On paper, a tall and athletic Kentucky should have easily handled a smaller but gritty Kansas State team.
March Madness is not conducted on paper, however.
No. 9 K-State continued its magical NCAA Tournament run with a 61-58 victory over No. 5 Kentucky Thursday night, and as a result, finds itself one win away from the Final Four.
K-State did what it needed to do against a more talented team — play the game at its own pace. Bruce Weber’s team jumped out to an early 13-1 lead and never let Kentucky take control of the game, although the Wildcats from Lexington did take a one-point lead on a couple of occasions.
Xavier Sneed broke out of his slump at the perfect time, scoring a game-high 22 points on a night very few players found a rhythm on the offensive end. He fouled out in the final minutes and Barry Brown and Cartier Diarra carried K-State the rest of the way.
Brown made a layup with 18 seconds left to put K-State up 60-58, and the defense took over from there.
Kentucky (26-11) found refuge at the free-throw line, a place John Calipari’s team visited 37 times, including 23 in the first half. But UK made just 23 of 37 attempts, keeping the door open for K-State despite missing an offensive identity.
Brown scored 13 points and was the only player apart from Sneed to reach double figures. But K-State got 15 points off the bench from four different players, which was critical in a game in which foul trouble plagued both teams.
The win marked K-State’s first-ever against Kentucky after nine unsuccessful attempts. The Wildcats will face No. 11 Loyola-Chicago at 5:07 p.m. Saturday for the South Region championship and a berth in the Final Four.