MADISON, Wis., March 23 (UPI) -- Maryland, Kansas, Connecticut and Oregon all made it to the NCAA Tournament's regional finals Friday night just as they were forecast to do.
As is usually the case, however, it was not easy.
Oregon scored its winning points just before the buzzer, Kansas survived a close call and both Maryland and Connecticut simply had too much for the opposition as the top seeds in the East and Midwest regions battled their way to within one win of the Final Four.
The first of the Final Four teams will be decided Saturday when Missouri meets Oklahoma in San Jose, Calif. Surprising Kent State will then take on Indiana in Lexington, Ky.
On Sunday, Oregon and Kansas will tangle in Madison, Wis., followed by the Maryland-Connecticut matchup in Syracuse.
Three teams from the Big 12 have survived to this point with no other conference having more than one team left. The elimination of Kentucky by Maryland leaves the tournament without any teams from the Southeastern Conference.
Maryland outdueled Kentucky down the stretch Friday night to post a 78-68 victory while Connecticut ended the run of upstart Southern Illinois, 71-59.
In Madison, the regional semifinals went down to the wire with the key moment in both games coming with 2.8 seconds left.
That was how much time remained when Oregon's Frederick Jones made a layup that gave the Ducks a 72-70 victory over Texas. And 2.8 seconds appeared on the clock when Keith Langford hit two free throws to clinch Kansas' 73-69 decision over Illinois.
Paulson leads Players Championship
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla., March 23 (UPI) -- Carl Paulson, whose season has been disrupted by illness, became the surprise leader of the Players Championship Friday when second-round play was suspended by darkness.
Paulson, who has played in only four other tournaments this year and missed the cut in all of them, finished off a first round of 3-under 69 early Friday and then shot the same score again in the second round to take a one-shot lead in the PGA Tour's most lucrative tournament.
"I came here with no expectations," Paulson said.
Paulson was forced out of action this year when he was diagnosed with miningitis. When he recovered, he had to leave the tour to be with his father, who underwent triple bypass heart surgery.
Tournament officials were still trying to catch up from a 2 ½-hour rain delay on Thursday. The afternoon starters were unable to complete the second round Friday and will do so early Saturday, after which the third round will get underway.
Blustery winds created a stern test for most of the day, but late in the afternoon the winds subsided and allowed a few players to make a run at the lead.
When play was halted, however, it appeared the only player left with a realistic chance to tie or pass Paulson was Jeff Sluman - who was a shot back with three holes to play.
Paulson completed 36 holes at 6-under 138 with Phil Mickelson and Craig Perks tied for second at 139. Mickelson owned the first-round lead when he finished his opening 18 holes early Friday in 8-under 64. But he had to play his second round in the worst of the windy conditions and recorded a 75.
Alone at 4-under 140 was Michael Campbell while Chris DiMarco, David Gossett and Nick Faldo were all at 3-under 141. Mark Calcavecchia and Steve Lowery were also at 3-under as they played the back nine.
Tiger Woods, trying to win the tournament for the second straight year, finished his first round Friday with a 71 and then shot an even-par 72 to leave him five shots off the pace. David Duval was among those tied with Woods at 143.
Stars rally past Coyotes
DALLAS, March 23 (UPI) -- Brendan Morrow and Brent Gilchrist scored in a 53-second span late in the third period as the Dallas Stars came back for a 4-3 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes, extending their unbeaten streak to six games.
The Stars hold the NHL record with 50 consecutive wins when leading after two periods, setting the mark with a 5-2 victory at Washington on March 12.
But in its last five games, Dallas has trailed after 40 minutes and still has earned a point in each, going 2
The Stars trailed for 58:46 until a backhander by Gilchrist tied it 3-3. Working along the right boards, Gilchrist's shot went off the skate of Coyotes defenseman Paul Mara for his second goal since joining Dallas on Feb. 13.
Dallas took its only lead when a one-timer by Morrow trickled past goaltender Sean Burke.
Other NHL results: Atlanta 5, New York Rangers 2; Montreal 3, Tampa Bay 3; St. Louis 3, Anaheim 2.
Nets win night straight at home
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., March 23 (UPI) -- Jason Kidd had 17 points, 15 assists and eight rebounds Friday night as the New Jersey Nets won their franchise record-tying ninth consecutive home game, 108-84, over the struggling Milwaukee Bucks.
New Jersey has not lost at home since Feb. 14 to Detroit. It extended its lead to three games over the Pistons atop the Eastern Conference standings.
Milwaukee has dropped its last four contests to slip to fifth place in the conference, seven games behind the Nets and four behind the Pistons in the Central Division. The Bucks were tied with the Pistons atop the division as recently as Saturday.
In this one, Michael Redd's three-pointer with 6:23 remaining in the second quarter gave the Bucks their largest lead, 38-25. But the Nets countered with a 25-10 run into halftime and took the lead for good at 50-48 on a three-pointer by Kidd with less than a second remaining.
