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Gritty K-State delivers another upset, 61-58 over Kentucky

ATLANTA — Kentucky’s latest group of fabulous freshmen is all done.

Gritty Kansas State made sure of that Thursday night.

Demeaned by many pundits as the worst team still alive in the NCAA Tournament, ninth-seeded K-State got 22 points from Xavier Sneed and gave the South Regional one more upset with a 61-58 semifinal victory over Kentucky.

Next up in the bracket-busting South: the regional final against No. 11 seed Loyola, which continued its stunning run in the tournament with a 69-68 victory over Nevada.

Yep, its 9 vs. 11 in the Elite Eight for the first time in tournament history, with a trip to the Final Four on the line.

Just the way it should be in a regional that became the first in NCAA history to have the top four seeds knocked out on very first weekend, including No. 1-ranked Virginia.

Sneed wasn’t around at the end — he was among three players from Kansas State (25-11) who fouled out — but Barry Brown Jr. came through with the shot of the game to seal it for the Big 12 school.

Brown darted into the lane with the shot clock running down, seemingly blowing by every Kentucky player to get to the basket, and banked one in with 18 seconds remaining to put K-State up 60-58.

“He’s the guy you’ve got to go through. He can make plays,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “He missed a couple of them there down the stretch, but he made a big one at the end.”

Kentucky’s Quade Green put up an airball from beyond the arc and Kansas State rebounded, drawing a foul that sent Amaad Wainright to the line for two free throws that could’ve sealed it. He made only one, giving Kentucky (26-11) one more chance to force overtime.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander got a decent look at the basket, but his shot rimmed out as the horn sounded.

Brown wasn’t done. In the raucous celebration, he leaped over the press table like Superman and sprinted into the arms of the purple-clad Kansas State fan section.

“I just see a lot of grit, a lot of guys that love each other,” Brown said. “We play defense the right way and just play for each other.”

John Calipari was denied a shot at his fifth Final Four in nine seasons as Kentucky’s coach. Fears that his young players would “drink the poison” — the belief that they had an easy path to San Antonio thanks to all the upsets — turned out to be well founded.

With a predominantly blue-clad crowd cheering on Kentucky at Philips Arena — yep, it was definitely “Cat-lanta” — Kansas State raced out to a 13-1 lead before the game was 4 minutes old.

Kentucky finally woke up, closing the gap to 33-29 by halftime. But both teams struggled offensively, and every time it looked like the perennial powerhouse might be on the verge of taking control, K-State had a response.

“We got great stops,” Weber said. “It was such a gutsy performance. Persistence. Relentless. We are playing with all little guys, everyone fouled out, and we kept battling and found a way to win.

Kansas State guard Barry Brown celebrates his team’s win over Kentucky on Friday in Atlanta. - The Associated Press