MINNEAPOLIS, March 30 (UPI) -- Marquette and Kansas saw to it Saturday that the anxiously awaited matchup between Arizona and Kentucky would not take place.
The teams that were widely regarded to be the top two in college basketball this year were eliminated one step short of the NCAA Tournament's Final Four -- Marquette knocking off Kentucky in a shockingly one-sided contest and Kansas fighting off Arizona in a thriller.
The other two members of the Final Four will be determined when Oklahoma meets Syracuse and Texas takes on Connecticut.
In the day's first contest, Dwayne Ward guided Marquette to an almost perfect first half. Top-seeded Kentucky had won 26 consecutive games and came into the NCAA Tournament as the decided favorite. But the all-around game of Ward, combined with the inside power of Robert Jackson and the outside accuracy of Steve Novak and Travis Diener, turned the game into a shocking rout.
As champions of the Midwest Region, the third-seeded Golden Eagles will participate in the Final Four for the first time since 1977, when the late Al McGuire coached them to the national championship.
Ward produced a triple double, scoring 29 points, claiming 10 rebounds and dishing out 11 assists. And it was his three-point shot with 12 minutes to play in the first half that ignited the Golden Eagles to a magical stretch of basketball.
Prior to Ward's shot, Kentucky held a 14-10 lead. But for the next 10 minutes, the Wildcats made just one of 10 shots, committed five turnovers and surrendered 28 points.
Marquette opened a 45-26 halftime lead while hitting 51 percent of its shots from the field, 55 percent from three-point range and outrebounding Kentucky, 23-16.
Kentucky rushed back to cut its deficit to 59-47 with 10 minutes remaining in the game, but a key call that went against the Wildcats took the steam out of their comeback.
Antwain Barbour dribbled into the lane and put on a spin move and tossed up a layup. The ball went in the basket and the whistle blew, giving Kentucky fans hopes for a three-point play that would cut the deficit to nine points.
But a charge was called on Barbour and the basket was negated.
Marquette scored eight of the next 10 points to halt the Kentucky comeback and Wade took control by scoring 11 points over the next five minutes.
In Anaheim, Kansas' Kirk Hinrich blocked a three-point attempt by Jason Gardner with time running out and Gardner then missed another try at the buzzer, leaving the Jayhawks the winner.
Arizona scored 13 points in a row to close the first half and had a 16-point run in the second period and still could not overcome the Jayhawks, who took the lead for good with 4:34 remaining on a free throw by Keith Langford but led by no more than four the rest of the way.
Kansas, which emerged from the West Region, will meet Marquette next Saturday in New Orleans with the winner of that game playing for the national championship.
In addition to his critical block in the final seconds, Hinrich scored 28 points as the Jayhawks were forced to contend with a tightly-packed zone defense that prevented Kansas superstar center Nick Collison from being a major factor.
Collison managed only eight points with eight rebounds.
With Hinrich putting up three-point shots and Jeff Graves controlling the boards, Kansas built a 38-22 advantage with just over three minutes remaining in the first half.
But Jason Gardner and Luke Walton combined for eight points during a 13-0 run to close the opening period, making it a three-point game at intermission.
Kansas again took control early in the second half with a 14-2 surge that gave the Jayhawks a 56-42 advantage. Arizona promptly ran off 16 consecutive points to go in front and the lead changed hands five more times.
Baseball season opens
ANAHEIM, March 30 (UPI) -- The Major League Baseball season opens Sunday night when the defending World Series champion Anaheim Angels host Texas.
The 2003 season will be the first full campaign under the sport's new collective bargaining agreement, one designed to create a slightly more level playing field between the have and the have nots of the sport.
Anaheim is coming off a surprising season in which the Angels emerged as American League champs and then went the distance in the World Series to down San Francisco.
"After watching Anaheim last year, a lot of people realize how quickly things can change," said new Texas Manager Buck Showalter.
The Texas-Anaheim game will be the only one played Sunday, but there will be 12 on Monday's schedule. The include Pittsburgh's visit to Cincinnati, where the Reds will open their new stadium.
Haas shares Players lead
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla., March 30 (UPI) -- Jay Haas, who will turn 50 in December, battled his way into a share of the lead at the Players Championship Saturday.
Haas was tied for the top spot with Ireland's Padraig Harrington after three rounds of the richest event in American golf.
Tiger Woods inched within five shots of the lead, but he will have to pass 11 players Sunday in order to win his fourth tournament in five starts this season.
Harrington, who began the day with a two-shot lead, shot a 2-under 70 in calm conditions at the TPC-Sawgrass Stadium course. Haas, the oldest player in the field, joined Harrington at 11-under 205 after 54 holes by firing a 67.
Perks had an astonishing finish -- going birdie, double bogey, birdie, eagle, birdie, bogey over his final six holes.
Woods used a hot putter to shoot a 68 that moved him into a tie for 12th place. Woods began play at the 10th tee and he finished his round with birdies on the eighth and ninth. At the par-5 ninth, he put his second shot into deep grass about 30 yards from the green. But he managed to slash it out to within 10 feet and made the putt.
