Louisville’s run at back-to-back ends at the hands of rival Kentucky

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INDIANAPOLIS — Entering the 2014 NCAA Tournament many looked at the Midwest Regional as the bracket’s toughest challenge.

Unbeaten No. 1 seed Wichita State, No. 2 seed Michigan and No. 4 seed Louisville — the defending champion — all made the Final Four last year and talented No. 3 seed Duke and No. 8 seed Kentucky had enough firepower to make things interesting.

And that doesn’t even include No. 11 seed Tennessee, the team peaking at the right time of the season behind a talented inside-outside combination.

So as Louisville stared at that Midwest Regional as the trendy pick to make the Final Four, many wondered if they could get through what was looking similar to the World Cup’s “Group of Death.”

The Cardinals made it through the first two rounds unscathed but a Sweet 16 matchup against No. 8 seed Kentucky was a game that everyone in America wanted to see. Unfortunately, it didn’t go the way Louisville wanted it to go, as they fell to the rival Wildcats, 74-69, on Friday night to end its run of back-to-back Final Fours.

In the postgame locker room, a sullen Cardinals team didn’t blame anybody but themselves for the loss. The tears streaming down the faces of many of the players was noticeable. Chris Jones turned and faced a corner, unable to address the media as he held his face in his hands. Most players barely spoke above a whisper when addressing the media.

“I’m getting over it. As a man you have to move on from it,” senior guard Russ Smith said. “It sucks but there’s only 13 champions at the end of the year. Somebody has to lose, not everybody can win. We were among the last 16 teams and came up short.”

The Cardinals will stare in the mirror for a long time when they look back at Friday’s loss to Kentucky. Louisville led by seven with under five minutes left and Willie Cauley-Stein (ankle) and James Young (fouled out) were unable to return for Kentucky.

The champs had the upstart contender on the ropes and couldn’t finish them off.

“(I) told them before the game, you’ll get punched in the mouth and you’re going to taste blood. You’re going to fight or brace yourself for the next shot. They fought. They never stopped playing,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said.

Soon everything began to unravel as Kentucky continued to fight until the final whistle. Despite never leading since a 2-0 advantage in the game’s opening minute, the Wildcats took a 70-68 lead on Aaron Harrison’s go-ahead three-pointer with 39 seconds left. Kentucky led for 65 total seconds, but they’re the ones that will advance to face No. 2 seed Michigan in Sunday’s Elite 8.

“We had a chance to control the game. We didn’t. I didn’t,” Smith said. “I’ve got to be a man about that. And you have to respect the opponent you were playing against; they did a good job. Other than that, I just have to take it.”

Rebounding and free throws were the major difference in the game on Friday. Louisville went 13-for-23 from the free throw line while Kentucky went 22-for-27. The Wildcats held a 37-29 rebounding edge, which led to an 18-10 advantage in second-chance points.

“They out-rebounded us and we made a lot of mistakes down the stretch that we didn’t need to make,” Louisville freshman guard Terry Rozier said. “They beat us to the glass a lot.”

The magical two-year Final Four run is over for Louisville — and with it, the talk of a potential dynasty. But head coach Rick Pitino downplayed any talk of legacy after the game and tried to focus on the present.

“We try to be humble in victory and gracious in defeat. We’re going to be very gracious in this defeat because we’ve had a lot of celebrations, and it’s the end of an era for us, for a lot of us. So it’s something that we’re certainly going to miss,” Pitino said.

Losing against a rival like Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament might mean a lot to some players, but for Smith, his college career comes to an end after winning multiple conference titles and last year’s NCAA title. As much as this loss will sting, Smith, Luke Hancock and the rest of Louisville will have to move on.

“I don’t hold losses in, I don’t hold grudges, I don’t hate anybody, I don’t have a rival,” Smith said. “I’m a positive person and I’ll move on. At the end of the day, this was a loss for the rivalry of Louisville (and Kentucky). And I just empathize with the fans. I wish I could have given them the win. I’m so sorry. (I) could have done it for them; or for me. We lost to a great team. And I have that much respect for them. It’s just another loss for me and I have to move on.”

It might take Louisville awhile to move on from this loss, but the Cardinals had a tremendous three-year run that included a Final Four in 2012, a national title in 2013 and conference championships in two different leagues — the Big East and the American.

Next year, Louisville will move on to the ACC and Pitino will have to begin a new era after losing Smith, Hancock and senior Stephan Van Treese and potentially sophomore Montrezl Harrell to the NBA.

​”We’ve lost Gorgui, Peyton, and now we’re probably going to lose Russ, Luke, Montrezl, and VT. It’s the end of an era. And I as a coach certainly appreciate all their efforts,” Pitino said.

No. 11 Cincinnati rallies for 82-74 win over Tulsa

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HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. — Gary Clark led a 24-4 run that put Cincinnati ahead to stay early in the second half, and the 11th-ranked Bearcats held on for an 82-74 victory over Tulsa on Sunday that preserved their one-game lead in the American Athletic Conference heading into the final week.

Cincinnati (25-4, 14-2) stayed ahead of No. 13 Wichita State (23-5, 13-3) in the race for the regular-season title. The Shockers won on Cincinnati’s home court 76-72 a week ago.

Wichita State plays at UCF on Thursday and hosts Cincinnati next Sunday in a potential showdown game. The Bearcats play at Tulane on Thursday before heading to Wichita State.

The Bearcats struggled defensively, giving up a season-high 14 3-pointers, but made a season-high 15 from beyond the arc. Clark and Jarron Cumberland had 17 points apiece.

Tulsa (17-11, 10-7) led by eight points early in the second before Clark scored during the decisive run. Junior Etou scored 21 for Tulsa, which had its six-game winning streak snapped.

