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Syracuse advances to Final Four with win over Marquette

NCAA Tournament

POSTED March 30, 2013 10:45 p.m.
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The Associated Press/

Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim cuts down the n...

WASHINGTON — Jim Boeheim calls this year’s Syracuse team his best defensive group ever. Hard to argue, based on the suffocating performances that put the Orange in the Final Four.
Using its trapping, shot-challenging 2-3 zone to perfect effect for 40 minutes, No. 4-seeded Syracuse shut down No. 3 Marquette 55-39 in the East Regional final Saturday to earn Boeheim his first trip to the national semis since a freshman named Carmelo Anthony helped win the 2003 NCAA title.
“It’s a great thing,” Boeheim joked afterward. “We go once every 10 years.”
Fittingly, a matchup between schools from the soon-to-break-apart, rough-and-tumble Big East became quite a struggle on the offensive end. Syracuse (30-9) was led by senior forward James Southerland’s 16 points. Michael Carter-Williams, a 6-foot-6 guard who is out front in the zone, was named the regional’s top player after having 12 points and eight rebounds Saturday.
Marquette (26-9) hadn’t scored fewer than 47 points this season — and, indeed, put up 74 in a victory over Syracuse on Feb. 25. But this time, Marquette kept turning the ball over, seeing its shots blocked or just plain missing.
It was much like what happened Thursday in the regional semifinals, when Syracuse knocked off top-seeded Indiana by holding it to a season-low output, too.
All told, Marquette made only 12 of 53 shots — 23 percent — and was 3 for 24 on 3-pointers. Vander Blue, who carried Marquette to the round of eight, was held to 14 points on 3-for-15 shooting.
In the national semifinals at Atlanta next week, Syracuse will face the winner of Sunday’s South Regional final between Florida and Michigan.
The Big East is transforming radically before next season. Syracuse is heading to the Atlantic Coast Conference, while Marquette is one of seven basketball-centric schools departing the conference to form a new league that is taking the Big East name with it.
But talk about a last hurrah.
Not only is Syracuse on its way to the Final Four, but the league also could have a second representative because Louisville is in the Midwest Regional final Sunday against Duke.
In this very same building, exactly three weeks ago, Syracuse wrapped up its final Big East regular-season schedule with a bad-as-can-be performance in a lopsided loss to Georgetown, scoring 39 points — the Orange’s tiniest total in a half-century.
Thanking fans after Saturday’s victory, Boeheim said: “I’m sure some of you were here, three weeks ago today, when it didn’t turn out so good.”
That was Syracuse’s fourth loss in a span of five games, a stumbling way to head into tournament play. Since then, though, Boeheim’s team has won seven of eight games.
And the secret to success? Defense, naturally.
Syracuse really needed only one run on offense in the second half, making five shots in a row during a spurt that gave it a 41-28 lead with 9½ minutes left.
With President Barack Obama — a basketball enthusiast who picked Indiana to win the title — and NFL Rookie of the Year Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins sitting in the crowd, Syracuse harassed Marquette into missing 14 of its first 15 tries from beyond the 3-point arc.
Marquette started 1 for 10 overall on field-goal tries, with Blue’s 3-pointer about 1½ minutes in the only make. He celebrated as though it came at the end of the game, not the outset, punching the air and tapping Syracuse defender Brandon Triche on the back while heading to the other end of the court.
After Blue’s 3, Marquette missed its next seven shots.
That was part of a stretch — disappointing for Marquette, delightful for Syracuse — in which the Golden Eagles went nearly 6½ minutes without a single field-goal attempt. Forget about putting the basketball through the net; Syracuse was so smothering, Marquette did not even manage to shoot.
That helped Syracuse build a 19-7 lead.
Gardner scored a career-high 26 points in Marquette’s 74-71 regular-season victory over Syracuse on Feb. 25, and he went right to work Saturday.
A 7-minute gap between baskets for Marquette was snapped by Gardner, who grabbed the rebound of his own missed free throw and sank a jumper, beginning a bunch of highlights for him.


INDIANAPOLIS — Seth Curry shot Duke right into the regional finals — and put Mike Krzyzewski on the verge of another milestone.
Curry scored 29 points and the Blue Devils beat Michigan State 71-61 to advance to the regional final in the NCAA tournament.
If No. 2 seed Duke (30-5) beats top-seeded Louisville (32-5) in Sunday’s regional final, Krzyzewski would tie John Wooden’s record with 12 Final Four trips.
Third-seeded Michigan State (27-9) just couldn’t keep up with Curry and Duke’s shooters. Keith Appling had 16 points for the Spartans, and Adreian Payne finished with 14.
Curry’s sixth 3-pointer of the game broke a 38-38 tie early in the second half, sending Duke on a 9-0 run. It also matched the school record for most 3s in an NCAA tourney game, most recently accomplished by Jason Williams on March 22, 2001, against UCLA.
The Blue Devils never trailed again.
Rasheed Sulaimon had 16 points and Mason Plumlee finished with 14 for Duke.

INDIANAPOLIS — Louisville survived its first test.
Russ Smith matched his career high with 31 points to lead three Cardinals in double figures, and top-seeded Louisville showed it can win close games, too, posting a narrow victory over Oregon.
Kevin Ware added 11 and Gorgui Dieng had 10 points and nine rebounds for Louisville (32-5), which has won 13 straight. Coach Rick Pitino improved to 11-0 in the regional semifinals.
The 12th-seeded Ducks (28-9) at least made a game of it late. After Louisville went up 66-48 with 9:01 left, Oregon made six straight field goals to close to 70-64.
But Kevin Ware scored on a layup and Chane Behanan threw down a monstrous dunk to put the game out of reach. Still, Oregon is only the second team to be within single digits at the buzzer during Louisville’s run.
E.J. Singler’s 15 points led five Ducks in double figures, and the Ducks had only 12 turnovers.

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