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Kentucky 74-73 over Wisconsin, to play for title

Saturday, 05 April 2014 23:06 Published in Sports
 
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) -- No, this was not an instant replay, though it certainly is turning into a highlight reel Kentucky and Aaron Harrison could get used to watching over and over again.
 
Harrison took a pass from his twin brother, Andrew, spotted up from NBA range and watched the ball rattle in for the lead with 5.7 seconds left to lift the Wildcats to a 74-73 victory Saturday night over Wisconsin in the Final Four.
 
It's the third straight game the Kentucky freshman has made a 3 for the winning points in this magical ride for the Wildcats (29-10), and the second straight time the pass has come from his brother for a spot-up shot from the left center of the arc.
 
Traevon Jackson had a last-second shot to try to beat the Wildcats, but the desperation jumper rimmed out and once again Harrison found himself at the bottom of a dog pile at center court.
 
Eighth-seeded Kentucky will play seventh-seeded UConn in the final Monday - the highest seed total to play for the title since they started putting numbers by the names back in 1979.
 
Wisconsin (30-8) set a Final Four record by going 95 percent from the free-throw line - 19 for 20. But it was that one miss that cost the Badgers. Jackson got Andrew Harrison to jump into him while attempting a 3-pointer with 16.4 seconds left. His first free throw rimmed out, and after he made the second two, Wisconsin had a 73-71 lead and Kentucky had the ball.
 
Who didn't know where it was going?
 
Against Louisville in the regional semifinal, Aaron Harrison was spotted up in the corner when Julius Randle spotted him open. He hit the go-ahead 3 with 39.1 seconds left. Two nights later, there were 3.4 seconds on the clock and Harrison was a few steps over to the left when he took the pass from his brother. The ball clanged in and he trotted backward and pumped his hands in the air.
 
A few minutes later, he was hugging his mom in the stands.
 
James Young led Kentucky with 17 points and Randle finished with 16, but only five boards to snap his string of three straight double-doubles.
 
But Kentucky had an answer for Wisconsin's do-everything 7-footer, Frank Kaminsky, who was held to eight points and five rebounds.
 
Ben Brust and Sam Dekker had 15 each for the Badgers, who came up a game short of their first appearance in the final since 1941.
 
Instead, it's Kentucky going for its ninth national title and second in three years, with an almost completely rebuilt roster from 2012. It's the way coach John Calipari does it, like it or not.
 
His star during this run: Aaron Harrison, who has first-round potential, though it won't be his final numbers in this game - eight points, three rebounds - that will impress the scouts as much as his final shot.

UConn on to national championship game

Saturday, 05 April 2014 23:04 Published in Sports
 
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) -- Shabazz Napier looked up toward the Connecticut fans in the crowd at AT&T Stadium and held up one finger.
 
The Huskies had just beaten overall No. 1 seed Florida 63-53 on Saturday in the Final Four. But Napier's gesture had another meaning.
 
"One more to go," the first-team All-American said.
 
The victory got them into Monday night's title game against Kentucky and it was as good an effort as any team came up with this season against the Gators, who came in having won 30 straight games, a streak that started after a loss to the Huskies four months ago.
 
"We have been in a lot of dog fights," Napier said. "We are just an experienced group. We believe in each other and continue to believe in each other. ... We are going to win. That is what we do."
 
Especially against Florida.
 
The Gators lost only three times this season - once to Wisconsin in the second game of the season and twice to the Huskies. The first time was on Dec. 2 when a foul-line jumper at the buzzer by Napier gave UConn a 65-64 victory.
 
They didn't have to wait that long to know they had this one.
 
The Huskies, the seventh seed in the East Regional, had outstanding games on both ends of the court.
 
Napier helped seal this game with about 2 minutes to play when he made two free throws for a 59-47 lead. That margin was the deficit the Huskies (31-8) faced in the opening minutes after a cold shooting start.
 
"I knew we was going to get back in the game. They knew we was going to get back in the game," second-year coach Kevin Ollie said. "We live and die on defense and hopefully everybody understands that."
 
With Ollie in a defensive stance himself most of the game, the Huskies sidetracked the Florida offense by shutting down point guard Scottie Wilbekin and 3-point specialist Michael Frazier II, who scored a combined seven points.
 
"UConn was very good with their pressure on our guards and we didn't convert points," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "They scored a lot on as well. So all the credit goes to them."
 
The Huskies were impressive on offense, shooting 55.8 percent (24 of 43) from the field against a team that allowed opponents to shoot 39.9 percent this season.
 
"Whomever I put in the game, it was positive and they were productive," Ollie said.
 
DeAndre Daniels had 20 points and 10 rebounds for Connecticut, and it was his two 3-pointers in a span of 1:43 that helped ignite the Huskies after they had fallen behind 16-4.
 
"DeAndre was huge for us," Ollie said. "He stepped up and really rebounded for us and was pretty much unstoppable."
 
Napier, who leads the team in almost every category, finished with 12 points and six assists. He definitely got the better of Wilbekin in a matchup of senior point guards, both conference players of the year.
 
Napier had two key second-half steals on Wilbekin, both of which led to UConn baskets. Wilbekin was bothered by cramps throughout the game.
 
"It was right when the second half started. I was getting a little cramp, it wasn't too bad," Wilbekin said. "I got out of the game and got some ice and it wasn't really a problem from then on."
 
