Published March 28, 2010
Four teams are left on the road to the national championship.
In a matchup between bluebloods and the blue-collared, South Regional champion Duke will face East Regional champ West Virginia. And in a meeting of Final Four veterans and never-beens, it will be Midwest Regional champ Michigan State against West Regional champion Butler.
Michigan State and Duke would give the title game April 5 at Lucas Oil Stadium the feeling of college basketball royalty competing for a crown. The two schools have combined to play for 12 NCAA tournament championships, winning five of them.
A game that pits the Bulldogs against the Mountaineers would ensure at least one school its first national championship. West Virginia has made only one trip to the title game, in 1959, while Butler will be playing in its first semifinal in its own backyard.
The tournament already has turned millions of brackets into confetti, created dozens more highlights for the "One Shining Moment" montages and left a trail of broken dreams stretching from Salt Lake City to Syracuse, N.Y.
It all ends next weekend in Indianapolis.
The Blue Devils are headed back to the Final Four.
Nolan Smith scored a career-high 29 points and top-seeded Duke used a big run late in the game to beat Baylor 78-71, putting a disappointing end on the Bears' road to redemption.
Duke will be playing in the national semifinals for the first time since 2004, against East Regional champion West Virginia. The Blue Devils have won 11 of their last 12 regional finals under coach Mike Krzyzewski, but haven't won a national title since 2001.
Jon Scheyer added 20 points to help Duke offset a horrendous game from junior forward Kyle Singler, who was 0 for 10 from the field and only made five free throws. It was the first time in his college career he failed to hit a field goal.
LaceDarius Dunn had 22 points, Ekpe Udoh scored 18, and Tweety Carter and Quincy Acy had 12 each for the Bears, who just seven years ago were wondering whether one of the worst scandals in college basketball history might spell the end to the entire program.
Instead, they played Duke tough for 35 minutes before finally wilting under the pressure of the Atlantic Coast Conference champions. Baylor still hasn't been to a Final Four since 1950.
Tempers beginning to boil in Houston, where Duke has pulled ahead 72-62.
Jon Scheyer had the ball trapped in front of the scorer's table with 1:19 left and started to wildly swing his elbows to clear space. LaceDarius Dunn and Tweety Carter kept going after the ball and some shoving ensued.
Quincy Acy came into the picture and shoved Scheyer, too, but the teams were sent back to their benches without any more trouble. The referees wound up giving Acy a technical foul and awarding a pair of free throws to the Blue Devils.
Scheyer made both, and the Blue Devils are on an 18-5 run toward the finish.
Duke is starting to look like a No. 1 seed.
Dare we say, a national champion?
Nolan Smith missed a free throw but the Blue Devils managed to get yet another offensive rebound, and Smith hit his second 3-pointer in the last couple minutes to make it 64-61. At that point in the game, the Blue Devils had a 22-9 advantage in offensive rebounds.
They didn't need any boards on their next trip, when Jon Scheyer drained an open 3.
The Blue Devils have 17 second-chance points in the second half alone, which allowed them to take a brief 67-61 lead. It's still a five-point game after Ekpe Udoh's free throw.
Big call made by the officials when Quincy Acy took it hard to the basket with 4:37 left and the Bears leading 59-57. Brian Zoubek appeared to step in his way late, but rather than give the Duke center his fifth foul, the referees gave a foul to Acy and waved off his basket.
The Blue Devils came back at the other end and got an offensive rebound after Jon Scheyer's missed 3-pointer, and Nolan Smith drained a 3 from the wing to make it 60-59.
Smith has 23 points for the game.
Five minutes left for a spot in the Final Four.
Jon Scheyer just hit a 3-pointer from halfway between the top of the key and midcourt line, his fourth of the game, making it 57-all for the stretch run.
The real game is just starting.
If anybody has seen the Temple mascot flapping its wings all game, that's exactly what Baylor coach Scott Drew looked like moments ago.
Josh Lomers checked into the game with four fouls and 8:48 left and scored on a nice basket inside to make it a tie game. Drew was standing on the sideline imploring the heavily green-clad crowd that made the 3-hour drive from Waco to get on its feet with him while the charged up Bears retreated to play defense.
By the time they rose from their seats, Lomers had committed a silly foul and was gone.
He ended up with more fouls (5) than points (4) and only had one rebound in the game — not exactly what Drew had hoped for from his 7-footer. Still, he's a big space-eater in that zone defense and his presence inside will be missed the final 7:45.
