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  • Sat, 28 Mar 2015 06:17:00 +0000: Sooners wear down in 62-58 loss to Spartans in East semis - Top Stories

    SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) It took four years for coach Lon Kruger to rebuild the Oklahoma Sooners into bona fide NCAA Tournament contenders.

    The Sooners still have a few steps to take before they can be regarded as Elite Eight worthy.

    Oklahoma (24-11) withered under Michigan State's defensive pressure in the second half of a 62-58 loss in an East Regional semifinal on Friday night. After getting off to a hot start by hitting eight of their first 11 shots, the Sooners went 12 of 44 the rest of the way.

    "This group does a good job, making progress as a program," Kruger said. "They've taken some good steps. We've got a long way to go. But a good fight tonight."

    Junior guard Buddy Hield led Oklahoma with 21 points. Senior forward TaShawn Thomas scored 16 and added seven rebounds.

    Travis Trice led the Spartans with 24 points, while Denzel Valentine scored 13 of his 18 points in the second half.

    The third-seeded Sooners were beaten by the seventh-seeded Spartans (26-11), who advance to play Louisville on Sunday.

    This was Oklahoma's third-consecutive tournament appearance in four years under Kruger. And it was the Sooners' deepest run since the Blake Griffin-led team reached the regional final in 2009.

    The Sooners were undone by an unproductive bench, which accounted for just three points - all by Khadeem Lattin.

    "They just did it and we didn't," said Lattin. "It was another one of those games where we had control. We took control of the game early, and something just got away from us."

    The game turned once Michigan State took its first lead, going up 44-42 on Dawson's 8-foot turnaround jumper with 9:26 left. The teams traded the lead four times before the Spartans went ahead for good with 6:42 left, when Matt Costello put back his own miss with an emphatic dunk.

    After Hield missed a 3-point attempt at the other end, Valentine responded by hitting a pull-up 3-pointer in transition to make it 51-47.

    And Michigan State maintained the lead by finally hitting shots from the free-throw line. After missing seven of their first 10, the Spartans were perfect on their final six free throws.

    Trice hit two to put Michigan State up 62-58 with 13.2 seconds left. Hield missed a 3-point attempt on what became the Sooners' final possession in a game that stretched into Saturday morning.

    TIP-INS

    Michigan State: The Spartans improved their NCAA tournament record to 62-27, and moved into seventh place on the victory list - one ahead of Syracuse. ... The Spartans were a No. 7 seed when they reached the Elite 8 in 2003.

    Oklahoma: Coach Lon Kruger stayed true to form by starting the same five he's had all season. The Sooners are just one of six teams in the nation to start the same five this year. Kruger did the same last year. ... The Sooners bench had combined for 30 points in its last two games.

    UP NEXT:

    Michigan State: Faces No. 4 seed Louisville in the East final on Sunday. The Spartans trail the all-time series 5-3, and meet the Cardinals the tournament for the fourth time - and third in seven years.

    Oklahoma: Season is over with the Sooners losing just one starter, Thomas, to graduation.

  • Sat, 28 Mar 2015 05:26:00 +0000: Freshman-led Duke in another regional final, beat Utah 63-57 - Top Stories

    HOUSTON (AP) Justise Winslow says coach Mike Krzyzewski never treated him and the other Duke freshmen like, well, freshmen.

    These young Blue Devils certainly aren't playing like it either - and have Coach K one win away from another NCAA Final Four.

    "He gave us his trust and just believed in us," said Winslow, one of the three freshman starters. "When you have that, you play like yourself."

    Winslow, playing home in Houston the day after his 19th birthday, had 21 points and 10 rebounds for South Regional top seed Duke in a 63-57 Sweet 16 victory over revived Utah on Friday night.

    Freshman guard Tyus Jones had 15 points while standout big man Jahlil Okafor had six points and eight rebounds.

