Kentucky, Michigan State Complete NCAA Tournament’s Final Eight

The University of Kentucky ousted defending champion Louisville 74-69 and Michigan State knocked off East Region top seed Virginia 61-59 to complete the final eight at the men’s national college basketball tournament.

Michigan and Connecticut also won last night to reach this weekend’s regional finals.

Kentucky, the eighth seed in the Midwest, erased a seven-point deficit with just more than four minutes remaining in Indianapolis to reach the regional finals for the fourth time in the past five years under coach John Calipari. Fourth-seeded Louisville finished with a 31-6 record as coach Rick Pitino fell to 11-1 in the round of 16 at the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament.

“It was a heavyweight fight and we lost,” Pitino said in a televised interview. “It’s been an unbelievable run for 2 1/2 years for these guys -- multiple league tournament championships and back-to-back Final Fours -- so I’ve got no complaints. We don’t like losing, but give them credit.”

The first four schools in the NCAA tournament’s final eight advanced with wins two days ago.

Top-seeded Florida and No. 11 Dayton will meet in today’s South Region final in Memphis, while West Region No. 1 seed Arizona and No. 2 Wisconsin also square off today in Anaheim, California, for a spot in the Final Four.

The Final Four is scheduled for April 5 in Arlington, Texas, with the national championship game two days later.

Kentucky, with five freshmen starters, next faces Midwest No. 2 seed Michigan tomorrow for a spot in the Final Four.

Kentucky Rally

The Wildcats fell behind 18-5 during the opening eight minutes in Indianapolis, fought back within three points at halftime, yet trailed 66-59 with 4 1/2 minutes remaining. Kentucky then limited the defending champions to one basket the rest of the way, ending the game with a 15-3 scoring run.

Aaron Harrison, who matched Dakari Johnson and Julius Randle with 15 points to lead the Wildcats, hit a 3-pointer with 40 seconds remaining to give Kentucky its first lead since the opening minute.

Russ Smith, who led Louisville with 23 points, missed a 3-point attempt with six seconds left.

“I’m happy for my team,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “As I told them at halftime, these games in this tournament are all 40 minutes, just keep playing. Don’t worry about score, being up or down, just play.”

Michigan (28-8) beat No. 11 seed Tennessee 73-71, holding off a second-half rally to advance to the final eight for the second straight year following an 18-year absence. Tennessee cut a 15-point second-half deficit to one in the closing seconds before the Wolverines pulled out the victory.

Charging Foul

The Volunteers had the ball with a chance to take the lead in the final minute, but Michigan’s Jordan Morgan, who scored a team-high 15 points, drew a charging foul with six seconds left as the Wolverines held on for their 10th win in 11 games.

Tennessee (24-13), which beat Mercer, Massachusetts and Iowa in its first three NCAA tournament games, suffered the only loss in 10 games for Southeastern Conference schools.

Michigan State, the fourth seed in the East, withstood a late run by Virginia (30-7) at New York’s Madison Square Garden to reach the final eight of the NCAA tournament for the eighth time since 1999. Branden Dawson had 24 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Spartans (29-8), who advance to face No. 7 seed Connecticut, which beat third-seeded Iowa State 81-76.

Virginia became the second No. 1 regional seed eliminated from the tournament, joining Midwest top seed Wichita State -- which lost to Kentucky. The Spartans limited Virginia to 35.1 percent shooting, more than 10 percent under its season average.

‘Physical Game’

“It was a physical game,” said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, who has a 6-1 record in the NCAA tournament’s regional finals. “Give our guys some credit -- we got down, we bounced back and that was a lot of character we showed.”

Connecticut (29-8) jumped out to a 10-point halftime lead against Iowa State -- leading 36-26 -- en route to its second straight upset. The Huskies knocked off Villanova, the second seed in the East, in their previous game.

Junior forward DeAndre Daniels had 27 points and 10 rebounds to lead UConn, which is in the final eight of the NCAA tournament for the 10th time since 1990. Dustin Hogue scored 34 points for Iowa State (28-8).

“We’re 40 minutes away from a goal that they set,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said of facing Michigan State for a spot in the Final Four. “We’ve just got to play hard, stay together and we’ve got to keep doing the things that got us here.”

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