The Latest on the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament (all times Eastern):
Kentucky has opened a 30-20 lead on Houston late in the first half of the Midwest Region semifinals.
The Wildcats, who have run off 7 straight points, have been fueled Friday night by the return of forward PJ Washington.
Washington, out since the SEC Tournament with a left foot sprain, entered the game at the first media timeout to a standing ovation from fans behind the Kentucky bench. He’s made all three of his shots and leads the Wildcats with 8 points.
Houston’s Corey Davis Jr., averaging 23.5 points in the first two games of the tournament, has been held to one point with Kentucky’s Tyler Herro limiting his opportunities.
Virginia Tech is halfway to upsetting top overall seed Duke.
The Hokies lead 38-34 at halftime of the East Region semifinals after hitting seven 3-pointers, with Ahmed Hill scoring 13 points and nearly making a running shot from near halfcourt at the horn. Wabissa Bede added 10 for the Hokies, who shot 45 percent.
Duke freshman point guard Tre Jones has 12 points to lead the Blue Devils, while star freshman Zion Williamson has 11 points. Duke is shooting 52 percent but went without a basket for the last 3:29 of the half.
Virginia Tech won the only regular-season meeting, though Williamson and Hokies point guard Justin Robinson didn’t play in that one. The Hokies led this one by as many as six in the first half.
Duke freshman starter Cam Reddish has yet to play in this one due to a knee issue.
The question about PJ Washington has been answered. Yes, the star forward is playing for Kentucky against Houston in the Midwest Region semifinals.
Washington checked into the game at the first media timeout and scored the first time he shot. He missed the Wildcats’ first two games in the NCAA Tournament because of a sprained left foot. He was injured March 16 in the SEC Tournament loss to Tennessee.
Cam Reddish is out of the starting lineup for Duke due to a knee issue for its East Region semifinal against Virginia Tech. Reddish originally was listed among the first five for the game, but shortly before introductions, a new lineup was announced, with sophomore guard Alex O’Connell listed instead.
Meanwhile, Michigan State big man Nick Ward said he would be ready to play against the winner of Duke-Virginia Tech on Sunday in the East Region final after he appeared to re-injure his left hand in the win over LSU. Ward had been playing with a brace on his hand.
And in Kansas City, Missouri, Kentucky’s PJ Washington was in uniform and warming up before the Wildcats faced Houston in the Midwest Region.
The first No. 1 seed has fallen in the NCAA Tournament – and it’s North Carolina.
Fifth-seeded Auburn upset the Tar Heels 97-80 in the Midwest Region semifinal behind a barrage of second-half 3-pointers. And that sent the Tigers on to the Elite Eight for only the second time and first since 1986.
Chuma Okeke had 20 points and 11 rebounds before going down with an apparent knee injury midway through the second half. He was moving to the basket when his left leg bent awkwardly to the inside. Teammates and North Carolina players alike gathered around Okeke before he walked to the locker room with assistance.
Auburn led just 41-39 at halftime before taking over. The Tigers hit 12 of 18 3-pointers after halftime and 17 of 37 for the game, scoring 56 points after halftime to take control by building a big lead.
Coby White and Cameron Johnson each had 15 points for the Tar Heels, who shot just 43 percent and made 7 of 28 3-pointers.
Michigan State has advanced to the East Region final.
The Spartans beat LSU 80-63 for a 10th trip to the Elite Eight under Tom Izzo. Aaron Henry had 20 points, eight rebounds and six assists for the second-seeded Spartans. Freshman Gabe Brown also had 15 points, an unexpected contribution from a player who had never scored more than 11.
Big Ten Player of the Year Cassius Winston added 17 points and eight assists for the Spartans.
Tremont Waters had 23 points for third-seeded LSU, which finished 3-2 under interim coach Tony Benford. He took over when head coach Will Wade was suspended indefinitely amid reports about an FBI investigation.
Auburn’s Chuma Okeke crashed to the floor when his left knee buckled beneath the basket with 8:08 left in the Tigers’ game against North Carolina in the Midwest Region semifinals.
Okeke already had poured in 20 points and pulled down 11 rebounds when he went driving for a layup. But his left foot appeared to slip and he grabbed for his knee before he even hit the floor.
