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ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Brandon Phillips kick-started a nine-run ninth inning with a tiebreaking bloop double and Shin-Soo Choo made amends for two botched fly balls with a three-run double, and the Cincinnati Reds spoiled the St. Louis Cardinals' home opener with a 13-4 victory on Monday.

Mitchell Boggs (0-1), the stand-in closer for St. Louis, yielded six runs while getting only one out and the Cardinals needed four more pitchers to get out of the inning. Only a few thousand fans remained of the largest regular-season crowd of 47,375 for the bottom of the ninth in 8-year-old Busch Stadium history.

The defending NL Central champions Cardinals held a tribute for Stan Musial before the game.

Phillips added his 150th career homer for the Reds, who have won six of seven since losing in extra innings to the Angels on opening day and totaled 11 or more hits the last four games. Jay Bruce had four hits and Chris Heisey doubled twice with an RBI.

Sam LeCure (1-0) pitched an inning for the win.

Cardinals lefty Jamie Garcia matched his career best with 10 strikeouts in 6 2-3 innings and left with a 4-3 lead. Yadier Molina hit both of the fly balls dropped by Choo in the first and sixth, and added an RBI single.

Pinch-hitter Xavier Paul tied it in the eighth with an RBI single off Trevor Rosenthal before the Reds took off in the ninth with six hits, five walks and an error. The Cardinals last surrendered nine runs in the ninth in a 12-9 loss at Colorado July 6, 2010.

Prior to the game, Musial's four children unveiled an oversized red No. 6, the Hall of Famer's retired jersey number, on the wall in left-center. The decal matches memorial patches worn on the team's uniform sleeves.

Reds players stood on the top dugout steps as the Cardinals paraded around the warning track in flat-bed trucks, and manager Dusty Baker gave a hug to Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith.

Choo entered the season with 652 games of outfield experience but only 10 in center, and all 155 games with the Indians last year as the right fielder. Two runs scored in the first when Choo twice juggled Molina's fly ball after backtracking, and Matt Holliday scored from first to put the Cardinals up 4-2 in the sixth when the ball popped out on Choo, perhaps fighting the sun.

Reds starter Mat Latos allowed one earned run in six innings, shaving his ERA to 10.23 in five career starts at Busch to 10.23.

Garcia struck out four of the first six batters and retired eight in a row before issuing a four-pitch, two-out walk to Latos in the third. He entered with a 2.48 career ERA at Busch, the stadium's best, and his other 10-strikeout game was at home Aug. 19 against the Pirates.

NOTES: The Reds totaled two errors their first six games while their opponents had 12. ... Jason Isringhausen and Jim Edmonds, teammates on the Cardinals' 2006 championship team, threw first pitches to injured closer Jason Motte and Adam Wainwright.

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Tuesday, 09 April 2013 11:23
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ATLANTA (AP) - Jim Larranaga, who led Miami to the Atlantic Coast Conference regular season and tournament titles and a No. 2 ranking, has been selected The Associated Press' coach of the year.

 

Larranaga received 29 votes Thursday from the same 65-member national media panel that selects the weekly Top 25. Jim Crews of Saint Louis got 19 votes and Mark Few of Gonzaga had 11. The voting ended on Selection Sunday.

 

The 63-year-old, two-time-hip-replacement patient had a 29-7 record in his second season with the Hurricanes and they were made a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.

 

He is the first Miami coach to win the award and is the first Atlantic Coast Conference coach to get it since Roy Williams of North Carolina in 2006.

 

The New York native led George Mason to the Final Four in 2006.

Thursday, 04 April 2013 16:15
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PHOENIX (AP) -- Time and again, the St. Louis Cardinals were on the verge of putting the Arizona Diamondbacks away once and for all.

Yet, for inning after inning after inning, they couldn't quite get it done.

Finally, Cliff Pennington's single in the 16th inning brought home Jason Kubel from second to give the Diamondbacks a 10-9 victory in a game that didn't end until early Thursday.

At 5 hours and 32 minutes, it was the longest home game in Diamondbacks history as far as time elapsed and tied for the longest at home in terms of innings.

