Kentucky, Syracuse Gain NCAA Finals

EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey -- Kentucky, the team everyone expected all year, earned a berth against surprising Syracuse in the NCAA basketball championship game by holding on for an 81-74 win over gritty Massachusetts in a battle of top seeds.


Kentucky, led by Tony Delk's 20 points, had the last run in a game of surges as Massachusetts (35-2), down by as much as 15 points in the second half, twice pulled to within three.


In Saturday's opener, Syracuse kept its cool to collect a 77-69 victory over an error-prone Mississippi State.


The final was scheduled wfor Monday night -- early Tuesday in Moscow.


"The thing about UMass is when you get ahead of them they're going to bite your arm off right up to the elbow," Kentucky coach Rick Pitino said.


Antoine Walker added 14 points for Kentucky to counterbalance the game-high 25 points by the Minutemen's national player of the year, Marcus Camby.


"Camby is just a tough player to stop. We knew he was going to get his points. Our job was to shut the other guys down," Walker said.


"They're a great ball club and they proved it tonight," said Camby. "They were knocking the ball out of my hands and forcing me to take shots I didn't want to."


"As an alumnus of UMass I can say how proud I am of how they came back," said Pitino, who was instrumental in getting his close friend John Calipari the UMass coaching job.


Kentucky (33-2) won the game at the foul line, shooting 22-of-30 while Massachusetts went to the line just 19 times, making 13.


Syracuse was seeded fourth in its region, the lowest seed ever in a championship game, and its coach Jim Boeheim conceded that his team had sneaked into the Final Four.


"Whether you sneak in or not, when you go to the Final Four it doesn't matter how you get there, if some teams drop dead on you and you get here, you're here," said Boeheim.


Syracuse got 21 points from John Wallace and 19 from Todd Burgan as the Orangemen pulled away in the second half to lead by as many as 15 points against the Bulldogs, who turned the ball over 21 times -- 16 more than Syracuse.


In the late game, the Minutemen made sure the result was still in doubt until the final minute by pulling within three points with 62 seconds remaining.


"The game unfolded the way we wanted it to," Calipari said. "We just didn't make the plays down the stretch."


With a minute to go, a three-pointer by Massachusetts guard Edgar Padilla cut the lead to three at 73-70.


But Padilla missed the next two UMass shots, enabling the Wildcats to score six unanswered points on two Mark Pope free throws, a Walker jam and a driving Delk lay-in that took the score to 79-70 with 27 seconds left.


Massachusetts, which had pulled out close games all season, could not come back again.