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Syracuse to play without Onuaku again

Associated Press / March 25, 2010

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SALT LAKE CITY — Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said his team won’t have Arinze Onuaku tonight against Butler in the West Regional semifinals of the NCAA Tournament.

Boeheim said the 6-foot-9-inch center, who has an injured right quadriceps, is doing better but will not be available, and the coach didn’t speculate on whether Onuaku would be able to play Saturday if the team advances.

Xavier and Kansas State will square off in the late game of the regional.

Boeheim is trying to get the top seeded Orange (30-4) past this round for the first time since they won the national title in 2003.

Unfortunately they won’t have Onuaku, who averaged 10.5 points and 5.1 rebounds this season.

Syracuse defeated Vermont by 23 and Gonzaga by 22 points without him in the first two rounds.

After two games in the unfamiliar role of a higher seed, Butler is back where the Bulldogs are much more accustomed to being.

Butler, the fifth seed, may eventually shed its image as an underdog but doesn’t seem to be in much of a hurry to do so. Actually, the Bulldogs really don’t seem to care either way.

“You don’t ever look at the seed or the number next to the team’s name, otherwise, you’ll let that become a factor in your mind,’’ Butler coach Brad Stevens said.

Butler is unbeaten in the NCAA Tournament as the higher seed. But that has only happened four times and the Bulldogs (30-4) are quite comfortable playing as one of the tourney’s lesser-known teams.

The fifth seed is the highest for the school in its 10 NCAA appearances, matching the Bulldogs’ position in 2007, when they also reached the regional semifinals before losing to eventual champion Florida.

In the late game, Kansas State guard Jacob Pullen can’t forget the way he felt on New Year’s Eve 2007 — the night his team got blown out by Xavier.

“They laughed on the court, played around,’’ Pullen said. “You don’t forget things like that. So when you get the opportunity to play against a team like that, you always remember that.’’

K-State got payback for the 26-point loss — the worst of coach Frank Martin’s short career — with a physical, grinding 15-point win this season in Manhattan.

Now, one of America’s hidden little rivalries resumes, this time with the stakes ratcheted up a few notches. Kansas State (28-7) is two wins from its first Final Four since 1964. Xavier (26-8) never has been.

Xavier forward Jamel McLean said, “It’s a team we have a series with. We’ve got them, they got us. We’re about to go out there again and rally up and knock each other’s heads off.’’

Kansas State will be playing 22 years to the date of its last trip to the regionals, back when Lon Kruger and Mitch Richmond led the Wildcats on a run that ended one loss short of the Final Four. K-State was beaten by Danny Manning and Kansas that year in the regional final.

Xavier, meanwhile, joins Michigan State as one of the only two programs to make the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament three years in a row.