Baylor and Duke had combined to miss 15 straight shots before Nolan Smith scored on a nifty teardrop from the middle of the lane, giving him a game-high 20 points.
The Bears came right back, though, getting a basket by Tweety Carter before he assisted on an easy dunk by Ekpe Udoh that knotted the game 51-all with 9:39 remaining. The dunk came after Udoh, one of the best shot-blockers in the country, stuffed Brian Zoubek at the other end.
Udoh has three blocks to go with 11 points, six rebounds and five assists.
Baylor is doing everything it can to increase the tempo, but Duke is doing an exceptional job of getting back on defense, cutting off the fast-break opportunities and making sure the game is decided in half-court sets.
LaceDarius Dunn and Tweety Carter have cooled off in the second half, and foul trouble is plaguing the big guys. The Bears' Josh Lomers and the Blue Devils' Brian Zoubek both have four.
It's 49-47 Duke with 11:45 left.
Duke has opened the second half on an 8-2 stretch to take a 45-44 lead with 15:55 left, and it can give plenty of thanks to Baylor for it. All of those points have come at the foul line.
Kyle Singler started the spurt by making one of two from the line, then Jon Scheyer hit three straight and Nolan Smith added four in a row.
Someone ought to tell Baylor it's pretty easy to score when nobody's in your face.
Brad Lomers couldn't have committed a worse foul.
The 7-footer fouled Duke guard Jon Scheyer while shooting a 3-pointer — what was Lomers doing on the perimeter to begin with? — and picked up his fourth foul with 17:55 left.
Scheyer made all three free throws to trim the lead to 42-41.
This is the first time during the NCAA tournament that the Blue Devils have trailed in the second half. They won their first three games by an average of 16 points.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said that injured guard Darryl Bryant, who broke his foot in practice earlier in the week, is getting fit for a shoe that is supposed to take pressure off it. If all goes well, Bryant might be able to play next weekend in the Final Four.
"We don't know if it's going to work or not," Huggins said during halftime of the Duke-Baylor game. The winner will play the Mountaineers in Indianapolis.
Da'Sean Butler said he's hopeful that his teammate nicknamed "Truck" will be back.
"He's willing to compete, you know? He's a great competitor," Butler said. "He runs the team on the court, he does so much for us that people don't understand."
If Bryant manages to play, it be signal a major reversal of injury fortunes for Huggins.
To this day he believes his Cincinnati team was the best in the country in 2000, before Kenyon Martin broke his leg during the Conference USA tournament. The Bearcats ended up with a No. 2 seed and lost to seventh-seeded Tulsa in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
This will be the first time Huggins will coach in the Final Four since 1992.
"We've had shots," Huggins said. "When Kenyon broke his leg, I thought we were the best team in the country. We almost went back (to the Final Four) in 1993, we had a great shot in '96 and had some injuries."
It helps that Huggins has a guy like Butler on the floor this time around.
"He's the most complete player I've ever coached," Huggins said. "We've played him at point, we've played him at two, at power forward, small forward. He just has such great versatility. In his words, he's good at everything — and not great at anything.
"Those are his words," Huggins added, smiling. "He said that, I didn't."
Halftime came at the perfect time for No. 1 seed Duke.
After scratching its way to a 25-18 lead, the Blue Devils watched third-seeded Baylor use a 17-7 run to close out the first half and take a 35-32 lead. It would have been even worse had Andre Dawkins not hit his second 3 off the bench with 30 seconds left before the break.
Kyle Singler and Lance Thomas need to find a way to get going for Duke. Singler is 0 for 6 from the field, missing all three of his 3-point tries, while Thomas is 1-for-5 shooting.
The backcourt duo of LaceDarius Dunn and Tweety Carter is carrying Baylor again. Dunn has put on a dunking display while accounting for 13 first-half points, and Carter has hit a couple of deep shots and has 10 points.
There's 20 minutes left before the Final Four is set. The winner earns a date with Da'Sean Butler and East Regional champion West Virginia in Indianapolis.
Here's a stat line even a mother would hate: 0 points, 2 rebounds, 3 fouls.
Brian Zoubek had better be wary about slivers in the wrong places, because he's been riding a lot of pine in the first half. The Duke center has been dominated at both ends of the court, and the frustration seems to be mounting.