He was finally helped to his foot and limped to the locker room with the help of two trainers.
The Tigers were leading 76-62 when Okeke went down.
-Dave Skretta reporting from Kansas City, Missouri.
The little 6-0 surge that Auburn used for a 41-39 lead into halftime against North Carolina?
Make it a 14-0 run that has allowed the Tigers to seize control.
Jared Harper opened the second half with a 3-pointer, prolific shooter Bryce Brown knocked down one of his own, and Malik Dunbar’s long jumper gave the SEC tourney champs a 49-39 lead -the largest of the game- while forcing Tar Heels coach Roy Williams to burn a timeout.
North Carolina has a pair of turnovers in its first three possessions of the second half.
The winner gets the Kentucky-Houston winner for a spot in the Final Four.
– Dave Skretta reporting from Kansas City, Missouri
It looks like it will be a game-time decision whether Kentucky star forward PJ Washington plays in the Midwest Region semifinal against Houston.
Washington, who has the most scrutinized left foot in the NCAA Tournament, was not listed on the Wildcats’ starting lineup passed out to the media 90 minutes before tipoff.
The second-seeded Wildcats (29-6) beat Abilene Christian and Wofford in the first two rounds of the without Washington. The 6-foot-8 sophomore has been out since he sprained his foot against Tennessee in the Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinals.
Washington was in a cast until Tuesday and did some jogging and free throw shooting in the portion of Thursday’s practice open to the media.
– Eric Olson reporting from Kansas City, Missouri.
Auburn scored the final six points of the first half to take a 41-39 lead over top-seeded North Carolina into the locker room in the first Midwest Region semifinal.
There were five lead changes in the up-and-down first half. The last of them came at the buzzer, when J’Von McCormick went the length of the floor and got a finger-roll to go.
The Tigers have already hoisted up 19 3-pointers – the school record for an NCAA Tournament game is 32. The Tar Heels are firing away, too, going 5 of 15 from beyond the arc.
It’s the second time in three games that UNC has trailed at halftime in the tournament.
With Michigan State freshman Aaron Henry doing his best Draymond Green impersonation, the No. 2 seed Spartans are dominating No. 3 LSU in their East Region semifinal.
The Spartans lead 40-28 at halftime after leading by as many as 17. The 6-foot-6 Henry’s led the way with a do-everything performance of 13 points, seven rebounds and four assists so far that are all game-highs.
A 3-pointer just before the end of the half by Tremont Waters let LSU go into the break with a hint of momentum, but still down by double digits.
Waters leads the Tigers with 10 points as they try to get a step closer to their first Final Four berth since 2006.
The scoreboards froze inside the Sprint Center with 6:59 left in the first half and Auburn and North Carolina tied 26-all, forcing the public address announcer to continually update the score.
The game continued because the game clock and shot clock above each backboard were correct.
Still, it made for a strange and embarrassing situation for the host venue in Kansas City. Officials were working frantically courtside to get the ribbon boards between the lower and upper levels working correctly, to say nothing of the giant video boards hanging over the court.
North Carolina freshman Nassir Little is playing after dealing with flu-like symptoms all week.
Little checked in against Auburn just before the midway point of the first half. He was considered a game-time decision, and coach Roy Williams said he would monitor the forward’s minutes even if he was able to play.
Also worth watching is key reserve Brandon Robinson, who was hit on his way to the rim and immediately reached for the back of his left leg.
He shook off the tightness, made one of two foul shots and remained in the game. But anything that slows him down could affect a team that likes to run in a fast-paced game.
Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey continues to follow Auburn in the NCAA Tournament, first tailing the Tigers to Salt Lake City for the opening weekend and now to Kansas City, Missouri, for the Sweet 16.
Auburn is playing the top-seeded Tar Heels for a spot in its second Elite Eight.
Once known only for its football, the SEC landed four teams in the Sweet 16. Tennessee fell to Purdue in overtime on Thursday night, while LSU faces Michigan State in Washington, D.C., and Kentucky plays Houston in the nightcap in Kansas City. (edited)
NCAA president Mark Emmert is also in Kansas City.
LSU is making a last-minute lineup change before facing Michigan State in the Sweet 16.
