Kentucky, Villanova Routs Offset NCAA Tourney Nail-Biters

Top regional seeds Kentucky and Villanova won by a combined 64 points to cap the first full day at the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament, where a record five games were decided by a single point.

Among the nail-biters was Georgia State’s 57-56 upset of Baylor that caused coach Ron Hunter to fall out of his chair. Harvard failed to become the first Ivy League team to win at three straight tournaments, losing to North Carolina 67-65 after missing three 3-point attempts in the final 31 seconds.

For the first time in two decades, a pair of No. 14 regional seeds won NCAA tournament games, as Alabama-Birmingham matched Georgia State’s upset with a 60-59 stunner against Iowa State. Yet the most talked-about Thursday finish might have been UCLA’s 60-59 comeback defeat of Southern Methodist that was decided by a controversial goaltending call on a 3-pointer.

“That’s the definition of March Madness for you right there,” said UCLA’s Bryce Alford, who scored 27 points on nine 3-pointers, the last of which was the game-winner even though it never went through the hoop.

Nine of the 16 games on Thursday were decided by four points or less, including two that went to overtime. The five one-point games -- two coming in matchups of 8 and 9 seeds -- were the most in a single day in NCAA tournament history.

Kentucky wasn’t challenged in its opening game, routing Hampton 79-56 to improve to 35-0 and move within five wins of becoming the first undefeated team to win the national championship since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers. The Wildcats, the top seed in the Midwest regional, next face No. 8 Cincinnati, which fought past Purdue 66-65 in overtime.

Improvement Needed

“We’ve got to get better between now and the next game,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said after his team’s win against a Hampton team that entered the tournament with a 16-17 record.

Villanova, the No. 1 seed in the East, romped past Lafayette 93-52 to extend its school-record winning streak to 16 games. Villanova’s next opponent is North Carolina State, which won 66-65 on BeeJay Anya’s hook shot with one second left after Louisiana State missed its last 12 shots.

Harvard’s Wesley Saunders scored 26 points, but couldn’t get his final shot to fall against North Carolina, missing a 3-pointer at the final buzzer. The Tar Heels pulled out the victory despite blowing a 16-point second-half lead.

“We were very fortunate at the end,” said North Carolina coach Roy Williams. The Tar Heels next face Arkansas, which topped Wofford 56-53 in a game that featured 18 lead changes.

Georgia State eliminated Baylor, the No. 3 seed in the West, by ending the game with a 13-0 scoring run. R.J. Hunter hit the winning long-distance 3-pointer with 2.6 seconds left that caused his dad, coach Ron Hunter, to fall off his chair.

Torn Achilles

The elder Hunter was coaching from a rolling chair on the sideline after tearing his Achilles tendon while celebrating his team’s win in the Sun Belt Conference tournament title game, a victory that sent the Atlanta-based school to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 14 years.

“I wish every dad in America could have the opportunity I just experienced with my son,” Ron Hunter said after watching R.J. score 12 of his team’s final 13 points.

Georgia State will play sixth-seeded Xavier, a 76-57 winner against Mississippi, in its next game.

Alabama-Birmingham was a 60-59 winner against Iowa State, the third seed in the South, after outscoring the Cyclones 9-4 to end the game. The last time a pair of No. 14 seeds won in the same tournament was in 1995, when Old Dominion and Weber State won their opening games. Entering this year, 14th seeds had a 20-118 overall tournament record since 1985.

Goaltending Controversy

Up next for UAB is 11th-seeded UCLA, which closed out its upset of No. 6 Southern Methodist with an 8-0 scoring run. The final points came on a 3-pointer after goaltending was called on SMU center Yanick Moreira with 13 seconds remaining.

“I don’t know if it would have gone in or not, but he definitely grabbed it on the way,” said Alford, whose shot was off target when it was touched by Moreira.

SMU, which blew a nine-point lead in its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1993, missed two shots in the final seconds with a chance to win. The focus afterward, though, was on the debatable goaltending call.

“It’s all my fault,” Moreira said. “I should have let the ball hit the rim. I take the blame on myself. As a senior, you can’t make those mistakes at the end of the game.”

Notre Dame avoided becoming the third No. 3 seed to lose, holding off Northeastern 69-65 in the Midwest regional. The Irish outscored the Huskies 17-0 off turnovers and advanced to play sixth-seeded Butler, which defeated No. 11 Texas 56-48.

Arizona, the No. 2 seed in the West, rolled to a 93-72 rout of 15th-seeded Texas Southern. The Wildcats led by as many as 27 points and next play No. 10 Ohio State, which defeated seventh-seeded Virginia Commonwealth in overtime, 75-72.

South No. 4 seed Georgetown defeated Eastern Washington 84-74 in Thursday’s final game and next faces fifth-seeded Utah, a 57-50 winner against Stephen F. Austin.

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