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Saturday, March 24, 2012

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Narrow victory: Syracuse's C.J. Fair dunks against Wisconsin in the first half of their NCAA tournament third-round game on Thursday in Boston. Syracuse won 64-63. AP

Cards rout top-seeded Spartans

AP

PHOENIX — Louisville figured its game against Michigan State to be low-scoring, a natural expectation with two of the nation's best defenses butting heads.

The Cardinals had one big advantage: Gorgui Dieng.

Dominating inside, Dieng blocked seven shots and altered several others to anchor a stifling defense that helped Louisville knock off top-seeded Michigan State 57-44 Thursday night in the West Regional semifinals.

"He was very disruptive," Michigan State's Draymond Green said. "We're not going to back down from anyone. We took it at him. He pulled off some great blocked shots. That's what he does. That's his strength."

The Cardinals (29-9) relied on 3-point shooting in the first half and moved inside in the second to befuddle the Spartans.

Their defense gave Michigan State fits all night.

Instead of trapping like it normally does, Louisville played a bait-and-switch game with the Spartans and Green, their multitalented forward. The idea was to jump out on screens and to make the Spartans work on every possession and, hopefully, wear them out.

It worked, in large part because Dieng was in the back to clean things up.

Tent-pole thin when he arrived at Louisville, the Senegalese center worked hard on his body and his game, developing into the one player the Cardinals had to have on the floor during his sophomore season. When he got in foul trouble, Louisville labored, so one of the key parts of coach Rick Pitino's game plan was to make sure the Cardinals protected him.

They did and he protected the rim in return, getting five of his blocked shots in the second half to prevent Michigan State from mounting any kind of rally. The Cardinals move on to the West final against Florida on Saturday.

"When we came here, we know (what) we're going to face," said Dieng, who also had five points, nine rebounds and three steals while matching the school record for blocked shots in an NCAA tournament game. "We knew we were going to come to a war. We need to be tougher than them to win this game."

Michigan State (29-8) started slow and never got going against Louisville's amoebic defense.

The Spartans got shots they wanted and usually make, but couldn't get many to fall against Dieng or anyone else, shooting 28 percent while being outscored 20-14 inside by the leaner Cardinals.

Green had 13 points and 16 rebounds in his final game for Michigan State. Brandon Wood added 14 points for the Spartans, who were outscored 17-4 off the bench.

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 further along the bracket, going 10-0 in the regional semifinals.

Florida 68, Marquette 58

In Phoenix, almost every time he touches the ball, Bradley Beal does something special. His latest bit of basketball wizardry moved Florida a win away from the Final Four and set up Billy Donovan with a perfectly scripted matchup against his old coach and boss, Rick Pitino.

Beal, the freshman with NBA written all over him, scored 21 points on 8-for-10 shooting to help the Gators to a victory over Marquette.

Erving Walker had 11 for the Gators, including a 3-pointer that came after Patric Young scrapped for an offensive rebound with 2:05 left.

It snapped a 6-0 Marquette run that pulled the third-seeded Golden Eagles (27-8) to within six.

EAST REGIONAL

Syracuse 64, Wisconsin 63

In Boston, C.J. Fair broke out of a scoring slump with 15 points and top-seeded Syracuse held on for a victory over fourth-seeded Wisconsin.

The Badgers had two shots at the win after Kris Joseph, a 75 percent free throw shooter, missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 18.9 seconds left and the Orange leading by a point. Jordan Taylor came down and missed a 3-pointer with 3 seconds left and Josh Gasser's desperation shot from the corner was off, at the buzzer.

Scoop Jardine added 14 points for the Orange (34-2), who advance to play Ohio State in the regional final Saturday.

Ohio State 81, Cincinnati 66

In 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 a victory over No. 6 seed Cincinnati.



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