BUFFALO, N.Y. » In a span of three days, Shabazz Napier and Connecticut knocked out both Philadelphia schools in the NCAA Tournament.
Now, the seventh-seeded Huskies are off to the East Regional semifinals in New York City to see how much more bracket busting they can do a year after being barred from the postseason because of academic sanctions.
Second-seeded Villanova became the highest seed to fall so far after Napier scored 25 points in leading UConn to a 77-65 victory Saturday night. The win came on the heels of another upset in Buffalo, where Dayton, the 11th seed in the South, beat third-seeded Syracuse 55-53.
"I guess it means something to you guys, but at the end of the day, just because they’re No. 2 and we’re No. 7, they don’t get extra points to start the game off," Napier said. "Everybody’s the same."
UConn was better, thanks to Napier, who scored 24 points two days earlier in an 89-81 overtime win against Philadelphia’s other tournament entry, Saint Joseph’s.
Napier had 21 points in the second half and helped put the game away by hitting three consecutive 3-pointers to give the Huskies a 54-45 lead with 6:08 remaining. The star guard was limited to eight minutes in the first half by foul trouble, and he avoided a major scare when he briefly left the game after hurting his right shin with 4:01 left.
"The pain was excruciating. I couldn’t put any pressure on it," Napier said. "Our trainer told me to mentally stay strong. … He put that Bio-freeze on it, and I was ready to go."
The freeze didn’t cool him down once Napier returned after missing only about 40 seconds of action.
Holding the ball atop the 3-point arc, he blew past a defender while driving into the paint and flipped in an underhanded reverse high off the backboard to put UConn ahead 60-51 with 2:19 remaining.
Lasan Kromah scored 12 points for the Huskies, while DeAndre Daniels, Ryan Boatright and Terrence Samuel each had 11.
Connecticut (28-8) advanced to face the winner of Sunday’s game between third-seeded Iowa State and No. 6 seed North Carolina.
"It’s unbelievable," UConn athletic director Warde Manuel said. "It’s extra special, given what this team went through last year. Extra special."
Manuel was referring to the academic sanctions that essentially rendered the Huskies’ 20-10 finish meaningless last year in Kevin Ollie’s first season as coach. Ollie improved to 2-0 in his tournament debut, two years since taking over after Jim Calhoun stepped down because of health issues.
Ryan Arcidiacono scored 18 points for Villanova (29-5) in a matchup of former Big East rivals. James Bell had 14 and Darrun Hilliard added 13.
"Certainly a tough way to end the season," Wildcats coach Jay Wright said. "I didn’t want to let this put a damper on what this group has done all year."
FLORIDA 61, PITTSBURGH 45
ORLANDO, Fla. » Scottie Wilbekin scored 21 points and the top-seeded Gators advanced to the Sweet 16 for the fourth consecutive year.
Patric Young added seven points and eight rebounds for the Gators, who extended their school record for consecutive wins to 28 with the victory.
Coming off a lackluster performance in its NCAA opener, Florida (34-2) played with considerably more energy and intensity against the Panthers (26-10).
Florida will play either fourth-seeded UCLA or 12th-seeded Stephen F. Austin on Thursday in Memphis, Tenn. The Bruins and Lumberjacks play Sunday in San Diego.
Talib Zanna led the Panthers with 10 points, their only player in double figures.
LOUISVILLE 66, SAINT LOUIS 51
Orlando, Fla. » Luke Hancock scored 21 points and the defending national champion Cardinals (31-5) shrugged off a cold shooting performance to advance to the Sweet 16 for the third straight year.
Fourth-seeded Louisville shot under 45 percent, had 19 turnovers and only got 11 points from star Russ Smith. It didn’t matter, with the fifth-seeded Billikens (27-7) going 0-for-15 from 3-point range and struggling to take care of the ball.
Louisville moves on against either No. 1 seed Wichita State or No. 8 seed Kentucky. The unbeaten Shockers and Wildcats meet Sunday in St. Louis.
Saint Louis, which has never been to the Sweet 16, lost in the third round of the tournament for the third consecutive year.
Dwayne Evans led the Billikens with 16 points and Atlantic 10 player of the year Jordair Jett finished with 15.
MICHIGAN 79, TEXAS 65
MILWAUKEE » Nik Stauskas had 17 points and eight assists to lead the Wolverines (27-8) to the Sweet 16 for the second straight year with a win over the Longhorns.
Jordan Morgan added 15 points and 10 rebounds as Michigan advanced to the regional semifinals in Indianapolis. The Wolverines will face the winner of Sunday’s Mercer-Tennessee game in Raleigh, N.C.
Michigan lost to Louisville in the national championship game a year ago.
Isiah Taylor scored 22 points for Texas on 8-for-22 shooting. The Longhorns (24-11) outrebounded the Wolverines 41-30, but got off to a slow start and never recovered.
WISCONSIN 85, OREGON 77
MILWAUKEE » Ben Brust hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:07 left and the second-seeded Badgers (28-7) overcame the seventh-seeded Ducks (24-10) to reach the Sweet 16.
Brust’s clutch 3 from the corner gave the Badgers the lead for good in a heavyweight fight of an NCAA Tournament game.
They will play third-seeded Creighton or No. 6 seed Baylor in the regional semifinals.
Traevon Jackson followed with three free throws, but missed one with 21 seconds left to give Oregon one more chance to tie trailing by three.
Oregon gave it to Joseph Young, who had made big shots all night and scored 29 points.
But Young missed a rushed 3 from the wing and the Badgers sealed it at the foul line as an arena filled with Wisconsin fans broke into a deafening roar.
SAN DIEGO STATE 63, NORTH DAKOTA STATE 44
SPOKANE, Wash. » Xavier Thames scored 30 points, and the fourth-seeded Aztecs (31-4) beat the Bison to reach the round of 16 for the second time in school history.
San Diego State now makes the short drive up the interstate to Anaheim, Calif., where they will face either No. 1 seed Arizona or eighth-seeded Gonzaga in the West Regional semifinals.
Thames, who was 9-for-19 from the field, had five assists and ended the comeback hopes of the Bison with a six-point spurt late in the second half.
Dwayne Polee II was the only other San Diego State player in double figures with 15 points.
Kory Brown led the 12th-seeded Bison (26-7) with 13 points, but the best shooting team in the country shot only 31.9 percent.