on his hip shortly before halftime. The Bruins were in control practically from tipoff, scoring the game’s first eight points while Kent State missed 10 of its first 11 shots.

But the Golden Flashes closed the half hot after trailing by as many as 17 points. Jaylin Walker scored 12 points and Jimmy Hall and Kevin Zabo had 10 each for the Golden Flashes, who shot 38% to UCLA’s 61% but held a 10-3 edge in offensive rebounds and an 11-2 advantage in second-chance points.

UCLA played without freshman forward Ike Anigbogu, who had sprained his left foot in practice Tuesday. He was listed as day to day, meaning he could possibly play should the Bruins advance to a second-round game against Cincinnati on Sunday.

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