Furious rally gives Cardinals title

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NEW YORK - There was so much to reflect on just minutes after the last championship game of the Big East Tournament as we know it.

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Louisville's Russ Smith (2), Luke Hancock (center) and Gorgui Dieng (10) celebrate with coach Rick Pitino and teammates after their 78-61 win over Syracuse in the Big East Tournament championship game.  FRANK FRANKLIN II/ASSOCIATED PRESS
FRANK FRANKLIN II/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Louisville's Russ Smith (2), Luke Hancock (center) and Gorgui Dieng (10) celebrate with coach Rick Pitino and teammates after their 78-61 win over Syracuse in the Big East Tournament championship game.

Louisville became just the fourth school to repeat as champion, beating Syracuse 78-61 on Saturday night in an incredible game that saw the fourth-ranked and second-seeded Cardinals turn a 16-point, second-half deficit into an 18-point lead.

While the Cardinals (29-5) cut down the nets, there was quite a bit to think about.

"Obviously, it's a real special night for the University of Louisville," Cardinals coach Rick Pitino said of the school's third Big East title. "The final minute of play, first thing I thought of is what an incredible group of guys I'm coaching. Then I thought how happy I was for my family, and then immediately I thought of (Big East founder and first commissioner) Dave Gavitt and what he formed, and all of us in some way or another flourish because of Dave Gavitt.

"This was a special, special night."

There couldn't have been many in the sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden who would have thought early in the second half that this game would be anything more than a spectacular exit for Syracuse, which is headed for the Atlantic Coast Conference next season.

The 19th-ranked and fifth-seeded Orange had a 45-29 lead with 15:50 to play. It seemed to be a matter of watching the clock wind down and thinking of a celebration for Syracuse's sixth title.

But the Cardinals turned up the fullcourt pressure and started playing the kind of defense that had them win 10 consecutive games.

Suddenly the Orange (26-9) couldn't buy a basket, and the Cardinals didn't miss. The run was 27-3 and when it was over Louisville had a 56-48 lead with 8:51 to play. In 7 minutes everything had changed.

"Our press is pretty much like controlled chaos," said Louisville's Peyton Siva, who joined Georgetown's Patrick Ewing as the only repeat tournament MVPs. "We're going to press. We're just going to run and trap, run and trap, and Coach P is like, 'No, you've got to do it in a smart way.' For a minute there, we were running around the court with our head cut off and got a couple of steals.

"For us to really battle like that, it really shows a lot."

The Orange scored the game's first eight points and took a 35-22 halftime lead that had people scrambling in record books to find the largest margin of victory in a Big East championship game.

Instead the search was on for the biggest halftime deficit overcome. The previous best was nine points by Louisville over Syracuse in 2009.

The Cardinals didn't just overcome the halftime deficit, they made it disappear quickly. The first 10 points in the run came in a span of 1:34. The Cardinals just wouldn't let Syracuse get comfortable in any facet of the game — from bringing the ball up against the pressure to trying to find a clean look against the zone.

Louisville went on to lead 73-55 with 2:03 to play.

"I think they're the best pressing team that I've seen this year," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "It was probably the worst thing to happen to get up 15. If we hadn't played well and we were up four or five, they probably wouldn't have done that, but that's what they had to do at that point to go after it, and that was exactly what I would have tried to do, and that's what they did, and they're good at it."

NO. 22 WISCONSIN 68, NO. 3 INDIANA 56

In Chicago, Ryan Evans scored 16 points to help Wisconsin (23-10) upset Indiana (27-6) in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament.

The Badgers allowed only seven points after the top-seeded Hoosiers pulled within one with 9:45 left. They earned their 12th consecutive win against Indiana, tying a record for any school against the powerhouse program, and will play Ohio State in today's final.

Ben Brust added 12 points for Wisconsin, which has won three in a row and six of eight.

Christian Watford scored 14 points for Indiana (27-6), and Cody Zeller had 13 points and 11 rebounds. Victor Oladipo scored 10, but was 4 for 12 from the field.

The Hoosiers, who won the regular-season conference title, now have to wait until Selection Sunday to see if they did enough to earn a coveted No. 1 seeds.

BIG 12 CHAMPIONSHIP

NO. 7 KANSAS 70,

NO. 11 KANSAS STATE 54

In Kansas City, Mo., Jeff Withey had 17 points and nine rebounds, Perry Ellis and Naadir Tharpe added 12 points each, and Kansas (29-5) pounded Kansas State (27-7) to win its ninth tournament championship.

The top-seeded Jayhawks had shared the regular-season title with their in-state rival.

NO. 10 OHIO STATE 61,

NO. 8 MICHIGAN STATE 58

In Chicago, Aaron Craft scored 18 of his game-high 20 points in the second half to lead Ohio State (25-7) past Michigan State (25-8) in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament.

The Buckeyes will go for their third championship in four years today against Wisconsin.

MOUNTAIN WEST CHAMPIONSHIP

NO. 15 NEW MEXICO 63,

UNLV 56

In Las Vegas, Tony Snell scored 13 consecutive points for New Mexico (29-5) during a second-half run, and the Lobos pulled away late Saturday to beat UNLV (25-9) and add the Mountain West Tournament title to their regular season crown.

NO. 16 SAINT LOUIS 67,

BUTLER 56

In New York, Dwayne Evans scored 24 points, and Saint Louis (26-6) locked down Butler (26-8) in the second half to reach its first Atlantic 10 final.

C-USA CHAMPIONSHIP

NO. 20 MEMPHIS 91,

SOUTHERN MISS 79 (2OT)

In Tulsa, Okla., Chris Crawford scored 23 points, including the go-ahead 3-pointer in double overtime, and Memphis (30-4) beat Southern Miss (25-9) to win its seventh conference tournament in eight years.

NO. 25 VCU 71,

MASSACHUSETTS 62

In New York, Troy Daniels made six 3-pointers and scored 20 points, and Virginia Commonwealth
(26-7) advanced to the Atlantic 10 Tournament title game in its first season in the conference with a win over Massachusetts (21-11).

AMERICA EAST CHAMPIONSHIP

ALBANY 53, VERMONT 49

In Burlington, Vt., Mike Black scored 14 points and Albany (24-10) came back to beat Vermont (21-11) to win the conference title and earn its third trip to the
NCAA Tournament.

MEAC CHAMPIONSHIP

NORTH CAROLINA A&T 57, MORGAN STATE 54

In Norfolk, Va., Adrian Powell scored 14 points, including two critical free throws with 23.4 seconds to play, and then blocked a potential tying 3-pointer in the final seconds as North Carolina A&T (19-16) beat Morgan State (17-15) to win its first Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament title since 1995.

MID-AMERICAN CHAMPIONSHIP

AKRON, 65 OHIO 46

In Cleveland, Demetrius Treadwell scored 13 points and top-seeded Akron (26-6) beat Ohio (24-9) to win the conference tournament and earn the league’s automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.

SOUTHLAND CHAMPIONSHIP

NORTHWESTERN STATE 68,

STEPHEN F. AUSTIN 66

In Katy, Texas, Shamir Davis scored 19 points, DeQuan Hicks added 13 points and made a last-second steal as Northwestern State (23-8) edged Stephen F. Austin (27-4) in the Southland Conference title game to earn its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2006.

SWAC CHAMPIONSHIP

SOUTHERN 45,

PRAIRIE VIEW A&M 44

In Garland, Texas, Derick Beltran had 13 points, and Southern University (23-9) got its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2006 with victory over Prairie View A&M (15-19).


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