"We got up on them a couple of times and they came back. That was just a really fun game to be a part of," the Cardinals' Allen Craig said. "It was really long. I wish it was a little bit shorter and we would have won, but it was fun to be a part of."

Yadier Molina drove in three runs, including a leadoff home run that put St. Louis up 8-7 in the seventh, but Aaron Hill's RBI single tied it at 8-8 before both teams scored a run in the 12th.

"We put up nine runs and got a lot of hits," the Cardinals' Allen Craig said. "We had some spots where we could have got some more. We just couldn't get it done."

Pennington was 0 for 11 to start the season before getting three hits in the extra innings.

The Diamondbacks, who won two of three against the Cardinals, came from behind four times to either take the lead or tie the game.

"Excuse me if I am smiling," Arizona manager Kirk Gibson said. "The things we practiced on, just being tough mentally, they hung in there. I don't know how many lead changes there were. It was over five hours long, 16 innings. It is just a great contribution. The guys were all there. We didn't panic when we got behind. Just outstanding. Just a great win."

Paul Goldschmidt and Martin Prado each hit a two-run homer, and Gerardo Parra homered, tripled and singled for the Diamondbacks.

Josh Collmenter (1-0) allowed one run on four hits in five innings to get the victory. He had pitched 1 2-3 innings in the team's 6-1 loss on Tuesday night.

"I felt good," Collmenter said. "It was part adrenaline, part wanting to keep in the game for the team. I think we were down to one guy and I wanted to go as long as I could. Health-wise I felt good. My arm felt good. In that situation, you don't want to let the guys down."

Fernando Salas (0-1), the last pitcher available in the St. Louis bullpen, took the loss.

In the 16th, Kubel drew a leadoff walk. Ian Kennedy, Arizona's opening day starter, pinch hit for Collmenter and put down a sacrifice bunt to move Kubel to second. That brought up Pennington, whose single to center finally ended it.

"We had some chances to finish it off. They did, too," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. "It was just one of those back and forth to see who's standing at the end."

Daniel Descalo tied his career high with four hits for St. Louis, including two doubles.

Paul Kozma's RBI single off Collmenter put St. Louis up 9-8 in the 12th, but in the bottom half, Mitchell Boggs allowed a leadoff single to Pennington and hit Eric Chavez in the ribs. Parra's sacrifice bunt advanced the runners then Prado's sacrifice fly tied it 9-9.

Boggs, taking over as closer in place of injured Jason Motte, said that Pennington jumped on a pitch, then his throw to Boggs got away from him too far inside.

"It was a one-run game and I put myself in the worst possible situation I could," Boggs said. "It's disappointing because our guys played outstanding tonight and fought like crazy to get a run right there, and it's tough to let it get away."

Arizona's Brandon McCarthy allowed six runs on nine hits in five-plus innings in his first outing since sustaining a horrific head injury last Sept. 5.

McCarthy, while pitching for Oakland, took a line drive to the side of his head off the bat of Erick Aybar of the Los Angeles Angels, sustaining what the Athletics described at the time as life-threatening injuries. McCarthy was hospitalized and underwent surgery after sustaining an epidural hemorrhage, brain contusion and skull fracture.

He signed with Arizona as a free agent in the offseason.

Molina singled in a pair in the Cardinals' four-run third.

Lance Lynn, an 18-game winner last season, had a 4-1 lead after four but never got an out in the fifth.

Parra narrowly missed a second home run with a triple off the wall in left-center, then scored on Lynn's wild pitch. Prado singled, then Hill bounced one over the fence into the pool area in right-center for a ground rule double to put runners at second and third.

Randy Choate relieved Lynn and gave up an RBI sacrifice fly to Miguel Montero. Choate left in favor of right-hander Joe Kelly, whose first pitch was lined by Goldschmidt off the top of the wall in left for a two-run homer that put Arizona up 5-4.

But McCarthy didn't get an out in the sixth. Matt Adams singled and Kozma doubled to put runners at first and second. Left-hander Tony Sipp replaced McCarthy and surrendered a two-run single to Descalso and St. Louis regained the lead 6-5.