    Duke (32-4) will play in its 20th regional final, the 14th under Coach K for the most by any active coach. The last Final Four appearance was in 2010, when the Blue Devils also went through Houston on way to their fourth national title.

    "This has been one of my favorite groups. They've been easy to coach and they really get along. There's only a good attitude, only a good attitude and a willingness to learn." Krzyzewski said. "Sometimes freshmen don't learn that until they're older. But these guys knew it from the beginning. That's why they've had a special year."

    The Blue Devils play No. 2 seed Gonzaga (35-2) on Sunday in the South Regional final, with the winner going to Indianapolis for the Final Four. The Bulldogs beat 11th-seeded UCLA 74-62 in the earlier game Friday night at NRG Stadium, the home of the NFL's Houston Texans.

    Brandon Taylor had 15 points for the Utes (26-9), the No. 5 seed with an at-large berth out of the Pac-12.

    Utah and its Coach K, Larry Krystkowiak, got to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2005, and only three years after winning six games in Krystkowiak's first season.

    Leading scorer Delon Wright was the Utes' only senior starter, and Dallin Bachynski the only other graduating player who played regularly.

    Asked where he goes from now, Krystkowiak said it was time to decompress a bit.

    "Just enjoyed the experience with these kids, and am going to soak this up and reflect," he said.

    Wright, who got his third foul on a questionable call with about 5 minutes left in the first half, finished with 10 points on 4-of-13 shooting. Dallin Bachynski added 11 points for the Utes, and 7-foot freshman Jakob Poeltl had 10 points and eight rebounds.

    Even after Utah didn't score until nearly 5 minutes into the game, Duke was down 8-5 before going ahead to stay with an 8-0 run in just over 2 1/2 minutes when all the Blue Devils freshman starters scored.

    Winslow's 3-pointer at 12:36 tied the game 8-8 before Amile Jefferson's tiebreaking layup. Okafor had a jumper before Jones' layup made it 14-8 with 9:54 left.

    Another 8-0 run after halftime pushed the Blue Devils to a 49-34 lead with 8:41 left.

    That spurt included four free throws by Quinn Cook, the senior guard who also made it to a Sweet 16 in 2013 - but was also part of the Blue Devils squads upset in their NCAA openers last year (Mercer) and in 2012 (Lehigh).

    Wright got his third foul with 4:57 left in the first half in a scramble for the ball - under the Duke basket and in front of the Utah bench. Wright and Winslow were both on the floor, the Duke freshman on his back, when the foul was called.

    Duke was up 27-17 on a layup by Okafor with 3:04 left, but didn't score again until after halftime.

    Wright got back in the game after halftime, making a jumper on the first shot for a 27-24 score. The Utes never got closer.

    After Utah had scored nine points in a row to get within 49-43 with 3:42 left, Winslow made a big-time play. He drove into traffic and made a layup while being fouled, then added the free throw.

    "He played phenomenal. He was outstanding. He was the best player on the floor." Okafor said. "Maybe because he's in Houston or maybe because he's 19 now. It was fun to watch."

    NOT OVER YET

    The players had already had their customary postgame handshake, and several Utah players were headed down the steps off the elevated court when officials blew their whistle after reviewing a call. Cook grabbed a rebound of a missed 3-pointer with 6 seconds left, and Utah was trying to foul. They didn't get a whistle until the buzzer sounded. Officials reviewed and determined there was six-tenths of a second on the clock when they called the foul. Cook made one of two free throws.

    TIP-INS

    Utah: The Utes missed their first nine shots before Poeltl scored inside with 15:19 left in the first half. And they trailed only 3-2, before Bachynski scored six points in a row for an 8-5 lead.

    Duke: Krzyzewski has a record 85 NCAA Tournament wins, 20 more than Dean Smith and Roy Williams.

    UP NEXT

    Utah: Season Over.

    Duke: Play Gonzaga in South Regional final Sunday.

