Michigan Knocks Out No. 2 Cardinals
INDIANAPOLIS — Moe Wagner gritted his teeth, pumped his fist and stuck out his mouthpiece to the crowd’s delight Sunday.
A few minutes later, the tough German took a couple more bows — first on the baseline in front of Michigan’s bench, then with the rest of his teammates near midcourt.
Suddenly, the often overlooked 6-foot-11 forward was the well-deserved center of attention.
Wagner scored a career high 26 points, made the basket that spurred Michigan’s furious second-half rally and capped the day with a 3-pointer to give the Wolverines the lead for good as they knocked off second-seeded Louisville 73-69 to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2014.
“He’s got the mentality where he wants to make the play,” said Derrick Walton Jr., who drove in for Michigan’s final basket with 29 seconds left. “He just makes the right play at all times. He has the calls to make the big plays, so we feed off him because he’s not afraid of anything.”
Wagner’s fearlessness has played a big part in Michigan’s improbable late-season run.
In late February, Michigan was just 19-11 and trying to keep its NCAA Tournament hopes alive. Since then, it has won seven straight, six coming after a frightening plane accident on their way to the Big Ten Tournament.
So it seemed only fitting that the emotion, poise and momentum Michigan mustered over these past few weeks would help them fight their way off the ropes. Again.
Trailing 45-36 with 16:09 to play, Wagner made a layup that started a 17-6 run to give Michigan its first lead since the opening minutes of the game. When Wagner knocked down a 3-pointer with 6:39 to go to break a 55-55 tie, the Wolverines never trailed again.
Afterward, Michigan’s players celebrated by jumping around near midcourt, then walking next to the pep band and pumping their fists toward yellow-clad fans as the school fight song boomed.
Once inside the locker room, coach John Beilein playfully squirted his players with a water gun.
“A little damp right now,” Beilein said as the postgame news conference began. “But our guys, we started a tradition of taking a shower, I guess, without going into the shower after good wins. It’s not stopping.”
At least not in Indianapolis.
Despite going 3-3 in their previous six games, Louisville (25-9) came into Sunday as a small favorite.
Coach Rick Pitino was 3-1 in head-to-head matchups with Beilein and the Cardinals had made it to the Sweet 16 in each of their previous four NCAA appearances.
But after sitting out last year’s tourney because of a school-imposed postseason ban, the Cardinals’ hopes were doused largely because of Wagner’s ability to repeatedly get to the basket. That was all it took in a matchup between the two teams that played for a national championship four years ago.
“We made some poor switches,” Pitino said. “Probably the weakness of our team this year has been our defense. Our offense in the last ten days or two weeks, we’ve gotten significantly better because we worked inside to out.”.
Donovan Mitchell finished with 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists to lead Louisville. Deng Adel had 16 points and Mangok Mathiang added 13.
Not much went as expected, though.
Louisville’s pressure defense forced only six Michigan turnovers and the Cardinals wound up just 5 of 20 on 3-pointers.
Walton had 10 points, seven rebounds and six assists despite going 3 of 13 from the field. And two days after making a school record 16 3-pointers in a tourney game, the Wolverines were just 6 of 17.
Instead, they pounded the ball inside to D.J. Wilson, who had 17 points, three blocks and two steals, and the gritty Wagner, who spent most of Friday’s first-round win in foul trouble.
On Sunday, he used his fresh legs to do the dirty work so well that the usually reliable, quiet sophomore screamed in celebration.
“We always believed in ourselves,” Wagner said. “I just said to Coach B, we only shot six 3s today and we won. So it’s awesome. We played gritty basketball, and I think we can be proud of that.”
RHODE ISLAND 72
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Tyler Dorsey hit a contested go-ahead 3-pointer from the top of the arc with 38.4 seconds to play, E.C. Matthews airballed a long 3 in the waning moments trying to force overtime, and third-seeded Oregon rallied in the second half to beat upstart No. 11 Rhode Island.