Notes: Arizona's previous longest home game was 5 hours, 14 minutes. ... Parra opened the game for Arizona with his first career leadoff home run. ... Arizona OF Cody Ross, on the 15-day DL (left calf strain), begins a rehab assignment at Class A Visalia on Thursday. ... The Cardinals open a three-game series at San Francisco on Friday, sending RHP Jake Westbrook to the mound against the Giants LHP Barry Zito. ... LHP Wade Miley goes for the Diamondbacks at Milwaukee on Friday, with RHP Kyle Lohse starting for the Brewers.

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Thursday, 04 April 2013 09:48
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PHOENIX (AP) -- Matt Holliday, Pete Kozma and Jon Jay homered and the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 6-1 on Tuesday night to even their season-opening series at a game apiece.

Jaime Garcia (1-0) gave up two hits, one of them a solo homer by Miguel Montero, in 5 2-3 innings for the Cardinals. Holliday's two-run home run off Trevor Cahill broke a 1-1 tie in the sixth.

Kozma added a leadoff homer and Jay a two-run shot off the right field foul pole, both off reliever Heath Bell in the seventh.

Kozma's homer came on Bell's first pitch with the Diamondbacks. Matt Carpenter doubled twice for St. Louis.

Cahill (0-1) allowed three runs and five hits in 5 2-3 innings.

The slimmed-down Arizona right-hander struck out seven, walked two and hit a batter.

After getting 15 hits in their 6-2 season-opening victory on Monday night, the Diamondbacks managed just three on Tuesday. Montero had two of them.

Garcia struck out four and walked four, including three in a row with two outs in the sixth, bringing an end to his outing. Three St. Louis relievers allowed one hit in 3 1-3 innings.

Garcia and Cahill were locked in a 1-1 game through five before Jay was hit by a pitch to start the sixth. Carpenter flew out to bring up Holliday, who hit Cahill's 2-2 pitch a couple of rows into the seats in left field and St. Louis led 3-1.

Arizona got its first home run of the season when Montero hit Garcia's first pitch in the second into the opposite field seats in left to put the Diamondbacks up 1-0.

St. Louis tied it in the fourth. Matt Carpenter led off with a double into the right field corner. He took third on Holliday's ground out to second and scored when Allen Craig bounced out to short.

The Diamondbacks got the potential go-ahead run to third in the fifth. The third baseman Carpenter threw wild to first, allowing batter Cliff Pennington to reach second. Pennington advanced to third when Cahill bounced out to the pitcher, but Gerardo Parra grounded out to second to end the threat.

After getting the first two outs of the sixth, Garcia walked three in a row to load the bases and was lifted for right-hander Edward Mujica. Jason Kubel, pinch hitting for A.J. Pollock, was caught looking on a 3-2 pitch to end the inning.

Bell, the former closer acquired in a trade with Miami in the offseason, allowed three runs and four hits and a walk in just one-third of an inning.

After Kozma's first-pitch homer, Shane Robinson walked, then Jay's soaring drive bounced high off the right field foul pole for a two-run home run to make it 6-1. Carpenter doubled and Bell struck out Holiday, then Craig singled and the reliever's rough Arizona debut was over.

Notes: A female fan on the porch in left-center field was hit in the face by Kozma's home run. Her male companion jumped out of the way. They stayed in their seats afterward and she didn't appear to be hurt. ... RHP Brandon McCarthy gets the start for Arizona in the series finale, his first appearance in a big league game since sustaining a horrific head injury from a line drive while pitching for Oakland last September. RHP Lance Lynn goes for the Cardinals. ... St. Louis plays three in San Francisco before playing its home opener next Monday against Cincinnati. ... Arizona OF Alfredo Marte went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts and a walk in his major league debut. ... Carpenter has three doubles in two games.

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Wednesday, 03 April 2013 11:37
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Tickets are now on sale for the first ever non-baseball sporting event at the new Busch Stadium.

They May 23 soccer match will feature Premier league icons Manchester City and Chelsea.

Tickets start at $30.  For more information go to cardinals.com/soccer 

 

Tuesday, 02 April 2013 09:53
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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- Jaden Schwartz and Andy McDonald each had a goal and an assist, Brian Elliott stepped in and made 19 saves, and the St. Louis Blues snapped a three-game losing streak by beating the Minnesota Wild 4-1 on Monday night.