  • Sat, 28 Mar 2015 03:24:00 +0000: Durant to have another surgery, miss rest of season - Top Stories

    OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) NBA MVP Kevin Durant will miss the rest of the season and have bone graft surgery next week to treat a fractured bone in his right foot.

    The Oklahoma City Thunder had said last week he likely would be shut down for the season. The team was trying to figure out why his pain remained long after he was supposed to be able to play.

    General manager Sam Presti said Friday the team expects Durant to return to basketball activities within the four to six months.

    He said this decision was aimed at Durant's "long-term health and stability" and represented a consensus of Durant and his representatives, specialists and the team. The procedure was termed the "most proactive and recommended approach."

    The Thunder are in position to make the playoffs without Durant, but they clearly will miss one of the game's most dynamic players. Durant last played Feb. 19 before the discomfort became too much to bear. He has played in just 27 games, averaging 25.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists.

    Durant had his initial surgery in October and had been healing well. But in late February, he had a procedure to replace a screw that was rubbing against another bone. After that second surgery, the Thunder expected him to return in one to two weeks.

    Durant then consulted with three foot and ankle specialists. It was determined there still was pain from the rubbing, plus regression in the initial break. It was then decided to proceed with the bone graft, Presti said.

    "It's a blow for him and for our league," Cleveland's LeBron James said of his U.S. Olympic teammate. "We're a brotherhood and you never want anyone to go down, especially of that stature. He means a lot to our game and obviously means a lot to the OKC family, and you just wish him well and hopefully for a speedy recovery."

    A week ago, Presti said Durant was struggling and the team did not want to rush him back. When asked if it would be best to end Durant's season, Presti said: "Essentially, that's the direction that we're taking right now."

    Presti said the bone graft is a common procedure to fix the less than 10 percent of such foot operations that don't work out.

    "While everyone is disappointed that Kevin falls into that group, we are encouraged that the bone graft procedure has historically demonstrated long-term health and stability," Presti said.

    The Thunder entered Friday three games ahead of Phoenix for the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference standings. Point guard Russell Westbrook has emerged as an MVP candidate. He leads the league with 27.3 points per game while averaging 8.7 assists and 7.1 rebounds.

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    AP Basketball Writer Brian Mahoney in New York contributed to this report.

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    Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP

  • Sat, 28 Mar 2015 02:56:00 +0000: Gonzaga headed to Elite Eight for 1st time since 1999 - Top Stories

    HOUSTON (AP) Growing up in Poland, Przemek Karnowski had to stay up until 2 or 3 a.m. to watch the NCAA Tournament.

    Gonzaga's big man got to star in the show in prime time on Friday night, scoring 18 points with nine rebounds to lead the second-seeded Bulldogs to a 74-62 win over No. 11 seed UCLA in the Houston Regional semifinals.

    The victory puts Gonzaga (35-2) in the Elite Eight for the second time, its first regional final since 1999. The Bulldogs will play the winner of the Utah-Duke game on Sunday.

    UCLA (22-14) opened the second half with a 6-0 run to get within 35-34. Gonzaga got going after that, scoring the next 12 points, thanks to the powerful inside game of the 7-foot-1, 288-pound Karnowski to make it 47-34.

    "For me it was always a dream to be here and to play deep into the NCAA Tournament," Karnowski said. "And right now I'm here and I'm trying to enjoy every second of it."

    Karnowski helped the Bulldogs grab six more offensive rebounds than UCLA, which Bruins coach Steve Alford believes was the key to the game.

    "We didn't rebound the basketball," Alford said. "They got too many second shots."

    Gonzaga's Kyle Wiltjer raved about Karnowski's work.

    "He was a beast down there, just gobbling up offensive boards," Wiltjer said. "It's so easy for us, especially when we're on the perimeter, to just throw it down to him and he gets a bucket."

    The Bruins, who lost in the Sweet 16 for the second straight year, were done in by a tough shooting night that included long stretches without scoring. They were led by Norman Powell's 16 points.

