Auburn Tigers vs Kentucky Wildcats
When: 2:20 PM ET, Sunday, March 31, 2019
Where: Sprint Center, Kansas City, Missouri
Previews for Digital Sports Desk by Gracenote
KANSAS CITY – SEC rivals Auburn and Kentucky have met 113 times on the court, but none have been as significant as today’s Midwest Region final with a Final Four berth on the line. The fifth-seeded Tigers are the hottest team in college basketball with 11 straight wins and will be trying to take down their third consecutive giant of the sport after coasting past Kansas 89-75 in the second round and routing North Carolina 97-80 in Friday’s Sweet 16.
However, Auburn will have to press forward without star sophomore Chuma Okeke, who suffered a torn ACL Friday night that loomed large over the otherwise historic win for the program. “I think Chuma is our most valuable player,” Tigers point guard Jared Harper told reporters. “He rebounds and gets assists. He scores inside and outside. He can guard all five positions. He’s always in the right spot.” Auburn’s last defeat was a 27-point setback at Kentucky, which survived a tense affair to get past Houston 62-58 in Friday’s second game at the Sprint Center. Sophomore forward PJ Washington returned from a foot injury that caused him to miss the first two rounds and scored 16 points off the bench while delivering a big blocked shot down the stretch.
TV: 2:20 p.m. ET, CBS
ABOUT AUBURN (29-9): The Tigers, in the Elite Eight for the second time in program history, have scored at least 80 points six times during their winning streak and shot 54.5 percent – including 17-of-37 from 3-point range – in the win over the Tar Heels. Okeke’s 20 points led the way while five others reached double figures in scoring and Harper had nine points to go along with 11 assists. Danjel Purifoy, a junior forward who was 4-for-6 from beyond the arc in the Sweet 16, is expected to gobble up many of the available minutes left by Okeke, who is scheduled to have surgery next week.
ABOUT KENTUCKY (30-6): The Wildcats outshot the Tigers 54.5 percent to 32.8 percent in the last meeting while dominating the glass and limiting Auburn’s potent perimeter game to eight 3-pointers, but they expect a very different challenge Sunday. “Eleven in a row. They’re playing and shooting it. They’re playing defense, getting their hands on balls,” Kentucky coach John Calipari told reporters of the Tigers before turning his attention to Washington, who had 24 points in the last matchup with Auburn. “You know, it was – you know, how they’re playing and how we’re playing. I mean it’s good to have PJ back. We don’t win the game today without him. We don’t.” Freshman guard Tyler Herro had a team-high 19 points against Houston and drilled the go-ahead 3-pointer in the final minute.
1. Auburn is playing for its first Final Four berth. Kentucky is vying for its 18th – fifth in 10 seasons under Calipari.
2. Tigers senior G Bryce Brown leads his team in scoring at 15.8 per game – 16.3 in the tournament.
3. Wildcats freshman G Keldon Johnson is averaging eight points on 35 percent shooting in the last two games after scoring 25 points on 10-of-16 in the first-round win over Abilene Christian.
Michigan St. Spartans vs Duke
When: 5:05 PM ET, Sunday, March 31, 2019
Where: Capital One Arena, Washington DC
WASHINGTON DC – Top-seeded Duke squeezed by its last two opponents in the final possession and faces an even bigger challenge Sunday when it battles red-hot second seed Michigan State in the East Region final at Washington D.C., for a trip to the Final Four. The Blue Devils survived two potential winning shots against Central Florida in the second round and Virginia Tech’s attempt to tie in the final second Friday in the Region semifinal.
“Now that it’s March Madness, every game is kind of going to be like this, close, hard-fought games,” Duke freshman forward RJ Barrett told reporters after recording 18 points and a career-high 11 assists Friday. “And we somehow find a way to keep winning at the end. It’s great and we’re not surprised by it, but we’ve just got to keep it up.” Blue Devils freshman phenom Zion Williamson scored 23 and added three blocks in the 75-73 victory over Virginia Tech and is averaging 26.8 points in six games since returning from a knee sprain, but Michigan State comes in with an eight-game winning streak and has won its three NCAA Tournament games by 48 points combined. The Spartans have gotten consistent performances from senior point guard Cassius Winston, who is averaging 18.7 points and seven assists in the tournament, and received career games from freshmen Aaron Henry and Gabe Brown to beat LSU 80-63 in Friday’s Region semifinal. “Amazing,” Winston told reporters after the win. “Just finally being in that position – the work we put in, the time we spent, the ups and downs we’ve been through. At the end of the day to have this moment, to have another opportunity to do some special things.”
TV: 5:05 p.m. ET, CBS
ABOUT MICHIGAN STATE (31-6): The 6-foot-6 Henry is scoring just 6.0 per game overall, but registered career highs of 20 points along with six assists against LSU and told reporters: “It was one of those nights where I just felt like the basket was huge.” Winston averages 18.8 points while shooting 40.2 percent from 3-point range and broke the program record for assists in a single season with 279, moving past Mateen Cleaves (274) on Friday. Second-leading active scorer Nick Ward (13.4), a junior forward, told reporters he expects to play Sunday despite falling on his left hand Friday and suffering a deep bone bruise.
ABOUT DUKE (32-5): Coach Mike Krzyzewski called Tre Jones’ performance Friday “magnificent” after the freshman point guard registered season highs of 22 points and five made 3-pointers while handing out eight assists with no turnovers in 40 minutes. “These guys believed in me all year, especially after the last game with me struggling from 3,” Jones told reporters. “. … Coach kept telling me to take the shots and these guys kept telling me to take my shots. They were able to fall tonight.” Freshman swingman Cam Reddish (13.6 points) was a late scratch Friday due to a knee injury and his status for Sunday is uncertain.
1. Michigan State is looking to reach the Final Four for the 10th time while the Blue Devils seeks their 17th trip.
2. Duke sophomore G Alex O’Connell registered career highs with 35 minutes and seven rebounds in Friday’s win.
3. Brown scored a career-high 15 off the bench Friday and Spartans sophomore F Xavier Tillman is averaging 14 points in the tournament.