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Kansas walking on air

Jayhawks rip Ky. as Jordan watches

Seeing "Kentucky" on the opponent's jerseys was motivation enough for Brandon Rush.

Knowing Michael Jordan was watching made it a day to remember.

Rush was a career-best 6 of 7 from long range yesterday, including 4 for 4 in the second half as top-seeded Kansas romped past Kentucky, 88-76, in a West Regional matchup in Chicago of two of the game's most storied programs.

Rush finished with 19 points, and Chicago native Julian Wright scored 15 of his 21 in the second half. The Jayhawks shot a blistering 64 percent in the final 20 minutes to pull away and win their 13th in a row.

"We just had a mind-set that nobody could guard us," Rush said.

Kind of like another guy who played at the United Center. The Kansas squad spotted Jordan's tricked-out Range Rover before the game, and the Jayhawks were thrilled to know His Airness would be watching them.

"I wanted to give him a great performance," Rush said of Jordan. "The whole team wanted to."

Kansas (32-4) now plays fourth-seeded Southern Illinois Thursday in the regional semifinals in San Jose, Calif.

Kentucky is the winningest program in college history, while Kansas claims Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of the game. It's special whenever they meet, especially considering it doesn't happen too often. Only 25 times, in fact, and Kentucky had a decided edge for years.

But it's been all Kansas lately, with the Jayhawks now undefeated in the last three matchups.

This rout was practically a repeat of last year's meeting between the teams in Lawrence, Kan. Rush led the way in that one, a 73-46 blowout that was Kentucky's worst loss in Tubby Smith's 10 years as coach.

The eighth-seeded Wildcats didn't have Randolph Morris in that one, as he served out a 14-game suspension for entering the 2005 NBA draft. But his presence yesterday made little difference as Kentucky (22-12) lost for the seventh time in 11 games.

Morris finished with 22 points, including 14 from the line. Bobby Perry added 21.

"No one wants to end the season on a loss," Smith said. "My hat is off to Kansas. They were really ready, they shot it extremely well. We didn't really have an answer for Brandon Rush."

The loss won't do much to get Smith back in the good graces of Kentucky fans. Despite winning a national championship and five Southeastern Conference titles in his 10 years at Kentucky, Smith has been criticized by the Wildcats faithful in recent weeks for "underachieving."

Athletic director Mitch Barnhart gave Smith a vote of confidence after the SEC tournament, but the fact it was needed shows just how far from favor Smith has fallen. Smith said yesterday he will meet with Barnhart, but plans to return.

"I expect to be back," he said. "Just put it that way."

Southern Ill. 63, Virginia Tech 48 -- The fourth-seeded Salukis got three big 3-pointers from Jamaal Tatum and used suffocating defense to pull away from the Hokies in a second-round matchup in Columbus, Ohio.

Tatum, the Missouri Valley Conference's player of the year, scored 21 points. Tony Young added 17 points and Bryan Mullins 11 for Southern Illinois (29-6), which has won 15 of its last 16 in reaching the Round of 16 for the first time since 2001.

Jamon Gordon had 16 points and Deron Washington added 15 for fifth-seeded Virginia Tech (22-12), which hadn't been held to fewer than 54 points all year. Zabian Dowdell, a first-team All-ACC choice who came in averaging 18 points per game, had just 7.

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