    They quieted doubters who questioned whether they should be in the tournament by winning their first two games, but couldn't stay with the Bulldogs on a night when their shots weren't falling. Powell made just 8 of 19 shots and Bryce Alford was 3 of 11.

    It's Gonzaga's second win over UCLA this season after also beating the Bruins in December. Gonzaga's only loss to UCLA in the four-game history of the series came in a 73-71 defeat in the regional semifinal in 2006.

    It will be the first trip to the round of eight for Gonzaga coach Mark Few, who took over the season after they last made it.

    "The one accomplishment that we haven't done is reach the Final Four and we finally have an opportunity to do that," Few said.

    The Bruins couldn't find any offense as Gonzaga built its lead early in the second half.

    Domantas Sabonis drew ooh's and ahh's from the crowd when the 6-10 Lithuanian grabbed a bounce pass from Karnowski and sailed over Isaac Hamilton for a one-handed dunk that made it 51-37 with 11 minutes remaining.

    Karnowski found Sabonis again a few minutes later, when he passed it behind his back and Sabonis finished with a layup to push the lead to 14 points.

    Gonzaga was up 13-10 less than six minutes into the game when both offenses went cold, combining to miss the next 19 shots.

    There were missed layups, shots from the outside that clanged off the rim and even a couple of air balls. No matter what either team tried, they simply couldn't make a shot for about 6 1/2 minutes. Gonzaga extended the lead a bit with three free throws.

    Powell finally ended the field goal drought when he drove into the lane and his layup mercifully fell through the net to cut the lead to 16-12 about eight minutes before halftime. The Bulldogs scored a few seconds later on a jump shot by Karnowski.

    Gonzaga led 35-28 at halftime.

    VENUE TO BLAME FOR POOR SHOOTING?

    With both teams struggling to shoot, many questions were asked about whether the venue caused problems. The games are being played in NRG Stadium, which is home to the Houston Texans, and the setup, with no walls behind either basket, challenges players' depth perception.

    Entering Friday's game, teams have shot a combined 39.8 percent in nine NCAA Tournament games at NRG. UCLA shot 38.8 percent on Friday and Gonzaga shot 40.3 percent.

    But no one on either team would use that as an excuse.

    "We just missed shots," Wiltjer said. "You either make them or you don't. We don't really blame it on the arena or anything like that."

    TIP-INS

    UCLA: Alford had eight points. ... Looney had nine points and eight rebounds.

    Gonzaga: Wiltjer had eight points and 10 rebounds after leading the team in their first two tournament games with 23 and 24 points. ... Sabonis scored 12 points before fouling out late.

    UP NEXT:

    UCLA: As their season ends they wait to see if Looney will stay or declare for the NBA.

    Gonzaga: Faces the winner of the Utah-Duke game on Sunday in the regional final.

  • Sat, 28 Mar 2015 01:58:00 +0000: Louisville beats NC State 75-65; on to Elite 8 - Top Stories

    SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) Montrezl Harrell scored 24 points, reserve Anton Gill keyed a late-game surge, and Louisville beat North Carolina State 75-65 on Friday night in the East Regional semifinals of the NCAA Tournament.

    Louisville (27-8), the fourth seed in the East and seeking to make its third Final Four in four years, will play either No. 3 seed Oklahoma or seventh-seeded Michigan State in the East final on Sunday. The Sooners and Spartans played in Friday's nightcap in the Carrier Dome.

    After toppling top-seeded Villanova, North Carolina State (22-14), the eighth seed, saw its postseason run end against a team that refused to quit.

    Louisville wasn't given much chance of playing in late March after it lost two of three entering the NCAA Tournament, but gritty wins over UC Irvine and Northern Iowa had the Cardinals brimming with confidence.

    Terry Rozier had 17 points and 14 rebounds and freshman guard Quentin Snider added 14 points for the Cardinals.

    Trevor Lacey led the Wolfpack with 18 points, while Ralston Turner had 12 and Kyle Washington 11.

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