Darvin Ham got Milwaukee within 58-55 on a dunk with 8:45 left in the third quarter, but Kidd nailed another shot from the arc to start a 28-4 burst that was capped by a jumper by rookie Richard Jefferson with 41 seconds left in the period.
The Nets held an 86-62 advantage after three quarters and led by at least 20 points thereafter.
Other NBA results: Charlotte 106, Orlando 92; Indiana 104, Miami 94; Philadelphia 94, Boston 91; Toronto 94, Cleveland 80; Portland 109, Chicago 93; Seattle 112, Houston 82; Los Angeles Lakers 94, Detroit 82.
MLS season gets underway
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., March 23 (UPI) -- Major League Soccer kicks off its seventh season today and, like many years past, the tenor of this one may well define the fate of the young, struggling league.
Questions about the league's massive losses still dog MLS, which contracted by two teams during the offseason and is estimated to have lost as much as $300 million during its existence. Finances apparently were a key factor in the decision by McKinney, Texas not to fund a new stadium for the Dallas Burn.
All but one franchise in the 10-team league is controlled by two investors, Lamar Hunt and Philip Anschutz. Anschutz reportedly lost 66 percent of his net worth last year, dropping an estimated $10 billion in the stock market decline.
MLS managed to find a TV partner of sorts as it traded the rights for the 2002 and 2006 World Cups to ESPN/ABC in exchange for carriage on the networks. However, it is hardly a reciprocal agreement. MLS hopes it will see some money from the deal, which may not have happened without the World Cup rights.
Jeff Gordon wins NASCAR pole
BRISTOL, Tenn., March 23 (UPI) -- Jeff Gordon, driving in the next-to-last qualifying effort of the session, claimed his first career pole at Bristol Motor Speedway Friday with a track-record speed of 127.216 miles per hour.
Gordon claimed the pole in his Chevrolet Monte Carlo for Sunday's NASCAR Winston Cup Food City 500, moving closer to his first top-five finish since last fall in Kansas, the longest drought of his career.
A three-time Winston Cup champion, Gordon clocked the best speed on a cold afternoon as near-freezing temperatures led to blazing speeds on the .533-mile, high-banked track. Gordon snapped Steve Park's two-year-old mark of 126.370 mph.
Robby Gordon had held the provisional pole in his Chevrolet but ended up second at 126.487 mph.
Jeremy Mayfield and Jimmy Spencer both came in at 126.461 mph in their Dodge Intrepids and will start third and fourth, respectively. The third row will be made up of Mike Skinner in a Chevrolet and Matt Kenseth in a Ford Taurus.
Rusty Wallace, who won three of the previous six Food City 500 poles, was 15th. Mark Martin, who has seven career Bristol poles, failed to make the field on speed and will start 37th with a provisional.
Carter out for the year
TORONTO, March 23 (UPI) -- With the Toronto Raptors in freefall, Vince Carter will no longer play with a troublesome left knee.
The Raptors announced Friday that their superstar guard will undergo arthroscopic knee surgery sometime next week and miss the remainder of the regular season.
"For Vince to continue to play would risk a more serious or chronically debilitating injury, so we need to take care of this now," said team physician Dr. Paul Marks.
"Unfortunately, the knee hasn't responded the way we hoped through the process of conventional daily therapy."
Carter has battled through the knee problem since February when he was forced to miss seven games along with the All-Star Game, and the injury grew progressively worse during the past month.
With his jumping ability negated, Carter struggled and the Raptors collapsed, losing 17 of 18 games since the All-Star break to virtually fall out of the playoff race.
Roddick ousted in second round
MIAMI, March 23 (UPI) -- After breaking through at this event a year ago, Andy Roddick of the United States crashed out in the second round Friday at the NASDAQ 100 Open.
Juan Ignacio Chela of Argentina knocked out the 10th-seeded Roddick, 6-3, 2-6, 6-4.
Roddick, the youngest player to finish in the men's top 20 last year at 19 years, four months, asserted himself as a force in his first full year on tour at the 2001 Miami event. He surprised former world No. 1s Marcelo Rios of Chile and Pete Sampras to reach the quarterfinals.
"I just felt like I was fighting out there. Nothing was really clean the whole day," Roddick said. "I don't know if there's one thing that caused it. I think (it was) just a bad day. He played better than I did."
A Florida resident, Roddick committed 37 unforced errors in his first match since withdrawing from the Indian Wells tournament due to an upper respiratory infection.
Anderson to miss entire season
PEORIA, Ariz., March 23 (UPI) -- Seattle Mariners lefthander Ryan Anderson likely will miss the entire season for the second straight year after undergoing surgery Friday to repair a torn labrum in his pitching shoulder.
One of the most promising pitching prospects in the game, the 6-10 Anderson had the procedure performed by Mariners medical director Dr. Larry Pedagana.
On March 13, Anderson, 22, underwent an MRI that revealed a tear in the labrum. The 1997 first-round pick missed the entire 2001 season with the same injury.