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NCAA FINALS WATCH

on April 06, 2013 11:00 PM

ATLANTA (AP) — Around the Final Four and its host city with journalists from The Associated Press bringing the flavor and details of everything surrounding the games.

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SYRACUSE vs. MICHIGAN

Louisville's got next.

Now, Syracuse and Michigan are playing to see which other team gets to stay on the court.

The Wolverines and Orange have tipped off the second half of the Final Four doubleheader at the Georgia Dome.

The winner between the No. 4 seeds will play Louisville, which rallied from a 12-point deficit to defeat Wichita State 72-68.

—Eddie Pells — http://twitter.com/@epells

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AIRCRAFT CARRIER vs. GEORGIA DOME

Syracuse forward James Southerland downplays the difficulties of shooting at the Georgia Dome.

“It can't be worse than a ship,” Southerland said after practicing at the dome in preparation for the Final Four.

The Orange play their home games in the smaller Carrier Dome but opened the season against San Diego State in a game played on an aircraft carrier.

Mr. Southerland is about to find out which is tougher.

— Eddie Pells — http://twitter.com/@epells

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MICHAEL JORDAN

The Final Four isn't the first time the Georgia Dome has held a massive crowd by basketball standards.

On March 27, 1998, Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls played the Atlanta Hawks in the Georgia Dome as the Hawks’ new Philips Arena was being built. The allure of seeing Jordan's last visit to Atlanta with the Bulls attracted a crowd of 62,046 — the largest in NBA history.

Jordan, now owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, came back to Atlanta in his two seasons with the Washington Wizards.

— Charles Odum — http://twitter.com/@CharlesOdum

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LOUISVILLE ADVANCES

Louisville is moving on to the national championship game.

Barely.

Russ Smith scored 21 points, Luke Hancock added 20 off the bench and the Cardinals rallied from a 12-point deficit in the second half to beat Wichita State 72-68.

The Cardinals move on to face either Michigan or Syracuse in Monday night's title game. Those teams will tip off in about a half hour at the Georgia Dome.

For the Shockers, a surprising run through the NCAA tournament is over.

Injured Louisville guard watched the game from the bench, his broken leg propped in a chair. He couldn't even watch in the closing seconds, covering his eyes with his No. 5 jersey. But he was celebrating at the buzzer.

— Paul Newberry — http://twitter.com/@pnewberry1963

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HANCOCK SHINES

Luke Hancock led Louisville to the brink of a spot in the national championship game.

Hancock came off the bench to score 20 points, pushing the Cardinals to a 72-68 lead win over Wichita State.

— Paul Newberry

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WARE FACTOR

Can the Louisville story get any better?

Walk-on has swished back-to-back 3-pointers to pull the Cardinals within 47-41 of Wichita State in the Final Four.

Henderson is getting more playing time because of the gruesome injury to Kevin Ware.

Now, the fill-in is coming up big for the Cardinals, who have battled back and lead 60-58 with 3:50 to play.

— Paul Newberry

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LOUISVILLE'S WOES

If Louisville had fallen short against Wichita State, the Cardinals would undoubtedly have regretted their poor showing at the free throw line.

The top overall seed had made just 8 of 15 at the stripe at one point.

No. 9 seed Wichita State has built a surprising 43-32 lead with just over 14 minutes remaining in the first Final Four game.

— Paul Newberry

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FRESHMAN SHINES

Freshman Ron Baker is coming up big in the Final Four.

The Wichita State guard leads the Shockers with 11 points and five rebounds, a big reason the ninth-seeded team from Kansas has a 38-31 lead with just under 16 minutes remaining.

Baker has already made three shots from beyond the arc, and he's helping the Shockers cope with Louisville's suffocating press.

Louisville star Russ Smith leads all scorers with 12 points.

— Paul Newberry

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HOLDING ONTO THE BALL

Louisville has forced at least 11 turnovers in every game this season. So far, the Cardinals have forced just four against Wichita State.

The Shockers have not been too rattled by the press and have stayed out of trouble in the halfcourt. They also have seven offensive rebounds.

Usually it's Louisville that creates all those extra opportunities. Not yet.

— Noah Trister — http://twitter.com/@noahtrister

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NOT INTIMIDATED

Say this about the Shockers: They aren't intimidated by mighty Louisville.

No. 9 seed Wichita State, trying to become the lowest-seeded team to win a national title, is holding its own against the top overall seed in the first game of the Final Four.

The Shockers lead the Cardinals 26-25 despite shooting just 30 percent from the field. Wichita State is putting its experience to good use against Louisville's touted press. The Shockers have only four turnovers, compared to seven for the Cardinals.

— Paul Newberry

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THE BIG SLOW DOWN

Wichita State wanted to make the Final Four a knock-down, drag-out fight, and so far it's working. The blue-collar team has done a fairly good job the first half of breaking Louisville's press, and that's turned the game into a half-court blood-and-guts tussle.

Literally, in the case of Carl Hall.