Shortly before tipoff, the No. 3-seeded Tigers announced they would put freshman guard Javonte Smart in the starting five.
He takes the spot that originally was supposed to go to junior guard Marlon Taylor.
An LSU spokesman called it a coach’s decision.
Smart is the player at the center of published allegations that led to the suspension of LSU head coach Will Wade.
Smart hasn’t started a game since February.
There is plenty of Carolina blue in the stands at Sprint Center for the top-seeded Tar Heels’ game against No. 5 seed Auburn in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
There is also some Jayhawk blue, too.
Roy Williams still has plenty of friends and fans in the Kansas City area from his days just down Interstate 70 in Lawrence. Williams won 418 games during his time coaching Kansas, and nearly captured a national title, before the tug of his alma mater proved too much to overcome.
Williams has since won three championships in Chapel Hill.
Bettors at sportsbooks are sensing (or perhaps just hoping) that Houston may upset Kentucky in the Sweet 16.
Betting data released by William Hill on Friday night shows 55 percent of money and a similar share of tickets backing Houston as a 2-point underdog to Kentucky in their regional semifinal. It’s the only game of the four left in this round of the NCAA Tournament to have more action on the underdog.
William Hill says the game also has the most action among the four games, with 27 percent of the money wagered on Houston-Kentucky rather than one of the other games.
Early betting on the Elite Eight shows heavy support for Gonzaga over Texas Tech and Purdue as a 4 1/2-point underdog to Virginia.
North Carolina freshman Nassir Little took part in Friday afternoon’s shootaround at Sprint Center and could play when the top-seeded Tar Heels face No. 5 seed Auburn in the Sweet 16.
Little had flulike symptoms this week, missing practice Wednesday in Chapel Hill and Thursday when the team arrived in Kansas City. Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said he could barely lift a fork when the team had lunch Thursday and there was “no way he can play” in that state.
A school spokesman said that Little had improved enough to shoot Friday, but that Williams would ultimately decide at game time whether the 6-foot-6 forward would play.
Little scored 19 points in the Tar Heels’ first-round win over Iona. He had 20 against Washington in the blowout win that sent North Carolina to the Sweet 16.
Duke is facing a familiar foe in the Sweet 16 – one of the only four teams to win against the Blue Devils this year.
Five days after escaping Central Florida and 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall, the Blue Devils play fellow ACC team Virginia Tech on Friday.
The Hokies have won a game against the Blue Devils in each of the past three seasons. They know what to expect and will not be intimidated by the bracket’s No. 1 overall seed.
Virginia Tech point guard Justin Robinson says it’s just another game for his team, and they’ll be ready for whatever comes toward the end.
Robinson didn’t play in the teams’ lone meeting this season. Neither did Duke’s flying freshman Zion Williamson. R.J. Barrett played sick.
The Hokies won the Feb. 26 game in Blacksburg 77-72 after Ty Outlaw hit a tiebreaking 3-pointer with less than two minutes left.
The NCAA Tournament had a superb point guard duel in the opening round between Murray State’s Ja Morant and Marquette’s Markus Howard.
Another one comes Friday in the East Region, when LSU’s Tremont Waters squares off against Michigan State’s Cassius Winston City.
Winston was the Big Ten player of the year, averages 18.9 points per game and was third nationally with 7.5 assists.
Waters was the SEC co-defensive player of the year after finishing third nationally with 2.97 steals per game. He averages 15 points and 5.9 assists per game. He also hit the winning shot with 1.6 seconds left to lift the Tigers over Maryland in their NCAA opener.
Winston says the teams play to go against the best, but he can’t get caught up in an individual matchup.
Friday’s South Region game between top-seeded North Carolina and No. 5 Auburn should be the polar opposite of the low-scoring games Thursday night.
The Tar Heels (29-6) and Tigers (28-9) like to play fast. As in look away from your TV and you might miss a basket – or three.
North Carolina averages 14.6 seconds per offensive position, fifth-fewest nationally, and is third in Division I with 86 points per game.
Fast and effective.
Auburn has hit the fourth-most 3-pointers in Division I history with 421 and uses its pressure defense to create waves of baskets in transition. Kansas found out the hard way how quickly the Tigers can get rolling, falling behind 17 points before the first half was halfway over.
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