No. 1 seed Kentucky stops Cornell, 62-45 Butler, Kansas St. reach elite eight
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Kentucky avoided the latest big upset by the Big Red.
John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson stopped Cornell's captivating NCAA tournament run, giving the top-seeded Wildcats a 62-45 win last night in the East Regional semifinals.
With much of the Carrier Dome crowd — and the country — pulling for an upset by the 12th-seeded Ivy Leaguers, Cornell bolted to a 10-2 lead in the opening minutes.
But Kentucky overcame the early deficit with a swarming defense, spoiling all the fun at Cornell's loudest and largest pep rally.
"I think we did a great job landing the first punch," Cornell center Jeff Foote said. "They're a very talented team. Their skill and talent is going to show eventually."
John Calipari has the Wildcats (35-2) in the regional final in his first season, erasing much of the sting of the program's decade-long slide from the top.
The climb back is nearly complete. Kentucky moved within one win of its first Final Four since winning the national championship in 1998.
Calipari says his Wildcats must do better.
"Second half, we just kind of tried to get out of the gym," he said. "You can't do that in the NCAA tournament."
All the fan adulation and media hype shifted to Cornell this week after brainy Big Red (29-5) stunned the field with an improbable run to the round of 16. This was no Revenge of the Nerds — they proved they could they play with the big boys.
The nation's top 3-shooting team continuously misfired from beyond the arc and Cornell couldn't catch up against a Kentucky lineup that could stage a reunion at the NBA's 2012 Rookie Challenge.
After storming to two wins by a combined 59 points in the first two rounds, the Wildcats got all they could handle against Big Red. Cornell pounced to that early lead, then sliced a 17-point deficit to six late in the second half.
Louis Dale hit a 3 that made it 40-34 and Ryan Wittman nailed another to make it 46-37 with 3:47 left.
After a free throw made it 47-37, Eric Bledsoe hit a short jumper with one tick left on the shot clock to push Kentucky's lead to 49-37. The Wildcats finally put away Cornell for good from the free-throw line.
Cousins scored 16 points and Patterson had nine points and 12 rebounds for Kentucky.
Dale led Cornell with 17 points. The Big Red shot just 5-for-21 on 3s after shooting 43 percent this season.
"Our shots weren't falling," Foote said. "Usually Ryan makes those shots. He had a tough day."
Kentucky is back with a vengeance and trying to win the regional final for the first time since '98. The Wildcats lost Elite Eight games in 1999, 2003 and 2005.
WEST VIRGINIA 69, WASHINGTON 56
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Clutching his right hand and writhing in pain on the court, West Virginia senior Da'Sean Butler allowed himself only two seconds to worry that his college career was over — and maybe the Mountaineers' NCAA tournament run, too.
When Butler realized the hurt was subsiding, he got up and went about his business in lifting the second-seeded Mountaineers over 11th-seeded Washington last night.
"Once I stood up, the one thing that was pretty numb was my hand, and I said, 'All right, I'll be fine,' " Butler said.
He was, and so were the Mountaineers (30-6). Coach Bob Huggins' team set a school record for victories, extended its winning streak to nine and advanced to the round of eight for the second time since 2005.
Seeing Butler on the court, however, was a major scare for West Virginia, which was playing its first game without point guard Darryl Bryant, who broke his right foot in practice on Tuesday.
Butler plays an even more critical role on the Mountaineers, as he's their leading scorer who's also hit six game-winning shots in the final seconds this season.
"That was a very big sense of relief," forward Kevin Jones said. "Something would really have to be wrong if he didn't get up. Luckily, it wasn't that. He got up and showed how tough he was."
Butler had his right hand wrapped in ice in the Mountaineers' locker room and said he'll be ready to play tomorrow against top-seeded Kentucky, a 62-45 winner over Cornell.
Justin Holiday scored 14 and added eight rebounds for the Huskies (26-10), who were at a disadvantage after leading scorer Quincy Pondexter picked up his third foul with 4:27 left in the first half. Pondexter didn't score his first basket until 2:30 into the second half, and finished with seven points.