All week long, all Mississippi State guards Darryl Wilson and Marcus Bullard heard about was the dynamic, high-powered Connecticut backcourt.
Ray Allen this.
Doron Sheffer that.
"Maybe that got us more focused," Bullard said.
"That's all we've been reading in the papers; their guards," Wilson said. "We're pretty good ourselves."
Well, they showed folks that Friday night.
Wilson scored 27 points, including a crucial driving scoop shot in the waning moments, while Bullard ran the methodically effective offense and stymied Allen, keying a 60-55 upset of top-seeded UConn in the Southeast Regional semifinals at Rupp Arena.
The Bulldogs (25-7), the Southeastern Conference tournament champions, advance to the Elite Eight for the first time in the program's history and meets Cincinnati at 5 p.m. Sunday for the right to advance to the Final Four.
UConn (32-3), which won both the Big East's regular-season and tournament titles and set a school record for wins, became the second No.
1-seeded team to fall.
"I am tremendously proud of this team for the season; it was the best team I've coached in my 10 years at Connecticut," Huskies coach Jim Calhoun said. "But we did not play tonight the way we played the whole year."
Instead of pushing the tempo, UConn let MSU dictate the pace from the start and fell behind by as many as 16 in the first half, thanks largely to Wilson hitting five three-pointers.
"First of all, they played well, but really, we feel, I can take personally responsibility as well as the point guard, we didn't push the ball enough, we didn't force the game enough," Sheffer said. "With all due respect they deserve, we share that responsibility."
The Huskies still trailed 50-35 when Wilson scored on a fastbreak layup with 11:59 left, but the Bulldog offense grew a bit tentative, scoring just two field goals and five points in the next 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, UConn rallied as it had in three of its previous four games. Allen hit two three-pointers to cut the lead to 55-50 with 3:23 left.
With his team desperate for a basket, Wilson, a 6-foot-1 senior who made seven three-pointers in the game, worked the shot clock down, drove into the lane and scooped a shot between two taller Huskies.
"I just threw it up in the air and it went in; I was surprised it went in, but my shot was falling," Wilson said.
Junior forward Kirk King answered with a tap-in, and after junior forward Dontae' Jones made just one of two free throws, Sheffer hit a three-pointer to bring UConn within 58-55.
Mississippi State, for one of the few times, turned the ball over against UConn's pressure with 28 seconds left. But Allen missed a three-pointer as 6-10 senior forward Russell Walters jumped out to try to block the shot.
"That was the first time I had to step up like that and hit two free throws," Erick Dampier said. "I didn't think the first one was going to go in when it hit (the front of the rim), but it rolled around and in."
In its two previous tournament games, Mississippi State held Virginia Commonwealth and Princeton to a combined 33 percent shooting from the field. The nation's fifth stingiest team held UConn to 32 percent.
Allen, a consensus first-team All-American and the Big East Player of the Year, would finish 9-of-24 from the field. Sheffer was 3-of-14.
"A lot of times, the notion of passing the ball was not in my mind," Allen said. "The whole team, we didn't pass the ball quite as well as we have in the past. It started with us all season long. Doron's definitely a catalyst along with myself. We have to get the rest of the team involved and tonight, it didn't happen."
"Our guys played as hard as they possibly could," MSU coach Richard Williams said. "Connecticut has an excellent team with two great players. A lot of people wanted to talk about the guard matchup and our guards played great."
CINCINNATI 87, GEORGIA TECH 70: Junior guard Damon Flint scored a game-high 18 points and, perhaps more importantly, shut down Georgia Tech's Stephon Marbury.
Marbury, coming off a 29-point effort on 10-of-12 shooting against Boston College, was held to 4-of-13 shooting and 15 points. Marbury, in what even his coach admitted might have been his final collegiate game, didn't hit a jumper until late in the second half.
"Damon was the key," UC coach Bob Huggins said. "We looked at a lot of tape and we felt if Damon could keep him in front of him, he'd have a really difficult time making shots over the top of Damon.
"Damon's 6-5, but he's got such long arms, he plays 6-6 or 6-7. That was our whole focus and Damon really worked hard all week, trying to keep people in front of him and challenge shots."
Said Flint, the most effective offensive player for the Bearcats (28-4) during the tournament: "When you hear the name tournament, you have to step it up. In the regular season, you're playing to win; in the tournament, you're playing to bury the other guy."
UC, playing before a largely partisan crowd at Rupp Arena, jumped to a 40-30 at the half and, after seeing the lead slip to eight early in the second half, increased the bulge to 64-43 with 11:43 left.
"Now I know how Boston College felt," Georgia Tech (24-12) coach Bobby Cremins said. "We ran into a buzzsaw. I kept waiting for us to get back in the ball game like we did all year. We got within eight and I thought, here it comes. But it never came."
Mississippi State 60, Connecticut 55
Cincinnati vs. Georgia Tech, late
Syracuse 83, Georgia 81 (OT)
Arizona vs. Kansas, late
Tonight on Ch. 10
Midwest: Kentucky vs. Wake Forest, 3:40 p.m.
East: Georgetown vs. UMass, 6 p.m.