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Matthews, Marquette hold off Crawford, Kentucky

Mar 21, 2008 - 1:20 AM
ANAHEIM, California (Ticker) -- Wesley Matthews' big effort at the free-throw line helped Marquette stave off Kentucky.

Matthews made all eight of his free throws inside the closing 31 seconds Thursday as the sixth-seeded Golden Eagles held off a late run by the No. 11 Wildcats for a 74-66 first-round victory in the South Regional.

Matthews finished with 13 points and Jerel McNeal led the way with 20 for Marquette (25-9), which advanced to face third seed Stanford on Saturday.

"We never wilted," Marquette coach Tom Crean said. "We never got that big put-away we were looking for because Kentucky kept coming back, but we stepped up and made the plays that we had to make, and that's what you have to do at this time of year."

This was a tournament-record 10th meeting between the teams, with the Golden Eagles winning for the sixth time.

Senior Joe Crawford carried Kentucky (18-13), pouring in a career-high 35 points and draining five 3-pointers before fouling out of his final game.

"I just didn't want to lose, so it didn't matter if I was going to miss," Crawford said. "I just wanted to keep going at it."

The Wildcats, who were making a record 49th appearance in the NCAAs, closed within 66-63 on Crawford's 3-pointer from the top of the key with 38 seconds left.

Matthews was fouled seven seconds later, making both attempts. He added six more free throws down the stretch to finish 9-of-10 from the stripe.

"It was just a matter of going up there and making them," Matthews said. "They're shots that we take all the time, shots that we practice, shots that you been taking since you started playing this game. You know, it's easy to make them when your whole team and coaching staff has confidence in you."

A 3-pointer from Ramel Bradley cut Kentucky's deficit to 68-66 with 23 ticks remaining, but Matthews was fouled on the ensuing inbounds.

Trailing, 70-66, with under 20 seconds left, the Wildcats committed a key turnover when sophomore guard Derrick Jasper threw an ill-advised pass to Bradley that bounced off the senior guard's head and to Matthews, who immediately was fouled.

For the game, the Golden Eagles went 23-of-29 on foul shots en route to winning their first game in the NCAA Tournament since a Final Four appearance in 2003.

Marquette had lost two first-round games in that span, including a 61-49 decision against Michigan State last year.

"It means so much to everybody in this locker room," Golden Eagles senior forward Dan Fitzgerald said. "The third time's the charm, and we're so thankful for that. We've got some better basketball to play, and we're excited about that."

The Golden Eagles actually gave up a lead in a loss to Alabama two years ago, something the team would not do again thanks to experience.

"This team's been in the NCAA Tournament for three years, but we've never - we were young," Crean said. "I mean, they're growing up, they're mature. They understand how to win. They understand how to do things and they understand how to correct themselves, and I think that's very, very important. And I think that has a lot to do with why we were able to be successful today."

After a tightly contested first half, Marquette took its largest lead of the game at 11 points on the strength of a 13-5 run. Lazar Hayward hit a 3-pointer and completed a tip-in during the burst, which gave the Golden Eagles a 54-43 advantage with 10 minutes left.

However, Kentucky did not go away, responding with a 10-2 run to close within 56-53 with 5:13 to play. Crawford had a three-point play and a basket from the arc in the run.

Although he shot just 3-of-9 from the field, Dominic James came up with a pair of big baskets for the Golden Eagles. The junior guard hit a 3-pointer after an offensive rebound by Fitzgerald to make it 59-53 and added a baseline layup to extend the lead to eight points with 3:13 remaining.

Thanks to an 8-of-10 effort from the stripe, James finished with 15 points, and Hayward added 16 and seven rebounds.

James also displayed a moment of class, going up to Crawford after he fouled out and congratulating him on his effort.

"That's what competition's all about," James said. "He's a competitor himself. And, you know, as hard as we work out there on the floor, the game was pretty much over and he played a heck of a ball game. You saw the performance out there, and he put his heart out there on the floor."

The senior guard was forced to try and carry Kentucky, especially after second-leading scorer and top rebounder Patrick Patterson went down with a stress fracture in his foot five games ago.

"He's done that ever since Patrick went down, he and Ramel both," Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie said. "But the numbers looked like that, I think they had 54 points today, is that right, 54 out of 66, which is not good for our team. But whatever it takes for those guys to give, give their team a chance to win, that's what they've done, even before Patrick went out."

Also playing his final game, Bradley scored 19 points for the Wildcats, who were outrebounded, 34-26, and saw their 12 turnovers turned into 20 points. The Golden Eagles had just seven giveaways.

Despite losing in the first round in the NCAAs for the first time since 1987, Kentucky's presence in the tournament was impressive as the Wildcats overcame a disastrous non-conference schedule that included a stunning loss to Gardner-Webb at Rupp Arena.

"I'm really proud of our team," Gillispie said. "I'm not excited about losing today because that's not what we're all about, but our team never gives up. They never give in. They've had to overcome so many things. They never whined about any of those things. Just great effort all season long and I'm really, really, really proud, even though today's result was not what we wanted."