Kevin Shattenkirk and Barret Jackman also scored for St. Louis, which made another major move to strengthen its defense during the game.

During the first intermission, the Blues announced the acquisition of defenseman Jay Bouwmeester from Calgary in exchange for a first-round pick and two prospects - defenseman Mark Cundari and goaltender Reto Berra.

The move comes 48 hours after St. Louis traded for defenseman Jordan Leopold, who played his first game in a Blues sweater Monday.

Dany Heatley scored for the Wild, whose home winning streak ended at four games. Minnesota lost for just the sixth time in its last 21 games overall.

St. Louis began the day out of the playoffs and staring at a stretch in which it plays six of the next seven on the road. Bouwmeester is expected to be on the ice Thursday against Chicago, the top team in the Western Conference.

Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak left the game with 12.5 seconds to go in the first period after sprawling to try and make a save on a slap shot. Halak had missed time previously this season with a groin injury.

Elliott, fresh off a two-game conditioning assignment in the minors, stepped in and stopped 19 of the 20 shots he faced, including all 14 in the third period.

Elliott was especially strong early in the third when the Wild unleashed six shots in the opening five minutes.

On the other end, Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom's career-best and team-record eight-game winning streak ended.

Schwartz got a clean look from the right circle midway through the first period and beat Backstrom over his right glove.

In the second, McDonald put his own rebound past Backstrom to make it 2-1 at 12:17. Less than two minutes later, Shattenkirk sent a shot from the point through traffic that made it 3-1.

Led by free-agent signees Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, as well as captain Mikko Koivu, the Wild scored four or more goals in six of their last nine games entering Monday and put themselves in the hunt for the Northwest Division title.

But the exciting trio was kept off the board Monday and the rest of the Wild were unable to pick up the slack.

NOTES: If St. Louis does not qualify for this year's playoffs, the Flames will receive St. Louis' fourth-round selection in this summer's draft, with the first-round pick being deferred to 2014. ... Koivu missed time in the first period after getting hit in the face with Chris Stewart's stick. ... Wild forward Matt Cullen was injured late in the second period and did not play in the third. ... Jake Allen was assigned to AHL Peoria to make room for Elliott. ... The Blues also announced that the Vancouver Canucks have agreed to buy Peoria Rivermen, pending approval from the AHL.

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Tuesday, 02 April 2013 06:53
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PHOENIX (AP) -- Ian Kennedy struck out eight in seven strong innings and the Arizona Diamondbacks used 15 hits to beat the St. Louis Cardinals 6-2 in their season opener Monday night.

Kennedy (1-0) allowed two runs on five hits with one walk.

St. Louis' Adam Wainwright (0-1) went six innings, giving up four runs, three earned, on 11 hits. He struck out six with no walks.

Arizona's Gerardo Parra matched his career best with four hits, three of them doubles. Rookie A.J. Pollock was 3 for 4, including a two-run double, and Martin Prado doubled twice with an RBI and two runs scored for the Diamondbacks.

Matt Holliday had an RBI double and Daniel Descalso a run-scoring single for St. Louis.

The Diamondbacks' seven doubles were more than they had in any game in the last two seasons.

Kennedy, 15-12 last year after going 21-4 in 2011, dominated after giving up consecutive one-out doubles to Matt Carpenter and Holliday to put St. Louis up 1-0 in the first.

David Hernandez threw a perfect eighth and Brad Ziegler did the same in the ninth for the Diamondbacks.

Arizona scored three times off Wainwright in the fourth.

After one-out singles by Miguel Montero and Paul Goldschmidt, Jason Kubel lofted an RBI double to right-center to tie it at 1. Pollock, starting because of injuries to Adam Eaton and Cody Ross, lined a double off the glove of center fielder Jon Jay to bring in two and Arizona led 3-1.

The Diamondbacks added an unearned run on second baseman Descalso's throwing error in the fifth. Prado, acquired from Atlanta in the Justin Upton trade, doubled to deep right-center, then Aaron Hill hit a slow grounder to second. Descalso threw in the dirt trying to throw to first and the ball bounced off the glove of first baseman Allen Craig as Prado raced home to make it 4-1.

