The card for this weekend’s regional finals was filled out yesterday, as the South and Midwest brackets moved forward. TheSportsNotebook runs down the four games from Friday night…
SOUTH REGIONAL (Atlanta)
Kentucky 102 Indiana 90: The game was played at a rapid pace throughout, as the final score clearly indicates. While both of teams just as clearly shot the ball well, it wasn’t as though there was no defense, with Indiana shooting 52 percent and Kentucky missing more than half of its shots , converting 48%, even on the way to the century mark. Sheer volume of possessions drove the score here. If there’s one stat in particular that made a difference it’s Kentucky going an astonishing 35/37 from the foul line. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist played his best game of the tournament amidst rumors that he’s already decided to leave for the NBA when the season is over. Kidd-Gilchrist scored 24 points and added 10 rebounds. It was a gutty effort by the Hoosiers, who could easily have blown out of the Georgia Dome by a talented team playing well, but Indiana stayed within striking distance right down to the end. Christian Watford, the hero of the teams’ regular season meeting, knocked down 27 points. Freshman Cody Zeller had a solid 20-point, 7-rebound night. Unfortunately for the poor freshman it was not only not enough to help his team win, but it wasn’t even the best showing in his own family, as we’ll see further down. (Editor’s Note: In yesterday’s game preview I wrote that Jordan Hulls was injured. If you were watching last night, Hulls didn’t have a miracle recovery. I just mixed my guards up. It’s Verdell Jones III that was out).
Baylor 75 Xavier 70: Baylor jumped out to a big lead, let Xavier hang around and then nearly gave it away at the end. The Bears played good defense and rebounded the ball well, especially Quincy Acy who had 15 rebounds to go with his 20 points. Pierre Jackson ran the floor effectively against a talented Musketeer backcourt and dished ten assists. While Xavier center Kenny Frease had a solid scoring night with 18 points he was only able to collect three rebounds. What kept the Musketeers in it was a surprising ability to get to the foul line. Normally significant free throw edges (Xavier outscored Baylor 19-12 from the stripe with comparable percentages) come from controlling the interior or just piling them up with a late-game lead. Neither applied for Xavier and they were able to use free throws to keep the game competitive.
MIDWEST REGIONAL (St. Louis)
North Carolina 73 Ohio 65 (OT): We knew the loss of Kendall Marshall, who stayed in his suit and tie the entire game would affect Carolina, but 24 turnovers?!?! After getting out to a nice early lead, UNC did everything they could to give the game away and were dominated in the backcourt. Conversely, we knew North Carolina was bigger and stronger underneath, but a 56-26 rebounding advantage?!?! A sizeable chunk of that came from Tyler Zeller, brother of Indiana’s Cody. Not only did Tyler score 20 points, he hauled in 22 rebounds. His control of the paint was so thorough that TNT analyst Steve Kerr (a leader of Arizona’s 1988 Final Four team) said at one point that if UNC didn’t get him the ball they deserved to lose. As Nicholas Cage said in National Treasure, it really was just that simple.
Kansas 60 N.C. State 57: Of the eight teams who will play this weekend I don’t know that any have worked harder to be eliminated than Kansas. The Jayhawks had this game in hand—not blown out, it was competitive throughout—but it was in Kansas’ hands. Then they got a case of slippery fingers, turned the ball over, missed free throws and gave N.C. State the ball with a chance to take the lead in the final minute and another chance to tie it on the final possession. Thomas Robinson again shouldered the load for Kansas with 18 points and 15 rebounds, while his normally trusty mate, point guard Tyshawn Taylor turned it over five times. N.C. State’s Richard Howell did a good job battling Robinson and got 16 rebounds of his own, but the one he’ll remember is the long rebound off a missed free throw that glanced off his hands. It wasn’t an easy play—Kerr noted that the free throw was missed so badly it created a tough rebound—but if Howell holds on, the Pack would have gotten another closing moments possession down by a point.
Overall it’s hard to think of high seeds looking more unimpressive than North Carolina and Kansas did last night. At least the Tar Heels have an excuse with the Marshall injury, though certainly Roy Williams doesn’t want to hear any of it. As for the Jayhawks, Bill Self has to find some way to get his team snapped out of it by Sunday.