Thursday, March 22, 2012 | 7:25 p.m.
Wisconsin 63, Syracuse 64
BOSTON — Syracuse will be playing for a spot in the Final Four because of numbers.
C.J. Fair put up some like he hadn't in a while, and the Orange finished with offensive statistics that Wisconsin just doesn't allow in a 64-63 victory in the East Regional semifinals Thursday night that wasn't secure until the final buzzer.
"Offensively we played very, very well and we had to play very, very well," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said.
Fair finished with 15 points — five fewer than he had in the last six games combined — on 7-of-9 shooting. The Orange scored 11 more than the Badgers allowed on average in leading Division I.
Syracuse shot 55 percent from the field, well above the 38.5 percent Wisconsin gave up this season, and the Orange were 5 of 9 from 3-point range, much better than the 28.8 percent the Badgers allowed.
All those numbers mean the Orange (34-2) will play Ohio State or Cincinnati in the regional final Saturday with a trip to New Orleans at stake.
"I can't tell you how good it feels to win a game like this," Boeheim said. "This was a great, great game."
And it wasn't decided until Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor missed a 3-pointer with 3 seconds left. Josh Gasser corralled the rebound but his toss toward the basket was off at the buzzer.
"It was on line, and I felt like I got my legs into it," Taylor said. "I knew it was a deep 3, but it felt good, and then to see it kind of come up short was kind of heartbreaking."
Kris Joseph, a 75 percent free throw shooter, had missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 18 seconds to go with Syracuse up by a point, giving the Badgers (26-10) a chance at the victory.
Passing the ball around the perimeter of the zone but not creating much space, Wisconsin had to settle for Taylor's shot.
"We were just trying to get an open shot and try and make them rotate in the zone," Taylor said. "We did a little bit, but they did a good job of recovering to open guys there. They used the length that they have and kind of forced us into a tough shot, and it obviously didn't go down. So it was tough. Hats off to them."
The Badgers finished 14 of 27 from 3-point range but couldn't make one over the final 6 minutes after a stretch in the second half when they made six straight in as many possessions.
"I think we naturally tried to move out," Boeheim said, referring to Syracuse's famed 2-3 zone. "But you've got to get them off their spots. We didn't do that for a stretch out there. But they have terrific ball movement, and they have five guys that can shoot. There aren't that many teams like that."
Scoop Jardine had 14 points for Syracuse, while Dion Waiters had 13 and Brandon Triche 11.
But it was Fair who made the difference after not being a factor late in the season.
The 6-foot-8 sophomore forward, the Orange's fifth-leading scorer at 8.3 points per game, was 7 for 27 from the field over a six-game stretch. The Orange had been struggling offensively as well, failing to reach 60 points three times in their past seven games.
"Sometimes you just need to see the ball go in the rim," Fair said.
Jared Berggren and Taylor both had 17 points for Wisconsin, which came in allowing 52.9 points per game.
Syracuse reached that many points with 9 minutes to play, but there were two lead changes and two ties still to come.
"It was a nailbiter, but we made some plays down the stretch and got a couple of stops," Fair said.
Wisconsin, which averaged 7.7 3-pointers per game and has a season high of 15, hit its last 3 with 7:03 to play when Taylor gave the Badgers their final lead of the game, 59-56.
Syracuse went ahead for good on a spin move by Waiters with 6:03 to play, but the lead was never more than three points.
Gasser made two free throws with 31 seconds left to bring Wisconsin within 64-63.
"I think that was the best game anybody has ever played against us and didn't beat us," Boeheim said.
The win was No. 890 overall for Boeheim, third on the all-time list, and it was his 48th in the NCAA tournament, breaking a tie for fifth place with John Wooden.
"Syracuse just has too many athletes that can do so many things, and it's hard to prepare for that on the defensive end. You think you're getting things done, but you're a step behind," Badgers coach Bo Ryan said. "So we did the best we could, and I thought we played great defense. Not everybody on the court agreed with that, but I thought we played unbelievable defense for the most part."
Syracuse won again without starting center Fab Melo, who was declared ineligible for the tournament by the school just days before the Orange opened with a shaky win over 16th-seeded North Carolina-Asheville.
The Badgers were trying to reach the regional final for the first time since 2005.
Louisville 57, Michigan 44
PHOENIX — Gorgui Dieng swatted away the West Region's top seed to send Rick Pitino into another regional final.
Chane Behanan scored 15 points and Dieng anchored Louisville's stifling defense with seven blocked shots, helping the Cardinals knock off top-seeded Michigan State 57-44 Thursday night in the West Regional semifinals.
Louisville (29-9) smothered the NCAA tournament's best-shooting team with its matchup zone, getting good pressure from its guards up top and some big swats by Dieng, one of the nation's top shot-blockers.
The Cardinals relied on 3-point shooting in the first half and went inside the second to befuddle the Spartans, earning a trip to the West final against Marquette or Florida on Saturday.
Michigan State (29-8) started slow and never got going against Louisville's amoebic defense, shooting 28 percent while being outscored 20-14 inside by the leaner Cardinals.
Dieng finished with five points, seven rebounds and had three steals. Peyton Siva overcame a rough shooting night — four points on 2-of-9 shooting — with nine assists.
Draymond Green had 13 points and 16 rebounds in his final game for Michigan State and Brandon Wood added 14 points.
This sweet matchup of top programs featured two of college basketball's best short-preparation coaches.
Pitino has used his speed-the-opponent-up system to reach the Final Four five times, becoming the first coach to lead three different schools to the national semifinals. Once past the NCAA tournament's first week, he's had a knack for guiding his team farther along the bracket, advancing to the regional final all 10 times he's gotten a team to the semifinals.
Tom Izzo has been in 17 years at Michigan State, building teams that can handle the rigors of the Big Ten or switch to greyhound mode when the opponent plays fast. He's been as consistent as any coach in the game, leading the Spartans to the Final Four six times, including the 2000 national title, and 10 trips to the regionals round the past 15 years.
Izzo played the right hand the last time these two basketball brains met, taking the Spartans to the 2009 Final Four after they found a way to break Louisville's pressure.
Pitino had something up his sleeve this time.
With Michigan State bogging the game down, the Cardinals struggled early, missing 12 of their first 13 shots. They snapped out of it by hitting 3s.
Russ Smith hit a pair, Jared Swopshire and Chris Smith each dropped one in and, even Dieng -- 0-for-2 in his career previously -- got one to go in.
Swopshire closed it out with a 3 from the corner to put the Cardinals up 23-15 at halftime. Louisville was 7 of 15 from the arc in the half, but got almost nothing inside, hitting 1 of 15 shots from 2-point range.
Michigan State couldn't seem to hit anything from anywhere, going 6-for-22 from the field, 2-for-9 from the arc.
Louisville shifted gears to open the second half, getting two layups and a dunk to keep its cushion. Swopshire followed with an alley-oop to Siva for the point guard's first points, then stole the inbound pass to set up two free throws by Russ Smith that put the Cardinals up 35-25.
Michigan State managed a short run to get within four, but Louisville used its pressure to get a couple of steals and baskets to go up 43-32. Dieng followed with a couple more swats -- one on Keith Appling that sailed into the stands -- to keep the Spartans from making a run.
Louisville outscored Michigan State by six inside and had a 17-4 advantage off the bench.