Cincinnati completed its season playing at Northern Kentucky University while its on-campus arena is renovated, going 14-1 at BB&T Arena.

BIG PICTURE

Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane is wrapping up a regular season that marks a step up for the program. Tulsa went 15-17 last season and 8-10 in the AAC, finishing seventh. It’s fourth in the league with two games to go.

Cincinnati: Even though the Bearcats rank second nationally in defense, they’d given up a lot of open shots in the previous two games, a concern to coach Mick Cronin. The Golden Hurricane got plenty of those, too, while shooting 59 percent in the first half. The Golden Hurricane led 47-44 at the break, the most points Cincinnati has allowed in a half this season.

UP NEXT

Tulsa: Golden Hurricane plays at East Carolina on Thursday. Tulsa opened AAC play by beating ECU 79-53 on Dec. 28.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats have won four straight and 14 of 15 against Tulane, including a 78-61 victory last season.

Bubble Banter: Sunday Funday on the bubble

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As we will do every day throughout the rest of the season, here is a look at how college basketball’s bubble teams fared on Sunday.

It’s worth reminding you here that the way winning are labeled have changed this season. Instead of looking at all top 50 wins equally, the selection committee will be using criteria that breaks wins down into four quadrants, using the RPI:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs. 1-30, Neutral vs. 1-50, Road vs. 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs. 31-75, Neutral vs. 51-100, Road vs. 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs. 76-160, Neutral vs. 101-200, Road vs. 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home vs. 161 plus, Neutral vs. 201 plus, Road vs. 240 plus

The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here.

YET TO PLAY

TEMPLE
UCLA
PENN STATE
NEBRASKA
N.C. STATE

Georgia’s Mark Fox ‘disgusted’ by investigation into college basketball

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Georgia head coach Mark Fox did not hold back when asked about the FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball, calling is “disgusting” and pleading with coaches and the institutions that employ them to do right.

“It starts with our coaches, and then you ask how the NCAA has handled it,” Fox said. “The NCAA is made up of member institutions. How are the institutions handling it? That’d be my first question. How are they handling it? Putting their head in the sand and looking the other way? I’m past anger, sadness. It’s just disgusting, and we’re really hurting the game, and the game has been so good to everybody.”

Fox is in a difficult position. He’s regarded as one of the nicer coaches in the business and is considered to be ‘clean’. He team also appears headed for another NIT, which could end up costing him his job.

“We’ve had some situations where we didn’t get players because of that reason, and other teams have, too,” Fox said.

“I’m disgusted,” he added. “I’m disgusted with how people have treated our game. It’s absolutely disgusting.”

Cuonzo Martin: ‘No timetable’ for a Michael Porter Jr. return

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There still is not clarity on whether or not Missouri freshman Michael Porter Jr. will return to the court this season.

On Saturday, he participated in Missouri’s shootaround at Kentucky but did not run through warmups and did not play in the game.

“I don’t have a timeline,” Missouri head coach Cuonzo Martin said after Saturday’s 87-66 loss. “He wants to play.”

“We have to make sure he’s ready to go.”

Porter has only had one full practice since he underwent surgery on his back in November, and that came on Friday. A source confirmed to NBC Sports that Porter was, in fact, cleared for full contact on Thursday afternoon after a visit with a doctor.

Porter is expected to continue practicing with the team. He told reporters earlier this month that he would like to get a few games prior to the start of tournament play if he happens to take part in any games.

Kentucky, Duke, Arizona comment on player eligibility amidst FBI scandal

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On Saturday night, Kentucky won their third straight game over an opponent that will be in next month’s NCAA tournament. They were led by freshman Kevin Knox, who finished with 21 points just 36 hours after his name appeared in a report by Yahoo Sports in connection with a runner that was tied to disgraced NBA agent Andy Miller.

“I’m not here to talk about that,” Knox said in response to questions regarding the runner, Christian Dawkins, or the story that Yahoo published.

“That was all the university dealing with it,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said, adding that he did not discuss the matter with Knox. “I wasn’t involved in any way. But I felt good about it.”

“I was sure I would be able to play this whole week,” Knox told reporters. “I wasn’t really focused on none of that. I let Kentucky handle it.

“I just focused on me, focused on my game, and let them handle it. I slept well at night knowing I was going to be able to play.”

Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski went a step further, detailing precisely how he found out about the report and how Wendell Carter’s parents were involved. Carter’s mother called him while he was walking his dog and told him what was in the story. According to Coach K, Wendell’s parents went to break bread with Dawkins, but Wendell’s father did not like him and left immediately while Wendell’s mother stayed to be polite. She said she did not have anything to eat.

“It wasn’t a distraction because I know I didn’t do anything wrong,” Carter told reporters after going for 16 points, 10 boards, four steals, four assists and two blocks in a win over Syracuse. “My family didn’t do anything wrong. No one around me did anything wrong. I knew I was going to play. Once I got out on the court, it was all good. It felt good.”

“We are very comfortable with where we are on this,” Coach K said. “We don’t feel like we are taking any chances with this. We very confident about this particular thing.”

Alabama told ESPN that any connection that Collin Sexton had to Dawkins or the Yahoo story was dealt with during his one-game suspension at the start of the season.

“We reviewed i, and after we reviewed it, we made the decision that Collin was going to be available for us,” Alabama coach Avery Johnson said. “That’s the extent of it.”

Meanwhile, Arizona lost at Oregon after Sean Miller was replaced by Lorenzo Romar as head coach for the night. Romar offered no answers as to whether or not Miller, who was reportedly caught on a fire tap talking about a $100,000 payment to Deandre Ayton, will return to the program anytime soon because, as he put it, “I don’t know.” Romar was unable to even answer if he would be coaching practice on Sunday.