Arizona got two more in the seventh. With Fernando Salas on the mound, Parra and Prado doubled, then Hill singled. Marc Rzepczynski relieved Salas and gave up an RBI sacrifice fly to Montero.

Notes: Entering the game, Kennedy was 1-3 against Cardinals with an 8.59 ERA. ... Kennedy was the winning pitcher when Arizona beat San Francisco in its season opener a year ago. .. Former Diamondbacks ace Brandon Webb, whose career was cut short by arm trouble, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. ... Wainwright made his second career opening day start. ... The Cardinals send left-hander Jaime Garcia to the mound Tuesday night while the Diamondbacks go with right-hander Trevor Cahill. ... The only other Arizona rookie with three hits on opening day was Travis Lee, who did it in the Diamondbacks' first game in 1998. ... Attendance was a sellout of 48,033.

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Tuesday, 02 April 2013 06:40
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(ST. LOUIS) – St. Louis Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong announced Monday the club has acquired defenseman Jay Bouwmeester from Calgary in exchange for minor league defenseman Mark Cundari, the rights to goaltender Reto Berra as well as a conditional 1st round pick in 2013. If the Blues miss the playoffs this season, the Flames will receive the Blues' fourth round pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft and St. Louis' first round pick in the 2014 draft.

“We've been looking to acquire a top left handed defenseman and Jay represents that and is an elite player in our game,” said Armstrong.

Bouwmeester, 29, has dressed in 33 games for the Flames this season posting 15 points (six goals, nine assists) and 16 penalty minutes while ranking 13th among all defenseman in time on ice per game (25:09). The 6’4, 212-pound defenseman has appeared in 10 National Hockey League (NHL) season, including stints with Florida and Calgary, recording 300 points (71 goals, 229 assists) and 463 penalty minutes in 750 career games. In addition, Bouwmeester has played in 621 consecutive NHL games.

The Edmonton, Alberta native was originally drafted by Florida in the first round (3rd overall) of the 2002 Entry Draft. Bouwmeester will not count against the Blues 23 man roster until he clears through immigration procedures.

Monday, 01 April 2013 20:32
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The Kansas City Royals have been absent from the playoffs since the day Billy Butler was born. They've barely had a winning season in the last two decades. They've often lost 100 games in a year.

And yet, buoyed by the best record in spring training, hope abounds - for the Royals, for most everybody putting on a big league uniform.

"There's no reason we shouldn't be better," said Butler, the Royals' All-Star slugger. "How much better that is? I'm not a mind reader. I'm not a projector."

Ah, opening day.

The hot dogs taste better, the boxscores mean more and most every team thinks it's just a break or two away from reaching the World Series.

A dozen games were set for Monday across the majors. Star pitchers Justin Verlander, Stephen Strasburg and Adam Wainwright try to get off to great starts, old rivalries are renewed at Yankee Stadium and Dodger Stadium, and a quirky interleague schedule unfolds.

No snow is in the forecast for any ballpark on April Fools' Day, but freezing temperatures are expected at Target Field in Minnesota when Verlander and the AL champion Tigers take on the Twins.

"It's going to be cold but I've pitched in that kind of weather before," Verlander said. "I don't think about it. It's always cold in Detroit on opening day."

The season started Sunday night in Houston when the Astros, who shifted from the National League to the American League during the winter, beat the Texas Rangers 8-2. Astros righty Bud Norris threw a called strike to Ian Kinsler to begin the year, and Houston's Jose Altuve singled for the first hit.

Long the site of baseball's traditional opener, Cincinnati was going to have a new look Monday. That's when Josh Hamilton and his new Los Angeles Angels teammates visit Cincinnati in the first interleague matchup this season.

The Astros' move left 15 teams in each league, meaning an AL vs. NL matchup most every day this season.

"It is very strange," Reds manager Dusty Baker said.

On both coasts, there was a very familiar look - Red Sox-Yankees and Giants-Dodgers.

