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Upsets continue to define Final 4

Unlikely Wichita State books ticket to semis

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ATLANTA -- An inspired Louisville squad vs. the surprising Shockers.

A new group of Fab Wolverines vs. the stingiest zone defence in college basketball.

After a weekend of blowouts and another upset, the Final Four is set.

Top overall seed Louisville will face Wichita State at the Georgia Dome next Saturday, while Michigan takes on Syracuse in the other national semifinal. The winners advance to the April 8 championship.

On Sunday, the Cardinals drew inspiration from a gruesome injury to guard Kevin Ware and cruised past Duke 85-63 in the Midwest Regional. Michigan led from the opening tip, routing Florida 79-59 in the South.

A day earlier, Syracuse shut down Marquette 55-39 to win the East. 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 -- were the only No. 1 seed to make it to the Final Four. And, boy, it's been an impressive run.

Louisville (33-5) has won its four NCAA games by an average margin of nearly 22 points, capped by a second-half blowout of Duke after the Cardinals shook off the incredible shock of Ware's injury with about 6 1/2 minutes to go before halftime.

"We won this for him," coach Rick Pitino said.

The sophomore snapped his lower right leg after coming down awkwardly while defending a 3-point shot.

Russ Smith collapsed onto the floor, along with several players, and was crying as doctors attended to Ware. The sophomore, who played his high school ball in suburban Atlanta, urged his teammates to complete the trip to the Georgia Dome. Pitino wiped his eyes as Ware was wheeled out, as did several Louisville players.

"All he kept saying -- and remember, the bone is six 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."

While the Cardinals are the clear favourite heading to their second straight Final Four, Wichita State was the most improbable team to advance.

The ninth-seeded 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.

The Shockers will need an even bigger stunner to knock off Louisville, the one team in a wide-open tournament that has looked unbeatable.

Then again, that other team from Kansas has shown no fear so far.

"It feels very good," said Cleanthony Early, a junior forward who, like most guys on this team, 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."

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 much the same feel, led by sophomore Trey Burke, the Big Ten player of the year, and three freshmen starters. They were downright fabulous against Florida on Sunday, never seriously threatened after scoring the first 13 points.

Florida became the first team to make it to three straight regional finals without winning any of them, according to STATS.

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 defence. 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.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 1, 2013 C11

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