It wasn’t easy as it looked, but Kentucky and Kansas advanced to the Final Four last Sunday, while Ohio State and Louisville did the same on Saturday.
The Wildcats’ 82-70 beat down of Baylor in the South Regional Final was onesided, but the Jayhawks’ 80-67 win over North Carolina in the Midwest Regional wasn’t decided until the final four-plus minutes when Kansas went on a 12-0 spurt.
The Buckeyes’ 77-70 decision over Syracuse in the East Regional was nip-and-tuck, and the Cardinals’ 72-68 triumph against Florida in the West Regional was a classic.
Baylor (30-8) led 10-5 with 16:15 left, but Kentucky went on a 12-0 sprint and led by seven points with 12:21 left after Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (team-best 19 points) scored a layup.
Baylor’s Quincy Acy (game-high 22 points) scored and drained a free throw slightly more than a minute later as the Bears trimmed the lead to 21-12.
Kentucky outscored Baylor 9-3 and went on a 12-7 run to close out the half and led 42-22.
The Wildcats (36-2) pushed their advantage to 58-39 with 11:54 left in the second half when Doron Lamb (14 points) converted a pair of free throws, but Baylor got within 63-50 with 7:59 left.
Kansas held a 68-67 lead with slightly more than four minutes showing, pulled ahead 71-67 with 2:34 remaining, and 74-67 after Tyshawn Taylor (game-best 22 points) made a layup and free throw with 1:59 left.
The Jayhawks (31-6) were in front 12-10 with 15:05 left in the first half, and Jeff Withey (15 points and eight rebounds) downed two free throws that tied it at 23-23 with 11:40 left.
It was knotted at 31-31 as 7:24 remained, but Kansas went on a 9-2 blitz to make it a seven-point lead and 3:38 left. However, the Tar Heels (32-6) put together a 14-7 run and tied it at 47-47 at the half.
Thomas Robinson (18 points with nine boards) and Taylor were key members in the second half as the Jayhawks carved out a 58-53 lead with 14:14 left, and 68-64 lead with 6:32 showing.
The Buckeyes (31-7) prevailed in a fight-like battle with the Orange (34-3) as each tallied 29 points at the half before Ohio State moved in front 38-33 with 17:32 left, and 45-36 with 13:51 remaining.
It became 50-44 with 11:25 left, before Syracuse got within 52-50 less than four minutes later.
Ohio State outscored Syracuse 10-8 over the next 5:31 for a 62-58 cushion, and outscored the Orange 15-12 to end the contest.
It was another tight skirmish between the Cardinals and Gators with each trying to find their groove.
Louisville (30-9) was in front 8-7 with 14:33 left, but Florida (26-11) pulled ahead 17-15 as 10:01 remained.
The Gators made eight of 11 three-pointers in the opening half, and led 25-21 when Erik Murphy (co-team high 14 points with eight caroms) nailed a trey with 6:27 left.
Florida moved ahead 33-27 with 3:45 showing, and pulled in front 41-33 at the intermission.
Florida continued to set the pace in the second half and led 47-40 with 15:59 left, and 54-46 when Patric Young (11 points and six rebounds) dunked with 12:22 on the clock.
The Gators missed all nine three-pointers in the second half, which was their undoing.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.