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Next stop for the cats: the Elite Eight

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) - Kentucky avoided the latest big upset from
the Big Red.
John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson stopped
Cornell's captivating NCAA tournament run, giving the top-seeded
Wildcats a 62-45 win Thursday night in the East Regional
semifinals.
With much of the Carrier Dome crowd - and the country - pulling
for an upset by the 12th-seeded Ivy Leaguers, Cornell bolted to a
10-2 lead in the opening minutes.
But Kentucky overcame the early deficit with a swarming defense,
spoiling all the fun at Cornell's loudest and largest pep rally.
John Calipari has the Wildcats (35-2) in the regional final in
his first season, erasing much of the sting of the program's
decade-long slide from the top.
The climb back is nearly complete. Kentucky moved within one win
of its first Final Four since winning the national championship in
1998 and will play second-seeded West Virginia on Saturday.
In an NCAA tournament gone wild with upsets, it's 1 vs. 2 with a
trip to the Final Four in Indianapolis at stake.
All the fan adulation and media hype shifted to Cornell this
week after brainy Big Red (29-5) stunned the field with an
improbable run to the round of 16. This was no Revenge of the Nerds
- they proved they could they play with the big boys.
The nation's top 3-shooting team continuously misfired from
beyond the arc and Cornell couldn't catch up against a Kentucky
lineup that could stage a reunion at the NBA's 2012 Rookie
Challenge.
After storming to two wins by a combined 59 points in the first
two rounds, the Wildcats got all they could handle against Big Red.
Cornell pounced to that early lead, then sliced a 17-point deficit
to six late in the second half.
Louis Dale hit a 3 that made it 40-34 and Ryan Wittman nailed
another to keep it at 46-37 with 3:47 left.
But Eric Bledsoe hit a short jumper with one tick left on the
35-second shot clock to push Kentucky's lead to 12. The Wildcats
finally put away Cornell for good from the free-throw line.
Cousins scored 16 points and Bledsoe 10 for Kentucky.
Dale led Cornell with 17 points. The Big Red shot just 5-for-21
on 3s.
Ashley Judd had her usual great seat behind Kentucky's bench to
support the Wildcats. She was easy to spot - she was the Kentucky
fan.
OK, so there were a few patches of Big Blue in the Carrier Dome.
But this may as well have been a Cornell home game.
Cornell's campus in Ithaca, N.Y., is only about 55 miles away
from the Carrier Dome and the Big Red faithful turned out in full
force.
Kentucky was booed out of the building when it hit the court
only moments after West Virginia beat Washington 69-56. The crowd
roared and rattled the roof when Cornell sprinted out for warmups
as chants of "Let's go Red!" echoed throughout the dome. Some
fans behind the basket boldly chanted "Overrated!" as the
Wildcats warmed up.
For about 5 minutes, it looked like they might be right. Jeff
Foote backed down Cousins for the first basket and Wittman and Dale
each hit 3s for a stunning 10-2 lead that left the Wildcats
red-faced.
Calipari refused to call a timeout, preferring to let the
Wildcats play their way out of a jam. Smart move. The Wildcats went
on a 12-0 run to take a lead they'd never surrender and hush the
Big Red fans.
Kentucky is back with a vengeance and trying to win the regional
final for the first time since '98. The Wildcats lost Elite Eight
games in 1999, 2003 and 2005.
It was quite a fun run for Cornell. Cornell sports information
director Jeremy Hartigan said he turned down hundreds of interview
requests in the last week after never saying no in the last few
years. The Big Red were parodied on the satirical Web site "The
Onion" and acted about as loose as any team in the tournament.
The fans chanted "Thank you, seniors!" in appreciation of all
Foote, Wittman and Dale have done to make Cornell the three-time
defending Ivy League champs.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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