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The only ones left

The Baltimore Sun

So much for Cinderella.

So much for having a home-court advantage.

So much for not picking top seeds in the office pool.

Stephen Curry and Davidson are gone but certainly not forgotten after what the NCAA tournament's most scintillating player in decades and the 10th-seeded Wildcats accomplished before falling to Kansas yesterday.

Texas is gone, too, returning from Houston yesterday to its Austin campus after being demolished by Memphis, leaving San Antonio and the Alamodome to the Tigers and three other top seeds.

Is it the Final Four or the Favorite Four? UCLA got there by beating Xavier but also by ignoring the expectations that came with adding one of the nation's top freshmen to a team that had gone to two straight Final Fours.

North Carolina got there by beating Louisville, but also by burying the memory of last year's regional final, in which the Tar Heels blew a big lead and lost in overtime to Georgetown.

Memphis got there -- after reaching the Elite Eight for the third straight year -- by finally silencing the Longhorns, not to mention the critics who have pounded coach John Calipari and his Tigers for playing in Conference USA.

Kansas got there when the magic ran out for Curry and Davidson, taking beleaguered Jayhawks coach Bill Self off the hook -- at least until Saturday's matchup with his predecessor, Roy Williams.

History replaced hysteria when all four top seeds advanced to the national semifinals for the first time.

Glass slippers are not in vogue, at least not this year.

Summing up the feelings of nearly every player and coach who will congregate near the River Walk this weekend, UCLA's Russell Westbrook said, "We have to take care of business."

Westbrook, who scored 17 points in a 76-57 victory over the Musketeers in Phoenix on Saturday, also spoke for his teammates when he said, "Some of us have never gotten over the bad taste of losing in the Final Four.

"Now, we have a chance to get it out."

The Tar Heels erased a similar taste with their 83-73 win over the Cardinals on Saturday night. It came after North Carolina lost a 12-point lead in the second half, and three-time All-American Tyler Hansbrough halted Louisville's comeback nearly single-handedly.

Recalling last year's loss to the Hoyas, Hansbrough said: "That was in the back of a lot of our minds. The difference this year was that we handled that a lot better, and we came down and got some points and just fought back until we had a run."

Hansbrough, who finished with 28 points and 13 rebounds against Louisville, left an impression on the Cardinals.

"You see the guy as a junior and he's getting his jersey retired and you're like, 'Why?'" Louisville's Terrence Williams said. "Then you play against him and you say, 'That's why.' He'll go through the floor just to get a rebound. He's a great player."

There was similar admiration for Curry, who couldn't do to Kansas what he had done to Gonzaga (40 points), Georgetown (30 points) and Wisconsin (33 points) in the most mesmerizing NCAA tournament since Larry Bird led little Indiana State to the championship game in 1979.

Curry, who finished with 25 points, couldn't get off a last-second shot, and point guard Jason Richards missed a 25-footer at the buzzer, leaving the Jayhawks with a 59-57 victory. It is their first Final Four appearance since Roy Williams took them there in 2003, when Williams made his infamous X-rated remark about the North Carolina job after losing to Syracuse.

While players will do their best to downplay it, the semifinal between the Tar Heels and Jayhawks is as much about the coaching legacies of Williams and Self as about a berth in the final. The same pressures that followed Williams to Chapel Hill, where he won a championship in 2005, have long been heaped on Self.

Memphis chased away some ghosts yesterday in an 85-67 victory, mostly from the foul line.

After seeing a 16-point lead cut to four early in the second half, the Tigers built their lead back to double digits and pulled away by making free throws, 30 of 36 for a team that was shooting less than 60 percent from the line.

"There have been some doubters, but that's OK," Calipari said.

It will mark the first trip to the Final Four for Memphis since 1985 and the first for Calipari since he took Massachusetts there in 1996. Both appearances were later vacated by the NCAA because of violations involving former Tigers star Keith Lee and former Minutemen star Marcus Camby.

Memphis, which tied an NCAA record yesterday with its 37th victory this season, also played in the Final Four in 1973, losing to UCLA on Bill Walton's 21-of-22 shooting performance. Bruins freshman Kevin Love has drawn comparisons to Walton.

Love sounded a little bit like Walton after helping the Bruins pull away from the Musketeers with a 14-0 run in the second half.

"I don't think we hang up regional championship banners, do we?" Love said. "We only hang up championship banners, right? That is who we are."

Not a Cinderella in the bunch.don.markus@baltsun.com

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