The Shockers’ high-energy forward spent an entire timeout with a wad of cotton stuck up his nostril after getting a bloody nose during one flurry under the basket.

— Dave Skretta — http://twitter.com/@APdaveskretta

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SHOCKING START

Top overall seed Louisville began like it was trying a little too hard to win one for Kevin Ware.

With the injured guard watching from the bench, the Cardinals got off to a dreadful start at the Final Four. They trailed Wichita State 8-0 at the first television timeout, turning it over twice and going 0-for-4 at the foul line.

— Paul Newberry

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'GREAT TO BE HOME'

A broken leg couldn't keep Kevin Ware from sharing the Final Four experience with his Louisville teammates.

There was a loud cheer Saturday when Ware, wearing his No. 5 jersey and supported by crutches, followed his teammates onto the floor before the NCAA semifinal against Wichita State. Ware sat in a chair by the Louisville bench and propped up his surgically repaired right leg on a stack of towels situated on another chair.

Ware's right tibia snapped and broke through his skin in Sunday's Midwest Regional win over Duke. He had surgery Sunday night, was released two days later and on Wednesday flew with the team to Atlanta.

Ware said before the game he feels “great” and added “Obviously, it's great to be home.”

Ware signed with Louisville from Rockdale County High School, about 30 miles east of Atlanta.

Louisville players paid tribute to Ware, No. 5, as they wore T-shirts over their jerseys in pregame warmups with the words “’'Ri5e to the Occasion.”

— Charles Odum — http://twitter.com/@CharlesOdum

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FIRST OUT

Wichita State was the first team to hit the floor at the Final Four on Saturday.

The Shockers slowly walked onto the elevated court of the Georgia Dome more than 60 minutes before their scheduled tip-off against Louisville in the first national semifinal.

Even though they'd had a couple practices in the cavernous football stadium, they still spent a minute staring up at the ceiling, the row upon row of seats and the video screens at each end, almost as if the No. 9 seed was seeing everything for the first time.

Once the balls were finally released by the NCAA, they began their warm-ups in earnest.

Louisville, which played in the Superdome in New Orleans in last year's Final Four, came out about 20 minutes later. The Cardinals wore their suddenly familiar “Ri5e” shirts meant to honor teammate Kevin Ware, who broke his leg in the regional finals against Duke.

— Dave Skretta

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SHOCKER TRIFECTA

When top-seeded Gonzaga played Wichita State during the first week in Salt Lake City, the game plan revolved around stopping Malcolm Armstead and the Bulldogs succeeded. Armstead scored only eight points. Only problem: Ron Baker and Clhcombined for eight 3-pointers and 32 points. Coach Gregg Marshall said even he wasn't expecting that good a shooting night from his team.

Message to Louisville: There's more than one player to stop on the Shockers.

Message to Shockers: To pull another one, against a team like this, might be best if all those guys — Armstead, Baker and Early — are having good nights.

— Eddie Pells

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THINGS TO KEEP AN EYE ON

The Final Four tips off Saturday night and Steve Kerr has a few ideas on how to improve college basketball games.

“I could go on for a while,” said Kerr, who played 15 seasons in the NBA and was the general manager of the Phoenix Suns from 2007-10. He went to the Final Four with Arizona in 1988 and is working his third straight national semifinals as an analyst for Turner/CBS.

A few of his ideas to watch during the Final Four:

— Eliminate timeouts after made shots. “It just makes the game so choppy.”

— Cut out the mandatory media timeouts — under 16, 12, 8 and 4 minutes on the game clock— if a team calls one just before the scheduled timeout.“ I understand that you've got to sell advertising, but there's plenty of time for advertising because there's enough timeouts already.”

— Don't restart the 10-second backcourt count just because a team called a timeout.

— Change the interpretation of the charge/block so it's geared toward the offensive player. “We've got to make the game more pleasing to watch and more fluid.”

— John Marshall — http://twitter.com/@ jmarshallap

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WARE ‘EM OUT

There continues to be major focus on injured Louisville guard Kevin Ware.

Spotted at an apparel tent outside the Georgia Dome: A red T-shirt saying “WARE ‘em out for Kevin.”

Ware's compound leg fracture in last Sunday's regional final was probably the tournament's most gruesome moment, but the Cardinals have rallied around him at the Final Four. Louisville faces underdog Wichita State in Saturday night's semifinals.

— Noah Trister — http://twitter.com/@noahtrister

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FINAL FOUR FEVER

Spring weather arrived Saturday before Louisville and Wichita State tipped off the Final Four inside the Georgia Dome.

And some 100,000 fans descended on downtown Atlanta in the sunny, 70-degree weather— an estimated 20,000 packed Olympic Centennial Park to enjoy the free festivities and about 70,000 inside the arena.

— Charles Odum

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NCAA Finals Watch follows the Final Four games and all the activities surrounding the event as seen by journalists from The Associated Press from across Atlanta. It will be updated throughout the day with breaking news and other items of interest. Follow AP reporters on Twitter where available.

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