Top-seeded Michigan State falls in West, while No. 1 Syracuse wins thriller in East

Friday, March 23, 2012
Louisville’s Chane Behanan dunks against Michigan State’s Derrick Nix and Austin Thornton during the second half of their NCAA West Regional semifinal Thursday in Phoenix. (Matt York ~ Associated Press)

PHOENIX -- Gorgui Dieng swatted away the West Region's top seed to send Rick Pitino into another regional final.

Chane Behanan scored 15 points and Dieng anchored Louisville's stifling defense with seven blocked shots, helping the Cardinals knock off top-seeded Michigan State 57-44 Thursday night in the West Regional semifinals.

Louisville (29-9) smothered the NCAA tournament's best-shooting team with its matchup zone, getting good pressure from its guards up top and some big swats by Dieng, one of the nation's top shot-blockers.

The Cardinals relied on 3-point shooting in the first half and went inside the second to befuddle the Spartans, earning a trip to the West final against Florida on Saturday.

Michigan State (29-8) started slow and never got going against Louisville's amoebic defense, shooting 28 percent while being outscored 20-14 inside by the leaner Cardinals.

Dieng finished with five points, nine rebounds and had three steals. Peyton Siva overcame a rough shooting night -- four points on 2-of-9 shooting -- with nine assists.

Draymond Green had 13 points and 16 rebounds in his final game for Michigan State and Brandon Wood added 14 points.

The matchup of top programs featured two of college basketball's best short-preparation coaches.

Pitino has used his speed-the-opponent-up system to reach the Final Four five times, becoming the first coach to lead three different schools to the national semifinals. Once past the NCAA tournament's first week, he's had a knack for guiding his team farther along the bracket, advancing to the regional final all 10 times he's gotten a team to the semifinals.

Tom Izzo has been supremely consistent in 17 years at Michigan State, building teams that can handle the rigors of the Big Ten or switch to greyhound mode when the opponent plays fast. He's been as consistent as any coach in the game, leading the Spartans to the Final Four six times, including the 2000 national title, and 10 trips to the regionals round the past 15 years.

Izzo played the right hand the last time these two basketball brains met, taking the Spartans to the 2009 Final Four after they found a way to break Louisville's pressure.

Pitino had something up his sleeve this time.

With Michigan State bogging the game down, the Cardinals struggled early, missing 12 of their first 13 shots. They snapped out of it by hitting 3s.

Russ Smith hit a pair, Jared Swopshire and Chris Smith each dropped one in and, even Dieng -- 0-for-2 in his career previously -- got one to go in.

Swopshire closed it out with a 3 from the corner to put the Cardinals up 23-15 at halftime. Louisville was 7 of 15 from the arc in the half, but got almost nothing inside, hitting 1 of 15 shots from 2-point range.

Louisville shifted gears to open the second half, getting two layups and a dunk to keep its cushion. Swopshire followed with an alley-oop to Siva for the point guard's first points, then stole the inbound pass to set up two free throws by Russ Smith that put the Cardinals up 35-25.

Michigan State managed a short run to get within four, but Louisville used its pressure to get a couple of steals and baskets to go up 43-32.

No. 7 Florida 68, No. 3 Marquette 58

PHOENIX -- Bradley Beal scored 21 points Thursday to lift Florida past Marquette and set up Gators coach Billy Donovan with a meeting against his old boss, Rick Pitino, in the West Regional final.

The seventh-seeded Gators (26-10) expanded a six-point halftime lead to double digits, then held off third-seeded Marquette (27-8) to take their second straight trip to the regional final. Last year, they lost to Butler. This time, they meet Louisville and Pitino.

Beal, a freshman who has NBA written all over him, shot 8 of 10 and had six rebounds and four assists.

Marquette got 15 points from Jae Crowder and 14 from fellow senior Darius Johnson-Odom, but the Golden Eagles exited the tournament in the round of 16 for the second straight year.

EAST REGIONAL

No. 1 Syracuse 64, No. 4 Wisconsin 63

BOSTON -- Top-seeded Syracuse used a breakout game by the slumping C.J. Fair to advance to the East Regional final.

Wisconsin missed two potential winning shots in the final seconds, and the Orange hung on to reach the round of eight for the first time since 2003, when they won their only national championship.

Fair, who had scored a total of 20 points in his last six games, finished with 15 on 7-for-9 shooting. Scoop Jardine had 14 points, while Dion Waiters had 13 and Brandon Triche 11.

Kris Joseph, a 75 percent free throw shooter, missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 18 seconds to go with Syracuse up by a point, giving the Badgers a chance at the victory.

Passing the ball around the perimeter of the zone but creating much space, Jordan Taylor let go a 3-point attempt with 3 seconds left. It bounced off the rim and Josh Gasser's shot at the buzzer was off.

Jared Berggren and Taylor both had 17 points for the Badgers (26-10), who finished 14 of 27 from 3-point range but couldn't make one over the final 6 minutes.

Syracuse (34-2) plays Ohio State in the regional fina Saturday.

No. 2 Ohio State 81 No. 6 Cincinnati 66

BOSTON -- Ohio State won the Battle of the Buckeye State and advanced to the NCAA regional finals for the first time since 2007.

Deshaun Thomas scored 26 points and Jared Sullinger had 23 points and 11 rebounds to lead second-seeded Ohio State to an 81-66 victory over No. 6 seed Cincinnati on Thursday night.

Aaron Craft added 11 points -- all in the second half -- with five assists and six steals, taking charge during a 17-1 second-half run that turned a four-point deficit into a double-digit lead.

Cashmere Wright scored 18 and Sean Kilpatrick had 15 for the Bearcats, who were attempting to match Big East rival Syracuse by beating a Big Ten opponent to advance to the East Regional finals.

It's the first trip to the regional finals for Ohio State (30-7) since it lost in the 2007 championship game to Florida.

The state of Ohio placed four teams in the round of 16, and the Buckeyes are the first to advance. Ohio plays North Carolina and Xavier plays Baylor today.

Despite just about 100 miles separating their campuses along I-71, Ohio State and Cincinnati had played just once since the 1962 national championship game.

This one was evenly matched -- for about 30 minutes.

Wearing Day-Glo orange shoelaces and piping on their jerseys, Cincinnati (26-11) fell behind by 12 at the half before going on a 19-4 run early in the second. It was ahead 52-48 with 11:34 to play when Ohio State took over, allowing just one free throw over the next 5 1/2 minutes.

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