FINALS WATCH: Freshman shines, Foul trouble

Associated Press
ADDS IDENTIFICATION AND CAPTION INFORMATION- Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall reacts during the first half of the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball semifinal game against Louisville Saturday, April 6, 2013, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
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ATLANTA (AP) — Around the Final Four and its host city with journalists from The Associated Press bringing the flavor and details of everything surrounding the games.

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FRESHMAN SHINES

Freshman Ron Baker is coming up big in the Final Four.

The Wichita State guard leads the Shockers with 11 points and five rebounds, a big reason the ninth-seeded team from Kansas has a 38-31 lead with just under 16 minutes remaining.

Baker has already made three shots from beyond the arc, and he's helping the Shockers cope with Louisville's suffocating press.

Louisville star Russ Smith leads all scorers with 12 points.

— Paul Newberry — http://twitter.com/@opnewberry1963

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HOLDING ONTO THE BALL

Louisville has forced at least 11 turnovers in every game this season. So far, the Cardinals have forced just four against Wichita State.

The Shockers have not been too rattled by the press and have stayed out of trouble in the halfcourt. They also have seven offensive rebounds.

Usually it's Louisville that creates all those extra opportunities. Not yet.

— Noah Trister — http://twitter.com/@noahtrister

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HALFTIME AT THE FINAL FOUR

Wichita State is halfway to pulling off another NCAA shocker.

The ninth-seeded team leads top overall seed Louisville 26-25 at halftime of the first national semifinal in Atlanta.

Coach Gregg Marshall says the Shockers are controlling with the Final Four game with defense. Louisville is shooting 40 percent from the field (8 of 20) and has turned it over seven times.

Wichita State also is doing a good job against the Cardinals' touted press. The Shockers have turned it over just four times, though poor shooting (9 of 28) has prevented the team from Kansas from building a more sizable lead.

Louisville star Russ Smith bounced back after a poor start, making three straight 3-popinters. He leads all scorers with 11 points, though two fouls are a bit of a concern.

Cleanthony Early leads Wichita State with nine points.

— Paul Newberry

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NOT INTIMIDATED

Say this about the Shockers: They aren't intimidated by mighty Louisville.

No. 9 seed Wichita State, trying to become the lowest-seeded team to win a national title, is holding its own against the top overall seed in the first game of the Final Four.

The Shockers lead the Cardinals 26-25 despite shooting just 30 percent from the field. Wichita State is putting its experience to good use against Louisville's touted press. The Shockers have only four turnovers, compared to seven for the Cardinals.

— Paul Newberry

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THE BIG SLOW DOWN

Wichita State wanted to make the Final Four a knock-down, drag-out fight, and so far it's working. The blue-collar team has done a fairly good job the first half of breaking Louisville's press, and that's turned the game into a half-court blood-and-guts tussle.

Literally, in the case of Carl Hall.

The Shockers' high-energy forward spent an entire timeout with a wad of cotton stuck up his nostril after getting a bloody nose during one flurry under the basket.

— Dave Skretta — http://twitter.com/@APdaveskretta

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QUICK STAT

The Wichita State Shockers were shooting 30 percent and winning late in first half.

So far, this is not a physical mismatch, the way many of these Louisville games have played out.

— Eddie Pells — http://twitter.com/@epells

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SHOCKING START

Top overall seed Louisville began like it was trying a little too hard to win one for Kevin Ware.

With the injured guard watching from the bench, the Cardinals got off to a dreadful start at the Final Four. They trailed Wichita State 8-0 at the first television timeout, turning it over twice and going 0-for-4 at the foul line.

— Paul Newberry

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FINAL FOUR BEGINS

Enough with the talk. The Final Four is under way at the Georgia Dome.

Top overall seed Louisville, with injured Kevin Ware cheering from the bench, has tipped off with surprising Wichita State in the first of two semifinal games. The nightcap features Michigan against Syracuse, a matchup of No. 4 seeds that are two wins away from winning it all.

This is the third time in 12 seasons that college basketball's signature event has been held in Atlanta's 70,000-seat stadium, which is normally home to the NFL Falcons. It will likely be the last, as the Georgia Dome is scheduled to be replaced a new retractable-roof stadium by 2017.

— Paul Newberry

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'GREAT TO BE HOME'

A broken leg couldn't keep Kevin Ware from sharing the Final Four experience with his Louisville teammates.

There was a loud cheer Saturday when Ware, wearing his No. 5 jersey and supported by crutches, followed his teammates onto the floor before the NCAA semifinal against Wichita State. Ware sat in a chair by the Louisville bench and propped up his surgically repaired right leg on a stack of towels situated on another chair.

