Kentucky Outplay Cornell In NCAA Tourney

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Cinderella team Cornell took on No. 1 seed Kentucky on Thursday in the NCAA men's basketball tournament. In the end, Cornell couldn't match Kentucky, going down 62-45.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The NCAA men's basketball tournament continues to provide thrilling finishes with the demise of top seeded teams. NPR's Mike Pesca was at the games in Syracuse, New York, and he joins us now to talk about it.

Good morning, Mike.

MIKE PESCA: Hi.

MONTAGNE: Let's start with Syracuse University, which was not playing in Syracuse, but in Salt Lake City - and feeling rather far from home, losing to Butler. What went wrong?

PESCA: Yes. The rule is you can't play on your home court. So there Syracuse was, as a number one seed, playing a team in Butler that the basketball cognoscenti knew were a good team. But still, they have the number five next to their name. In other words, a five seed. So, if they beat a number one seed it would be an upset. And that is indeed what happened.

Butler got out to a 10 point halftime lead. And in the second half they saw it all evaporate. But rather than discuss specifics, here in general, is what is going on in the tournament.

The teams that are seeded one and two, these are teams from the traditional power conferences. But there is such a diminishing difference between these power teams and these really good teams from leagues like Butler's Horizon or the Missouri Valley or the Atlantic 10.

And Butler shows it's every bit as good as Syracuse. The key to this game was the fact that Syracuse had a lot of turnovers - 18 - mostly because Butler stole the ball a lot. Butler, as the basketball guys will tell you, valued the ball more. And that was the key to a victory.

MONTAGNE: And then in the next game it was a similar match up - Xavier versus Kansas State. Was this another upset by a small school?

PESCA: Well, yeah, Xavier is a small school, literally. In terms of enrollment, they have about 4,000 undergrads. Kansas State - over 20,000. Xavier's been good at basketball for a while. But it was a smaller conference versus a big conference. Kansas State plays in the Big 12. This was the best game of the tournament. This game went into double overtime. And every time it went into an extra session, you couldn't believe what was happening.

In regulation, Kansas State was up by three and an Xavier player got fouled. And he hit one, then two, then three free throws. Imagine the pressure on this college kid - Terrell Holloway - as he calmly drains that. And again, in the first overtime, Xavier was down by three. And one of their players - Jordon Crawford, who scored 32 points - he hit a, oh, a shot from so far away, maybe 32 to 35 feet, sent it into the second overtime. But eventually Kansas State showed that it is toughness, and they pulled out the victory.

MONTAGNE: Well, ok. Well, Mike, let's get, quickly, while we have time, to the games you watched there in Syracuse where you are, where West Virginia and Kentucky won. Of course, they were number one and number two seeds.

PESCA: Right, so you'd assume that that would happen, except so far number one seeds are losing and number two seeds are losing. So to analyze the first game that was played. West Virginia really outlasted the University of Washington. West Virginia feeds off the personality of its coach Bobby Huggins. He's a tough guy and they're a tough team. And they out-muscled a University of Washington team that was an 11 seed.

And the last game was a game we were all very excited for, because Kentucky, chalk full of these future NBA players, was taking on an Ivy League school, Cornell. And up until now, Cornell had shown that they belong on the same court as really any great team in the country. They jumped out to a 10-2 lead. But then Kentucky said, hey, this is why we're going to play in the NBA. They went on a 30-6 run to end the half. And they really didn't look back.

And so West Virginia and Kentucky, those two teams will face off to see who's in the final four.

MONTAGNE: Mike, thanks very much.

PESCA: Oh, you're welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Mike Pesca.

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Butler Bites No. 1 Seed Syracuse In NCAA Play

Syracuse's Andy Rautins, right, drives against Butler's Gordon Hayward. i

Syracuse's Andy Rautins, right, drives against Butler's Gordon Hayward during the first half of their game in Salt Lake City Thursday night. Paul Sakuma/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Paul Sakuma/AP
Syracuse's Andy Rautins, right, drives against Butler's Gordon Hayward.

Syracuse's Andy Rautins, right, drives against Butler's Gordon Hayward during the first half of their game in Salt Lake City Thursday night.

Paul Sakuma/AP

The underdog Butler Bulldogs showed their teeth Thursday night, beating the No. 1 seed Syracuse Orange, 63-59, as play began in the Sweet Sixteen round of the men's NCAA basketball tournament.

In a thrilling nightcap, Kansas State beat Xavier 101-96 in double overtime, surviving a game filled with comebacks and key shots — many of them from well beyond 3-point range.

In other play, No. 1 seed Kentucky hung for a 62-45 victory over tenacious No. 12 seed Cornell, No. 2 seed West Virginia scratched and clawed to a sloppy 69-56 win over No. 11 seed Washington.

Butler Advances

Deliberate on offense and determined on defense, Butler held typically high-scoring Syracuse to a single point in the first seven minutes of play, running out to a 12-1 lead early. The Bulldogs led 35-25 at halftime.

Syracuse took the lead back with minutes left in the game, but the Bulldogs, controlling the pace of the game, never faltered.

Butler, playing out of the Horizon League, had made the round of 16 three times in eight years, but this is the school's first appearance in the Elite Eight. If they can beat Kansas State Saturday, they'll go home to Indianapolis for the Final Four.

Syracuse — regularly one of the best teams in the country — had shown a vulnerability to the upset in tournaments past.

Mountaineers Defy Key Injury

Meanwhile, West Virginia — which played well all year and won the Big East tournament — beat Washington after losing point guard Darryl Bryant, who broke his foot in practice earlier in the week. The Mountaineers still have standout guard Da'Sean Butler on their side — but he struggled early against the Huskies' quick hands and pressure defense.

Both teams played hard-nosed defense throughout, resulting in more than 20 turnovers for each side — not pretty to watch.

The plucky Huskies had nearly missed the whole shootin' match, clinching a berth in NCAA play only by winning the Pac-10 tournament. But they stormed past two higher-rated opponents before falling to the Mountaineers.

K-State Survives

In December, Kansas State beat Xavier rather easily at home. This time, on a neutral court, the Wildcats of the Big 12 had all they could handle and then some from the Musketeers of the Atlantic 10. Xavier overcame an early run of 17 straight points by Kansas State to grab a 32-31 halftime lead.

It was just getting interesting. The teams swapped leads through the second half and two wild overtime sessions.

Terrell Holloway hit three straight free throws at the end of regulation to tie the game, then hit key three-pointers and baskets to keep Xavier alive in the extra periods.

Kentucky Scrapes By

Finally there was Thursday's most intriguing matchup: Kentucky and Cornell. First-year UK coach John Calipari puts an astonishing load of young talent on the floor, with at least three freshmen bound for NBA glory. But the Big Red of Cornell are one of the best shooting teams in the country from beyond the 3-point range and they've humbled two favored opponents rather easily in the first two rounds of the tournament (Temple and Wisconsin).

Cornell ran off to a 10-2 lead as Thursday's game began, but Kentucky's size and strength advantage became obvious as play continued. The Wildcats outscored Cornell 30-6 to close the first half, taking a 32-16 lead.

But Kentucky went cold in the second half and Cornell crept to within six points, 40-34, with about seven minutes left before Kentucky pulled away.

Kentucky will meet West Virginia Saturday for a chance at the Final Four.

Coming Up Friday

Thursday's games were just half the story of the Sweet Sixteen, of course. Friday night brings four more contests: Michigan State-Northern Iowa; Duke-Purdue; Ohio State-Tennessee; and Baylor-Saint Mary's.

The winners of the Friday games will meet on Sunday to determine the last two Final Four berths.

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