Dorsey also tied the game with a 3 with 1:45 remaining on the way to 27 points before teammate Dillon Brooks took a charge on the other end for Oregon (31-5).
With Oregon’s season on the brink of an early NCAA Tournament exit, Brooks found his shooting stroke as he typically does and scored 19 points despite a 7-for-20 shooting day. Dorsey made 9 of 10 shots with four 3-pointers.
KANSAS 90, MICHIGAN ST. 70
TULSA, Okla. — Josh Jackson scored 14 of his 23 points in the second half to help Kansas pull away late and reach the Sweet 16 for a second straight year.
Frank Mason III added 20 points for the top-seeded Jayhawks (30-4), who have advanced to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament in nine of coach Bill Self’s 14 seasons.
Devonte’ Graham added 18 points and Landen Lucas had 10 for the Jayhawks, who shot 53.1 percent (34 of 64) in the win.
NORTH CAROLINA 72 ARKANSAS 65
GREENVILLE, S.C. — Kennedy Meeks had 16 points and a huge tip-in with 44.2 seconds left to help North Carolina barely avoid a huge upset by rallying to beat Arkansas.
Justin Jackson added 15 points for the Tar Heels (29-7), including the dunk that capped a game-closing 12-0 run by the South Region’s No. 1 seed to help it survive a wild game.
North Carolina led by 17 points after a dominating start, blew that lead and trailed 65-60 with about 3 1/2 minutes left then came up with a response befitting its veteran experience.
Isaiah Hicks came up big late, too, with a dunk and four free throws in the final 2 minutes to help UNC survive.
UCLA 79, Cincinnati 67
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Lonzo Ball scored 19 points and ignited UCLA’s rally from a poor start with nine assists, lifting the third-seeded Bruins.
UCLA (31-4) had a hard time solving sixth-seeded Cincinnati’s active defense in the first half, unable to get shots to drop or get out in transition. The Bruins found a new gear in the second half, breaking out for dunks and dropping in strings of 3-pointers to quickly push the lead to double digits.
Now UCLA is headed to its third Sweet 16 appearance in four seasons under coach Steve Alford, erasing — at least in part — the 15-17 letdown of a year ago.
WICHITA STATE 62
INDIANAPOLIS — Bam Adebayo had a double-double and swatted away the final shot on Sunday as Kentucky sent Wichita State to yet another second-round heartbreak.
The youngest team in the tournament grew up in the closing minutes.
Adebayo had 13 points and 10 rebounds. De’Aaron Fox had 14 points, including a late steal and dunk. Malik Monk blocked a shot and made a pair of free throws in the final 13 seconds. Adebayo clinched it by blocking Landry Shamet’s 3-pointer shot at the buzzer.
Yes, Kentucky’s freshman trio did it all.
Wham, Bam, move on ‘Cats (31-5), right into the Sweet 16 for the seventh time in nine years.
And wipe tears away again, Shockers (31-5).
BAYLOR 82, USC 78
TULSA, Okla. — Johnathan Motley had 19 points and 10 rebounds, and No. 3 seed Baylor defeated No. 11 seed Southern California.
Terry Maston scored 19 points, King McClure added 17 and Manu Lecomte scored all 12 of his points in the final 5 minutes for the Bears (27-7), who advanced to play Duke or South Carolina in the Sweet 16.
A four-point play by Lecomte put the Bears up 69-67. Lecomte, who hadn’t scored the entire game, scored eight points in 45 seconds to put the Bears up 73-67, and Baylor led the rest of the way.
S.Carolina 88, Duke 81
GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — Sindarius Thornwell had 24 points, Chris Silva scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half and seventh-seeded South Carolina stunned No. 2 seed Duke to advance to its first Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament’s expanded bracket.
The Gamecocks (24-10) trailed by 10 points early in the second half after one of its coldest shooting stretches of the season to start. But behind Thornwell’s outside shooting and Silva’s dominance underneath, South Carolina rallied to win two NCAA games for the first time in 44 years.
The Gamecocks rushed to their fans when things were over, celebrating one of the biggest wins in program history.