After he got whistled for his third foul, he needed to be separated from a couple Bears.
LaceDarius Dunn, meanwhile, just got out on the break and threw down an open dunk to get Baylor within 29-28 with a couple minutes left in the first half.
Tweety Carter and LaceDarius Dunn are the Baylor version of Scottie and MJ, although a moment ago they looked more like Montana and Rice.
Carter lofted up a perfect pass for Dunn, who elevated above everyone and showed some soft hands in gathering it in. Dunn then spiked it through the basket for an emphatic two points.
Carter then hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key a couple minutes later, getting the Bears with 27-22 with 4½ minutes left in the first half. He has seven points to go with a pair of assists.
How do you beat a shutdown zone defense? Helps to hit 3-pointers.
Jon Scheyer had missed 12 of his last 13 from beyond the arc until hitting one a moment ago, and Nolan Smith already has a pair of 3s. The Blue Devils are 4 of 5 as a team.
That is already forcing the Bears to stretch their zone to the perimeter, which could create some looks inside for Singler and the Plumlee brothers.
Miles Plumlee just got an easy one inside, in fact, for a 22-18 lead.
Baylor is causing a lot of problems inside, getting Kyle Singler and Brian Zoubek into foul trouble early. Both have a pair with 13 minutes left in the first half.
Point guard Nolan Smith has seven points for Duke, which already seems resigned to shooting jumpers because of the length that the Bears have along the baseline.
By the way, is there a more interesting guy in this game than Ekpe Udoh? He played high school ball in Oklahoma, spent two years at Michigan, then found his way to Waco.
But that's just on the court.
His first name is actually Ekpedeme, which means "Lion." And if that's not intimidating enough, his teammates have given him the nickname "Nightmare."
At least he's not superstitious — he wears No. 13 because his middle name is Friday.
Brian Zoubek may be the most important player on the floor for Duke, the only guy who can match up size-wise with the imposing Baylor front line.
He's already been wrestling with Josh Lomers inside, taking a forearm shiver from the Baylor center moments ago. Zoubek's lack of quickness hurt him when he got caught guarding 6-10 Ekpe Udoh, though, and Coach K decided to sit him in favor of the Plumlee brothers.
Baylor has pounded its way to an early 6-5 lead.
How splendid has this postseason run been for Scott Drew and third-seeded Baylor?
The Bears have won three games in the NCAA tournament to reach the South Regional final against top-seeded Duke. They won three tournament games total in the 71 previous years.
The Blue Devils are a different animal than the teams Baylor has beaten thus far. They're the first opponent from a power conference and the first to have a single-digit seed, and they have one of the best coaches in the country calling the shots.
Earning a fourth win this tournament? Now that would really be something.
For the first time in NCAA history, two schools are meeting in regional finals in the men's and women's tournaments. The men will get the chance to strike the first blow when the Blue Devils and Bears tip off momentarily in Houston — the site of next year's Final Four.
The women play Monday night in Memphis.
Making the matchup even more surprising, the Duke and Baylor men's teams have never met despite playing thousands of combined games.
The stakes couldn't be much bigger.
One spot left in Indianapolis.
Duke, the only No. 1 seed remaining, and third-seeded Baylor are about to tip off in the South Regional final in Houston. It will be interesting to see how Coach K — one of the best in the business — handles the Bears' frustratingly tight zone defense.
Sometimes it's a 2-3, sometimes it's a 1-1-3. It always causes trouble.
Mike Krzyzewski said before the game that patience will be key against a front line that has a couple 6-11 guys flanking a 7-footer in the middle.
We'll see if that works.
Make it a pair of high-fives in Indianapolis.
Raymar Morgan made a free throw with 1.8 seconds left, giving fifth-seeded Michigan State a 70-69 victory over sixth-seeded Tennessee and a spot in its second straight Final Four.
The Vols' Scotty Hopson tied the game with a free throw with 11.2 seconds left, but he missed the second attempt following a timeout. Korie Lucious gathered in the loose ball, passed ahead to Draymond Green, and he found Morgan open underneath the basket.
Tennessee couldn't do anything but foul him, and the 67-percent free-throw shooter made the first of two before bricking the second on purpose.
Vols guard J.P. Prince alertly called a timeout to give Tennessee a chance, but after taking an inbounds pass at midcourt, his heave at the buzzer missed everything.
The Spartans will play fellow No. 5 seed Butler next weekend in the national semifinals.