The University of Kentucky defeated Baylor University 82-70 to advance to the semifinals of college basketball’s national men’s basketball tournament for the second straight year and 15th time in school history.
The Wildcats (36-2), the top overall seed in the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament, will play Louisville for a place in the April 2 title game in New Orleans. No. 4 Louisville yesterday rallied to defeat No. 7 Florida 72-68 in the West Regional final.
Kentucky jumped out to a 42-22 halftime lead at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta and led third-seeded Baylor by as many as 23 points during the second half. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist scored a team-high 19 points for the Wildcats, while fellow freshman forward Anthony Davis had 18 points and 11 rebounds.
Kentucky is two wins from an eighth NCAA title and first since 1998 after collecting its record 109th tournament victory, one more than the University of North Carolina.
The Tar Heels, the top seed in the Midwest Regional, can tie Kentucky with a victory against No. 2 Kansas in today’s second tournament matchup. North Carolina is playing its second straight contest without point guard Kendall Marshall because of a broken bone in his right wrist.
The Midwest Regional winner advances to play Ohio State, which toppled No. 1 seed Syracuse 77-70 yesterday to win the East Regional. The Final Four is scheduled for March 31 at the Superdome in New Orleans.
Kentucky coach John Calipari returns to the Final Four for a fourth time after improving his record to 545-154 and 36-13 in the NCAA tournament. Calipari’s Wildcats lost to the University of Connecticut in last year’s national semifinals.
After falling behind 10-5 during the opening minutes in Atlanta, Kentucky went on a 16-0 scoring run. The Wildcats kept pulling away and pushed their lead to 51-28 less than four minutes into the second half. Baylor (30-8) never got closer than 10 points the rest of the way in suffering its first loss of the season against a school outside the Big 12 Conference.
“This team is actually even better than I thought,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said of the Wildcats. “We definitely haven’t played a better team than them all year.”
Quincy Acy scored 22 points and Pierre Jackson had 21 for Baylor, which shot 39 percent to Kentucky’s 53 percent.
Today’s game was the first between the Bears and the Wildcats in the NCAA tournament since Kentucky beat Baylor 58-42 in the 1948 title game. Kentucky has won all seven games between the schools. The matchup was the first between the schools since Dec. 8, 1979.
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