The Connecticut guards were. Florida had 11 turnovers and a season-low three assists.
 
"That's crazy, that's not usually what we do," Wilbekin said. "All credit goes to them and their guards and the way they were denying and putting pressure on us."
 
Patric Young had 19 points for Florida (36-3), which had won all of its NCAA tournament games by at least 10 points. The Gators shot just 38.8 percent from the field (19 of 49), well off their 46.1 percent average.
 
"Once they got their defense set, I thought we had a hard time dealing with their pressure up top," Donovan said.
 
The Huskies used 3 pointers to open things up inside, hitting 5 of 12 from long range. They had such an easy time scoring inside that they had only one basket outside the paint in the final 20 minutes, shooting 63.6 percent (14 of 22).
 
Florida was just 1 for 10 from 3-point range and the Gators' most effective weapon through most of the game was an offensive rebound off a miss. They had 12 in the game and turned them into 13 points.
 
Florida's defense - which was No. 3 in the nation - was suffocating early and the Gators took a 16-4 lead with a 7-0 run that was capped by a drive by Wilbekin with 9:47 to play.
 
The Huskies suddenly found their shooting touch. Connecticut made four straight shots and three of them were from beyond the 3-point line - two by Daniels and another by Ryan Boatright. A drive by Napier gave the Huskies the lead for good, 23-22 with 2:20 left in the half.
 
In the second half, the Huskies stretched the lead to 59-47 with 2:04 left, turning the 12-point deficit into a 12-point lead. They are in the title for the fourth time, the first three all wins under coach Jim Calhoun.
 
Florida was looking to reach the national championship game for the first time since repeating as champions in 2007.

Alvarez powers Pirates by Cardinals 12-2

Friday, 04 April 2014 23:36 Published in Sports
 
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Pedro Alvarez mashed two home runs that traveled an estimated 831 feet Friday night.
 
It was a series of sprints by the burly Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman, however, that ignited a 12-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals.
 
Alvarez broke open a close game in the sixth by beating out a potential double play, followed it up with the fifth stolen base of his career then scored with a deft slide around St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina's tag that gave the Pirates the momentum they needed to pull away.
 
"I thought the stolen base was key," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He puts a lot of focus on running the bases and he's arguably one of our best baserunners when he's on."
 
It certainly looked like it, as Alvarez's outstretched left arm slid across the plate a split second before one of the game's best defensive catchers could nab him. The Cardinals imploded from there as Shelby Miller (0-1) continued to struggle against Pittsburgh.
 
Miller fell to 0-5 with a 5.92 ERA against the Pirates in his brief career after tying a career-high by allowing five runs in 5 1-3 innings. The right-hander is 16-5 with a 2.34 ERA in his 33 other major league appearances.
 
"It's not the park. It's not the team. I just pitched poorly today," Miller said. "I guess it just lines up that way where I don't pitch well when I face them."
 
Travis Ishikawa added his first major league home run in nearly two years for Pittsburgh. Gerrit Cole (1-0) gave up two runs in seven innings in his first start since losing the deciding Game 5 of the NL division series to St. Louis last October.
 
Six months removed from a taut NLDS that pushed the eventual NL champions to the brink of elimination, the Pirates sent an early message they have no plans of going away.
 
Cole is considered the ace in waiting after a stellar rookie season in which he was arguably Pittsburgh's best pitcher over the final six weeks. Eager to take the next step in his development, the 23-year-old kept the Cardinals in check by mixing a fastball that consistently reaches the upper 90s with improved offspeed stuff.
 
He also showcased some of his maturity, working out of a bases loaded situation in the fourth by getting Jhonny Peralta to fly out. His only mistake came in the fifth when Carpenter drilled a shot into the right field stands to pull the Cardinals to 3-2. Otherwise he teamed with catcher Russell Martin to keep St. Louis in check.
 
"I think it was just a really well-played ballgame on our part," Cole said. "I can't say enough about what Russ did behind the plate. Not sure there are any other catchers in the entire world that could handle what I threw at him tonight."
 
Pittsburgh's offense - which mustered all of 20 hits in 35 innings of a season-opening series against the Chicago Cubs - made sure it didn't stay close for long after pounding out 16 hits in eight innings against the NL Central favorites.
 
Alvarez began the year in a 1 for 15 slump but ended that with a home run to the gap in left-center for his first home run of the season. He added his second two innings later with a long drive to right-center that traveled an estimated 448 feet.
 
His hustle down the first-base line in the sixth allowed Pittsburgh's rally to continue and the Pirates pressed the advantage. Molina committed a rare error after Alvarez's slide, botching a potential rundown at third base when his throw hit Martin in the back and rolled into the stands. The miscue gave the Pirates a 5-2 lead and Pittsburgh poured it on in the late innings.
 
NOTES: Ishikawa's solo home run in the fourth was his first since May 15, 2012 while playing for the New York Yankees. ... The start of the game was delayed 1:05 by rain, the third straight game a Cardinals' game was delayed by weather. ... Injured Cardinals 2B Mark Ellis is starting baseball activities but it remains uncertain when he'll be ready to return from left knee tendinitis. Ellis went on the 15-day DL on March 27 and is eligible to return on April 11. ... The series continues on Saturday. RHP Joe Kelly will make his season debut for the Cardinals against Pittsburgh's Francisco Liriano (0-0, 0.00).

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