"Those two birdies at the end were important," Woods said. "I hit some pretty sporadic shots out there."
The weather is expected to turn nasty for Sunday's final round with cooler temperatures, rain and high winds in the forecast.
Meunier-Lebouc keeps lead in Nabisco
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif., March 29 (UPI) -- France's Patricia Meunier-Lebouc grabbed a three-shot lead after the third round of the Nabisco Championship Saturday.
It could have been larger if not for some late-round stumbles.
Meunier-Lebouc bogeyed the 16th and 17th holes to complete a 2-under-par 70 and extend her advantage over Swedish superstar Annika Sorenstam at the first major of the LPGA Tour season.
Trying to become the first LPGA player to win the same major championship three years in a row, Sorenstam also struggled late and failed to make up ground with a 1-under 71.
The story of the day at the Mission Hills Country Club was 13-year-old Hawaiian Michelle Wie, who fired a 6-under 66 to match the best round by an amateur at a major in the history of the women's tour.
Wie, a middle school student, climbed within four shots of the lead with a bogey-free round that ended with seven straight pars.
Kings inch closer to NBA lead
CHICAGO, March 30 (UPI) -- Peja Stojakovic scored 19 of his 27 points in the third quarter Saturday night to pace Sacramento past Chicago, 107-92.
It was Sacramento's sixth straight win.
Beginning a six-game road trip, Sacramento pulled within 2 1/2 games of idle Dallas in the battle for the NBA's best record.
Held to three points in the first half, Stojakovic made seven of 10 shots in the third period.
Coming off an embarrassing 140-89 drubbing at Indiana on Friday, the Bulls raced to a surprising 32-22 lead after one period.
But the Kings got their wakeup call in the second quarter, turning the 10-point deficit into a 53-50 halftime lead before taking control in the third quarter.
Other NBA results: Philadelphia 110, Atlanta 89; Boston 110, Cleveland 106; New Jersey 109, Golden State 97; Houston 102, Denver 89; San Antonio 101, Utah 81.
MONTREAL, March 30 (UPI) -- The Ottawa Senators eliminated Montreal from playoff contention Saturday night with a 3-1 victory.
Defenseman Brian Pothier scored the go-ahead goal 6:56 into the second period and Patrick Lalime made 23 saves.
Last season, Ottawa and Montreal were the seventh and eighth seeds in the Eastern Conference and ousted division winners Philadelphia and Boston in the first round of the playoffs.
This season has been a dramatically different story for both teams. Ottawa leads Detroit by three points in the race for the Presidents' Trophy while Montreal has not been able to string together more than three consecutive wins.
The Canadiens needed a win to stay alive. They staved off elimination Friday when Toronto defeated the eighth-place New York Islanders.
Montreal broke on top as captain Saku Koivu scored his 19th goal just 23 seconds into the second period.
But it was all Senators thereafter.
Other NHL results: New York Rangers 3, Boston 1; Detroit 6, St. Louis 2; Colorado 6, Phoenix 1; Buffalo 3, Carolina 1; Philadelphia 3, Pittsburgh 0; Toronto 4, Washington 3 (OT); Florida 1, Tampa Bay 1; Atlanta 3, Nashville 2; Columbus 6, Calgary 4.
Serena defeats Capriati
MIAMI, March 30 (UPI) -- Serena Williams spoiled Jennifer Capriati's 27th birthday Saturday by defending her Nasdaq-100 Open title.
Williams, the top seed, rallied past the sixth-seeded Capriati, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1, in just over two hours at the $6.21 million hardcourt tournament. She captured her 22nd career title and collected $393,000.
The contest was a rematch of last year's final, which Williams won in straight sets. The only other time in the tournament's 19-year history that a repeat final occurred was in 1987-88, when Steffi Graf twice beat Chris Evert.
Williams improved to 17-0 this season and 8-4 lifetime against Capriati. Eight of those matches have gone three sets and Williams has won the last seven encounters.
On the men's side, second seed and two-time defending champion Andre Agassi beat ninth-seeded Albert Costa of Spain, 6-2, 6-4, to move within one win of his third straight title here and sixth career championship in Miami. He has not lost here since losing the 2000 semifinals to Brazilian Gustavo Kuerten.
If he wins Sunday against Spaniard Carlos Moya, Agassi would become the all-time leader in titles here, one more than his wife Steffi Graf.
Gibbs apologizes to NASCAR
FORT WORTH, Texas, March 30 (UPI) -- Joe Gibbs said Saturday his team accepted responsibility for the events that led to NASCAR impounding Tony Stewart's car.
NASCAR officials confiscated Stewart's Chevrolet Monte Carlo on Friday after it did not come close to meeting the templates used in technical inspection.
The rear part of the car was offset, according to NASCAR officials, who also deemed the car was so far off, there was no reason to give the $250,000 machine back to the team. Instead, it will be shipped to NASCAR's Research & Development facility in Concord, N.C. for further evaluation.
This is the first time in modern NASCAR history that the sanctioning body has taken away a car from a racing team after it failed to pass inspection. Usually, when a car does not pass tech testing, it is returned to the team so it can be repaired to meet the technical requirements.
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