MINNEAPOLIS, March 29 (UPI) -- Dwayne Ward guided Marquette to an almost perfect first half Saturday that sent the Golden Eagles storming into the Final Four with an 83-69 blasting of the Kentucky Wildcats.
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.
"I was just going to give it my all and leave nothing on the court," Wade said. "Once I got going, my teammates did a great job of finding me. And once anybody gets going, they are tough to guard."
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. They will meet Kansas in one of the semifinals next Saturday in the Louisiana Superdome.
"It's a great feeling," Marquette Coach Tom Crean said. "I can't describe it. I just know that we feel great and I'm unbelievably excited for this team."
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 (27-5) 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.
"We didn't have an answer for Wade," Kentucky Coach Tubby Smith said.
"We played so unselfish from the very beginning," Crean said. "This team will join the 1977 team. This team has to be right up with them."
Jackson added 24 points and 14 rebounds for Marquette, Novak had 16 points and Diener made two three-pointers in addition to playing a solid floor game at point guard.
Kentucky's bid for a Final Four berth was damaged by an ankle injury suffered in the regional semifinals by Keith Bogans.
Bogans played Saturday, but was not at full strength. He still scored 15 points, as did teammate Gerald Fitch.
"Just by being out there, I was trying to show my teammates how badly I wanted to play," said Bogans, the fourth-leading scorer in school history. "It meant a lot to me to be out there playing this game."
The Wildcats suffered their first loss since a defeat to another Conference USA squad, Louisville, on Dec. 28.
Marquette became the first Final Four school from outside the six major conferences (Big East, Southeastern, Atlantic Coast, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-10) since Utah reached the title game in 1998.
Wade made all seven shots in the second half, when he scored 18 points. He had four second-half dunks, using a variety of techniques to throw it down.
"He's a great player and we couldn't contain him," Bogans said. "We knew we had our hands full."
Marquette's first-half scourge included a 10-0 run, during whidc Wade scored four points and Diener made a three-pointer, that gave the Golden Eagles a 32-19 lead.
Novak hit back-to-back three-pointers for a 38-21 bulge with 3:10 left before halftime.
Jackson's inside hoop gave Marquette its largest lead at 45-24 with 36 seconds left. Kentucky shot just 26 percent in the first half.
Wade made an amazing play in the first half when he blocked the 6-9 Marquis Estill, took off on a fast break and had a reverse layup goaltended for a 26-19 lead.
"I did get the baseline a lot today," Wade said. "I just took whatever they gave me tonight, and it worked for me."
"Dwyane Wade is a complete player," Crean said. "He is very unselfish, a complete basketball player. And he's that kind of person."
The Golden Eagles also were lifted by a crowd full of Marquette followers wearing blue and yellow. The lower deck close to the court had mostly Golden Eagles' fans, with a few pockets of Kentucky supporters.
"For Marquette, it was a huge crowd," Smith said. "Both games (including a regional semifinal win over Wisconsin) were more or less away games for us because of the crowds. As a No. 1 team, it is something you have to deal with. That made it much tougher to contain Wade."