Tournament Roundup

No shock for Kentucky

Wildcats easily reach Sweet 16

Kentucky guard Eric Bledsoe (24) and guard Darius Miller let it all out during the second half against Wake Forest. Kentucky guard Eric Bledsoe (24) and guard Darius Miller let it all out during the second half against Wake Forest. (Patrick Semansky/Associated Press)
Associated Press / March 21, 2010

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Two games, two blowouts.

John Calipari’s top-seeded Kentucky Wildcats are young and inexperienced, but no longer unproven in the NCAA Tournament, during which their average margin of victory now stands at 29.5 points after two rounds.

Darius Miller scored a career-high 20 points and Kentucky made easy work of No. 9 Wake Forest during a 90-60 rout in their second-round meeting last night in New Orleans in the East Regional.

Miller scored 16 points in the first half to help the Wildcats (34-2) build an early double-digit lead that ballooned to 31 in the second half.

DeMarcus Cousins added 19 points for Kentucky, while John Wall scored 14 and Eric Bledsoe 13.

Al-Farouq Aminu had 16 points for Wake Forest (20-11), which was down by 16 at halftime and never mounted a credible comeback attempt during the final 20 minutes. C.J. Harris added 11 points for the Demon Deacons.

Kentucky moves on to the semifinals in Syracuse, N.Y., where it will play the winner of today’s game between Cornell and Wisconsin.

Wake Forest, which needed overtime to squeeze out a dramatic 81-80 win over Texas, looked worn down and outmanned as the Wildcats pounded their way inside for one easy basket after another. Kentucky scored 52 points in the paint and shot 60 percent. The Wildcats even outrebounded Wake Forest, 42-34, a surprising statistic given that Wake Forest had outrebounded the Longhorns by 25 in the first round.

The score was tied at 19 after Harris’s 3-pointer, then Kentucky seemed to stomp on the accelerator, starting with a 7-0 run capped by Cousins’s dunk. Another dunk by Cousins capped an 8-0 run to close the first half, sending the Wildcats into the locker room with a 44-28 lead.

East Regional
Washington 82, New Mexico 64 — Quincy Pondexter scored 18 points, Isaiah Thomas added 15, and the 11th-seeded Huskies extended their incredible late-season roll all the way to the regional semifinals with a victory over the Lobos in San Jose, Calif.

Matthew Bryan-Amaning had 15 points and nine rebounds for the Huskies (26-9), who have won nine straight.

Washington ran right past the third-seeded Lobos (30-5), who simply couldn’t keep up with the breakneck offensive pace.

“We did a great job of forcing our tempo on them,’’ said Pondexter, who didn’t need another last-second tiebreaker as he did in beating Marquette two days earlier. “We wanted to show that we have another level of fast break and defensive intensity. That’s what really wore them down.’’

After a rocky season that seemed headed nowhere in late January, the Huskies are the epitome of a talented team peaking at tournament time. Washington began the season in the national rankings, but slumped badly before this stellar surge.

South Regional
Baylor 76, Old Dominion 68 — LaceDarius Dunn scored 26 points and the No. 3 seeded Bears (27-7) squandered a 14-point first-half lead but went on a late 8-1 run to pull away from the Monarchs in New Orleans.

Baylor struggled to beat Sam Houston State in the first round for its first NCAA Tournament win since 1950, but the Bears arrived loose and confident against Old Dominion, using a barrage of early 3-pointers and alley-oops to take a double-digit lead.

Old Dominion (27-9) rallied and pulled ahead in the second half, but the Bears received a big lift from 7-footer Josh Lomers, who tied a career high with 14 points, 12 in the second half.

“We needed [Lomers] to come through for us,’’ coach Scott Drew said. “I think you saw a senior that didn’t want to play his last game.’’

West Regional
Kansas St. 84, BYU 72 — Jacob Pullen scored 20 of his career-high 34 points in the first half to help dig the No. 2 seeded Wildcats out of an early 10-point hole, and K-State turned away Jimmer Fredette and the Cougars in Oklahoma City.

Pullen came alive with a scoring flurry shortly after he and Fredette (21 points, 4-of-13 shooting) got tangled up in transition in the first half, and K-State (28-7) wouldn’t trail again in earning its first round of 16 appearance since 1988.

Pullen matched his career-best with seven 3-pointers and surpassed 30 points for the third time in his career. Down the stretch, he helped seal the victory with a 3-pointer and six free throws. Equally as important as his scoring was his physical defense against Fredette, who had scored 37 points to get the seventh-seeded Cougars (30-6) past Florida in double overtime in the first round.

“I just tried to remember all of the those little things to make sure that I kept him at arm’s distance,’’ Pullen said. “He’s a good player, though. He still found ways to score the ball. I give him a lot of credit because he’s an amazing scorer. He finds a way to score the ball, regardless of the defensive presence.’’

Butler 54, Murray State 52 — In San Jose, Calif., Ronald Nored’s 3-point play snapped a tie with 25.4 seconds left, and the Bulldogs narrowly evaded a second stunner by the 13th-seeded Racers in three days, advancing to the regional semifinals.

Nored scored 15 points and Gordon Hayward had 12 before making the decisive defensive play for fifth-seeded Butler (30-4), which extended the nation’s longest winning streak to 22 games.

The Bulldogs advanced to the Round of 16 for the second time in four years — but only after surviving a thriller against undersized but big-hearted Murray State (31-5), which beat fourth-seeded Vanderbilt on a buzzer-beater Thursday.

Isaiah Canaan scored 14 points and hit four 3-pointers for the Racers, who matched Butler’s sturdy defense and outrebounded the Bulldogs, 39-22.

After Butler’s Matt Howard made one of two free throws with 17.2 seconds left, Murray State had a chance to set up for a final shot — but instead of creating a new play during a timeout, as the Racers did before Danero Thomas’s jumper beat Vandy, Murray State simply got the ball to Canaan.

The guard was double-teamed, and his frantic attempt at a perimeter pass went off Hayward’s hand and rolled into the backcourt, setting off a celebration near Butler’s bench.