Mariano Rivera was set for his final opening day when the banged-up Yankees hosted Boston. The New York closer is among several big names who missed most or even all of last year - Troy Tulowitzki, Victor Martinez and John Lackey are in that group.

Injured stars Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira won't be in pinstripes for the first pitch.

"It's still the Yankees, it's still going to be a good lineup," Boston starter Jon Lester said Sunday. "They're missing a few of their big guys but anybody that fills in for them, it's like what I said, they're going to put professional at-bats together and still - it's not going to be a walk in the park."

No easy decisions, either, for Boston manager John Farrell, one of six new skippers in the majors this year.

At Dodger Stadium, Matt Cain starts for the World Series champion San Francisco Giants when they play Los Angeles in the century-old rivalry.

It will mark the 64th season at the microphone for Dodgers announcer Vin Scully. Heck, Tigers manager Jim Leyland seems like a mere pup by comparison, now starting his 50th year in pro ball.

All-Star shortstop Hanley Ramirez is sidelined for the Dodgers. Around the majors, third basemen Chase Headley of San Diego, David Freese of St. Louis and Brett Lawrie of Toronto will begin the season on the disabled list.

Mets third baseman David Wright plans to be in the lineup at Citi Field to take on San Diego. He hurt his ribcage at the World Baseball Classic.

"I feel good physically," Wright said. "It would have been nice to have maybe a few more at-bats toward the end, but I didn't have that luxury."

On Tuesday, there are two more openers - Baltimore at Tampa Bay, and Cleveland at revamped Toronto.

All 30 teams will pay tribute to the 20 children and six adults killed last December at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Players, managers, coaches and umpires will wear a memorial patch through Tuesday that includes the seal of Newtown, a black ribbon and 26 stars, and there will be a moment of silence at each stadium.

Seven weeks after teams broke out the bats and balls, players seemed ready to get going.

"I'm really prepared. Well, finally spring training is over, it was a long one," Seattle ace Felix Hernandez said Sunday, a day before his start in Oakland.

"It's another season. We're a different team. It's always special, opening day, not for me but for all the guys," he said.

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Monday, 01 April 2013 07:10
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ATLANTA (AP) -- After a season of uncertainty, there's a clear favorite heading to the Final Four.

The Louisville Cardinals.

While the other No. 1s have fallen by the wayside, the top overall seed romped to the Georgia Dome with four dominant wins in the NCAA tournament. And, if the Cardinals need any extra motivation, they've got it.

Sophomore guard Kevin Ware, who played his high school ball in the Atlanta suburbs, sustained a gruesome injury in Sunday's regional final against Duke. Before he headed off to surgery, he courageously urged his teammates to finish the job.

Now, they would like nothing more than to win it all for Ware.

"We talked about it every timeout, `Get Kevin home,'" coach Rick Pitino said.

Next stop, the A-T-L, where three rather unlikely teams will be looking to knock off the mighty Cardinals.

First up, the surprising Shockers from Wichita State in the semifinals Saturday. The No. 9 seed has already pulled off two major upsets, but this would be the biggest stunner yet.

If Louisville makes it through to next Monday night's title game, the opponent would be either Michigan, sporting a new group of Fab Wolverines, or Syracuse, which comes at you with the stingiest zone defense in college basketball. The two No. 4 seeds will meet in the other semifinal game.

All are underdogs to the Cardinals, who are winning by an average of nearly 22 points a game in the tournament.

"I thought we had a chance there, and then boom," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who watched Louisville pull away for an 85-63 victory in the Midwest Regional final. "That's what they do to teams. They can boom you."

In the other game Sunday, Michigan captured the South Regional with a 79-59 rout of Florida, leading from the opening tip. A day earlier, Syracuse shut down Marquette 55-39 to win the East Regional, while Wichita State punched its Final Four ticket with a 70-66 upset of Ohio State out West.

In the final year of the Big East before it splits into two new conferences, Louisville and Syracuse provided a fitting send-off to a league that quickly became a basketball powerhouse after it was founded in 1979.

Before it goes, this version of the Big East has a shot at one more national title.

With two teams, no less.

