NCAA Tourney Update: Regional finals
5 Butler 63
2 Kansas St. 56
The Butler Bulldogs stunned the Kansas St. Wildcats and advanced to the Final Four out of the West region, employing a scrambling defense and timely offense spearheaded by Horizon League Player of the Year, Gordon Hayward, who had game highs in scoring and rebounding with 22 points and 9 rebounds. The Bulldogs shut down the wildcat guards, Jacob Pullen and denis Clemente, holding the backcourt duo to a combined 32 points. Pullen was 4-for-13, Clemente, 7-for-17.
Butler took an early lead and held on throughout, though the wildcats did take a brief one-point lead midway through the second half, but the Bulldogs beat Kansas St. in most of the important categories: shooting percentage, 3-point shooting, free throws and rebounds. Butler, the #5 seed, knocked off both the #1 seed, Syracuse, and now the #2 seed in the region.
2 West Virginia 73
1 Kentucky 66
In an even more shocking development, West Virginia derailed John Wall and the Kentucky express, beating the Wildcats with a combination of first-half three-point shooting and second-half defense and canniness. The Mountaineers, not known for long-range shooting prowess, hit 8 3-pointers in the first half and took a 28-26 lead into intermission.
In the second half, West Virginia worked the ball inside more often and stymied the Wildcats with their 1-3-1 zone defense. Frustrated by their inaccuracy from long range, Kentucky didn't hit a shot from beyond the arc until the game was in its final minutes, finishing an embarrassing 4-for-32 on 3-point tries. Kentucky also damaged its own chances, connecting on just 16 of 29 free throw attempts. The Mountaineers, meanwhile, were 10-for-23 from 3-point land and 23 of 34 at the charity stripe.
As usual, Da'Sean Butler led his team in scoring with 18 points, but the performance of the night came from Joe Mazzulla, who posted a career-high 17 points, even though he missed most of the final six minutes due to foul trouble and then, after a brief return, fouling out. Mazzulla handled the ball and directed the offense most of the night, which led to, at one point, a 16-point edge. Kentucky tried to crawl back into it late, but did not have the shots nor the time to make a significant run.
In a tournament that has been chock-full of upsets and surprises, these two are remarkable, as is what's left of the high seeded teams. At this juncture, with just 6 teams left in the tourney, three #1s, #2s and #3s have already been eliminated. After tomorrow's games, either all of the 1s or 3s will be gone, as the South region final features #1 Duke vs. #3 Baylor. The Midwest, already decimated by losses to #1 Kansas, #2 Ohio State and #3 Georgetown, features a 6-5 match-up between Tennessee and Michigan State.
Regardless of tomorrow's results, this years Final Four will consist of just 2 of the top 12 seeds, pretty much an unprecedented event and certain to have blown up all the bracket pools around the country.
Another piece of history: West Virginia has reached the Final Four for just the second time in school history. The last time was in 1959 when California defeated West Virginia 71-70, though basketball legend Jerry West just missed a desperation heave from half court that would have won the game. Despite the loss, West was named tournament MVP. Today, 51 years later, West's son, Jonny West, plays for the Mountaineers.