Ware's right tibia snapped and broke through his skin in Sunday's Midwest Regional win over Duke. He had surgery Sunday night, was released two days later and on Wednesday flew with the team to Atlanta.

Ware said before the game he feels "great" and added "Obviously, it's great to be home."

Ware signed with Louisville from Rockdale County High School, about 30 miles east of Atlanta.

Louisville players paid tribute to Ware, No. 5, as they wore T-shirts over their jerseys in pregame warmups with the words "''Ri5e to the Occasion."

— Charles Odum — http://twitter.com/@CharlesOdum

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STARTING LINEUPS

There were no surprises in the starting lineups for the first national semifinal.

Louisville (33-5) started guards Russ Smith and Peyton Siva, forwards Chane Behanan and Wayne Blackshear and center Gorgui Dieng as it participates in its second straight Final Four.

Wichita State (30-8), playing in its first Final Four since 1965, went with a three-guard lineup of Malcolm Armstead, g and Tekele Cotton along with forward Cleanthony Early and Carl Hall. Early was recently reinserted in the starting lineup after coming off the bench.

The officials are Les Jones, Karl Hess and Terry Wymer, with Mike Eades on standby.

— Dave Skretta

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FIRST OUT

Wichita State was the first team to hit the floor at the Final Four on Saturday.

The Shockers slowly walked onto the elevated court of the Georgia Dome more than 60 minutes before their scheduled tip-off against Louisville in the first national semifinal.

Even though they'd had a couple practices in the cavernous football stadium, they still spent a minute staring up at the ceiling, the row upon row of seats and the video screens at each end, almost as if the No. 9 seed was seeing everything for the first time.

Once the balls were finally released by the NCAA, they began their warm-ups in earnest.

Louisville, which played in the Superdome in New Orleans in last year's Final Four, came out about 20 minutes later. The Cardinals wore their suddenly familiar "Ri5e" shirts meant to honor teammate Kevin Ware, who broke his leg in the regional finals against Duke.

— Dave Skretta

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SHOCKER TRIFECTA

When top-seeded Gonzaga played Wichita State during the first week in Salt Lake City, the game plan revolved around stopping Malcolm Armstead and the Bulldogs succeeded. Armstead scored only eight points. Only problem: Ron Baker and Clhcombined for eight 3-pointers and 32 points. Coach Gregg Marshall said even he wasn't expecting that good a shooting night from his team.

Message to Louisville: There's more than one player to stop on the Shockers.

Message to Shockers: To pull another one, against a team like this, might be best if all those guys — Armstead, Baker and Early — are having good nights.

— Eddie Pells

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THINGS TO KEEP AN EYE ON

The Final Four tips off Saturday night and Steve Kerr has a few ideas on how to improve college basketball games.

"I could go on for a while," said Kerr, who played 15 seasons in the NBA and was the general manager of the Phoenix Suns from 2007-10. He went to the Final Four with Arizona in 1988 and is working his third straight national semifinals as an analyst for Turner/CBS.

A few of his ideas to watch during the Final Four:

— Eliminate timeouts after made shots. "It just makes the game so choppy."

— Cut out the mandatory media timeouts — under 16, 12, 8 and 4 minutes on the game clock— if a team calls one just before the scheduled timeout." I understand that you've got to sell advertising, but there's plenty of time for advertising because there's enough timeouts already."

— Don't restart the 10-second backcourt count just because a team called a timeout.

— Change the interpretation of the charge/block so it's geared toward the offensive player. "We've got to make the game more pleasing to watch and more fluid."

— John Marshall — http://twitter.com/@ jmarshallap

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WARE 'EM OUT

There continues to be major focus on injured Louisville guard Kevin Ware.

Spotted at an apparel tent outside the Georgia Dome: A red T-shirt saying "WARE 'em out for Kevin."

Ware's compound leg fracture in last Sunday's regional final was probably the tournament's most gruesome moment, but the Cardinals have rallied around him at the Final Four. Louisville faces underdog Wichita State in Saturday night's semifinals.

— Noah Trister — http://twitter.com/@noahtrister

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FINAL FOUR FEVER

Spring weather arrived Saturday before Louisville and Wichita State tipped off the Final Four inside the Georgia Dome.

And some 100,000 fans descended on downtown Atlanta in the sunny, 70-degree weather— an estimated 20,000 packed Olympic Centennial Park to enjoy the free festivities and about 70,000 inside the arena.

— Charles Odum

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NCAA Finals Watch follows the Final Four games and all the activities surrounding the event as seen by journalists from The Associated Press from across Atlanta. It will be updated throughout the day with breaking news and other items of interest. Follow AP reporters on Twitter where available.

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