The Cardinals - who, like Syracuse, are moving to the Atlantic Coast Conference - shook off the incredible shock of Ware's injury with about 6 1/2 minutes to go before halftime and blew out the second-seeded Blue Devils. The sophomore snapped his lower right leg after coming down awkwardly while defending a 3-point shot. The injury occurred right in front of the Louisville bench, where the players gasped and turned away quickly at the sight of Ware's dangling leg, which was broken in two places.

Russ Smith collapsed onto the floor, along with several players, and was crying as doctors attended to Ware. While Ware was loaded onto a stretcher, the Cardinals gathered at midcourt until Pitino called them over, saying the injured player wanted to talk to them before he left.

"All he kept saying - and remember, the bone is 6 inches out of his leg - all he's yelling is, `Win the game! Win the game!'" Pitino said. "I've never seen that in my life. We're all distraught and all he's saying is, `Win the game.' Kevin is a special young man."

This is a special team. Smith scored 23 points. Gorgui Dieng had 14 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks.

The Cardinals (33-5) simply refused to lose, breaking open a game that was tied at 42. They dove on the floor for loose balls. They pounded the boards ferociously. They contested every shot and swarmed around the Blue Devils like they had an extra player on the court.

In a sense, they did, as Pitino reminded them during every timeout.

"This is a gritty bunch," the coach said. "From the beginning of the year to now, they've not had a bad game. I'm really proud of these guys."

Wichita State was the most improbable team to advance. The Shockers lived up to their nickname in the West, knocking off top-seeded Gonzaga in the second round and No. 2 seed Ohio State in the regional final Saturday night.

Wichita State (30-8) built a 20-point lead on the Buckeyes, then managed to hang on through a nerve-racking final five minutes to pull off the latest upset in a tournament filled with them.

That other team from Kansas isn't content yet.

"It feels very good," said Cleanthony Early, a junior forward who, like most of his teammates, was passed over by higher-profile programs, "but we understand the fact that we've got to stay hungry and humble, because we've got two more games left to really be excited about."

Old-timers might remember Louisville and Wichita State as former conference rivals. The Cardinals were a member of the Missouri Valley Conference in the 1960s and `70s, which meant annual games against the Shockers.

Louisville holds a 19-5 edge in the series, but the teams haven't played since 1976.

Michigan (30-7) is headed back to the Final Four for the first time since the Fab Five era of the early 1990s, when the Wolverines lost in back-to-back national title games.

This team has the same youthful feel, led by sophomore Trey Burke, the Big Ten player of the year, and three freshmen starters. They were downright fabulous against third-seeded Florida, never seriously threatened after scoring the first 13 points.

"A lot of guys said we were really young and that we couldn't get here," said Burke, who scored 15 points against Florida but really came through in an improbable comeback against top-seeded Kansas in the regional semifinals. "We're here now and we still have unfinished business."

One of the freshmen, Nik Stauskas, hit all six of his 3-pointers and scored 22 points to lead the Wolverines. Another of the youngsters, 6-foot-10 Mitch McGary, chipped in with 11 points and nine rebounds.

Florida became the first team to lose three straight regional finals.

The Wolverines will have their work cut out against Syracuse (30-9), a team that has totally stuffed its NCAA opponents with a stifling zone defense. The Orange are headed to their first Final Four since winning it all in 2003 largely because they have allowed fewer than 46 points a game in the tournament.

Syracuse leads the series against Michigan 8-5. Their last meeting was Nov. 26, 2010, when the Orange prevailed 53-50 in the Legends Classic at Atlantic City, N.J.

The schools have never met in the NCAA tournament.

Syracuse has been like an octopus when it settles in around the its own lane - shutting off passing routes, preventing anyone from penetrating, yet still managing to defend the 3-point line with quickness and long arms. Montana, California, top-seeded Indiana and Marquette combined to make just under 29 percent from the field (61 of 211) and a paltry 15.4 percent (14 of 91) outside the arc.

"We were as active these two games here in Washington as we've ever been," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said after Saturday's win over league rival Marquette, which is headed to a new version of the Big East next season. "I just really can't say enough about how good these guys played on the defensive end of the court."

---

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at WWW.TWITTER.COM/PNEWBERRY1963

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Monday, 01 April 2013 06:55
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