Friday morning reaction

Paul Daugherty, Cincinnati Enquirer: We’ll just say Kansas State 101, Xavier 96 in double overtime was among the best NCAA tournament games you’ll ever see. And that’s saying quite a lot. Xavier and Kansas State stole the Madness out from under this event. It’s all theirs now, no arguments. There are only so many threes to be made in the crucible, only so many times to come back from the bottom of the well. It should be enough to say this was among the finest games played in a very long time. Maybe everywhere but Xavier, that is so. It really is too bad one team is going home today. What was your favorite cardiac-arrest moment? Terrell Holloway, calmly draining three free throws to tie the game in regulation? Jordan Crawford’s three from the right wing, with four seconds left in OT No. 1, to tie it again? Or, if you can stand it, Jacob Pullen’s three from the top of the key in OT No. 2, to clinch the longest day? There was a more lonely place on earth than that free throw line at about midnight last night, we’re pretty sure of that. It just doesn’t leap to mind. Terrell Holloway made the free throws. All three of them. Net-net-net, five seconds left in regulation, to tie the game. That was as bloodless an exhibition of basketball as we’re likely to see. At least for the next day or so. The NCAA Tournament is, after all, in the business of topping itself. Regularly.

Jason Whitlock, Kansas City Star: Thursday night, with the Kansas State basketball program on the brink of greatness, fate, bad officiating and a gutsy Xavier squad brought back memories of 1998, Bill Snyder and a football meltdown with a spot in the BCS championship riding on the outcome. From the moment the refs ignored Denis Clemente’s intentional foul at midcourt in the final seconds of regulation, Xavier-K-State felt like K-State-Texas A&M. Your heart dropped, tears welled in your eyes, and anger consumed your body. Fortunately for us, Martin and his Wildcats never buckled, never complained and never wasted a moment feeling sorry for themselves. Kansas State is not a team of destiny. It’s a team of preparation and determination and concentration and resolve. K-State basketball is Frank Martin. It’s a perfect storm exploding at the right time of the year. It’s a team that has refused to make excuses, a team that Thursday night survived a devastating foul call at the end of regulation and found a way to win.

Bob Kravitz, Indianapolis Star
: Here comes America, armed with its tape measures and Hickory High story lines and features about how Brad Stevens is the lineal descendant of Norman Dale. Now that the Butler Bulldogs are one West Regional victory from writing one of the great college basketball stories ever told — Butler in the Final Four in Indianapolis — it’s fair to assume the land’s journalists are prepared to show up and go all Jimmy Chitwood on us. Butler, a 63-59 victor over No. 1-seeded and fourth-ranked Syracuse on Thursday night, is no fluke, no Little Team That Could, no come-from-nowhere Hickory High, even if I’m pretty sure that was Shooter lingering near the end of the Butler bench. The Bulldogs went athlete for athlete, face to face with an imposing Syracuse team, and showed they were not only more composed and poised, but more athletic than a team that was supposed to be the best in the nation’s best conference.

John Clay, Lexington Herald-Leader: When it was all said and done, when Kentucky had secured a Saturday date with West Virginia in the East Regional final, one thing stood out. The “dumb kids” sure play smart defense. All week this NCAA East Region semifinal had been portrayed as the “smart kids” from Cornell against the “dumb kids” from Kentucky, as UK’s DeMarcus Cousins put it. The knock-down shooters for the Big Red against the wildly athletic cruisers for the Big Blue. Kentucky played street ball. Cornell played smart ball. Turned out, this late-night Thursday matchup turned into a grind-it-out, defensive-oriented game, with the Cats claiming a 62-45 win over the Cinderella team from nearby Ithaca.

Brian Delany and Dan Sweeney, Ithaca Journal: John Calipari got his Kiddie Cats to play defense like men. No one was more important to Thursday night’s victory than 6-foot-7 forward Darius Miller, who limited Ryan Wittman’s quality shot attempts and held Cornell’s leading scorer to 10 points in the Wildcats’ 62-45 win. “I was really pleased with the defense we played today,” Calipari said. “Our goal in the game was to guard the 3-point line.” Cornell, which entered the game shooting 43.4 percent from the 3-point arc, and which hit 44.7 percent in its first two NCAA games, connected on only five of 21 attempts for 23.8 percent. Wittman finished his career with a 10-point effort, harassed throughout by Miller. “When they were coming off screens and handoffs, we tried to pressure them and our big men did a great job of giving us time to get back to them,” Miller said. The mobility of Kentucky’s big men, 6-11 DeMarcus Cousins and 6-9 Patrick Patterson, enabled Calipari to play the perimeter so aggressively. At one point, Cousins hedged Louis Dale on a screen at the key, swiped at the ball, stole it and fed a teammate for a fast break down the floor. That’s not the type of play Cornell has seen opposing big men from higher-level conference teams make against them.

Jeff Goodman, Fox Sports: Under Beilein, cerebral guys like Da’Sean Butler, Wellington Smith, Mazzulla, John Flowers and Thoroughman were taught to think the game first and then react — a complete 180 from Huggins’ approach. “I had to completely change my game,” Mazzulla said. “I was a finesse point guard before he got here.” But Huggins has brought the toughness out of Mazzulla, has helped turn Butler into one of the elite players in the country and brought in his own guys – Devin Ebanks, Kevin Jones, Casey Mitchell and Deniz Kilicli. “It’s been a long journey,” Butler said following the win against Washington. “We’ve gone from a team picked to finish last in the Big East every year because of our style of play and the fact we didn’t recruit elite players to winning the Big East tournament and being one game away from the Final Four. I can’t complain at all. I couldn’t have scripted it any better.”

Mike Waters, The Post-Standard: “The poise of this group; the toughness of this group, to be able to be down four,’’ Butler coach Brad Stevens said. “I was really proud of their moxie.’ While Stevens spoke of moxie, the Bulldogs really won this game with defense.
Butler held Syracuse to 43.8 percent field goal shooting. The Orange’s 59 points matched its season low, set in a 59-57 win over DePaul on Jan. 30. And then there were those turnovers. The Orange’s 18 miscues meant too many empty possessions, allowing Butler a chance to make up for its own 40.4 percent shooting. In the game’s first seven minutes, Syracuse was 0-for-4 from the field with five turnovers. “The bottomline is we just made too many turnovers,’’ Boeheim said. “We shot better. We rebounded better. You know, we just made too many turnovers.’’

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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