SYRACUSE, N.Y. --- The seeds held serve in the East, and that spelled the end of Kentucky's season on Friday.
Top-seeded Maryland (29-4) used a balanced offensive attack and strong inside presence to bump the Wildcats from the Sweet 16, 78-68, at the Carrier Dome. The ACC champions got 19 points from All-American guard Juan Dixon while big men Lonny Baxter and Chris Wilcox contributed 16 and 15, respectively. Byron Mouton chipped in with 14 for the winners.
Kentucky (22-10) led early, but trailed for the game's final 38 minutes. The Cats got even at 45, 47, 51 and 53, but could never get over the hump in the second half.
The game's final five minutes proved to be most frustrating for Kentucky, which saw Keith Bogans miss the front end of two bonus situations, Tayshaun Prince miss an open 3-pointer, and a pair of turnovers --- all while facing a five-point deficit.
"It was more of what we didn't do," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said of the missed chances. "We didn't take advantage of a couple of fast-break opportunities and turned the ball over two or three straight times. That just took the wind out of our sails. You could tell the guys started to show some doubt at that point."
"We can't take those back," said Prince, who closed his All-American career at UK with 17 points to finish No. 7 on the school's all-time list just ahead of Cotton Nash. "Those were plays that we didn't make, and they cost us in the end. We had plenty of opportunities to take the lead, and we just didn't get it done."
Maryland, meanwhile, got the job done in many ways, but perhaps none more important than at the foul line. The Terrapins hit 21 of 24 free throws on the night, including 10 of their last 11 to seal the victory.
"I was impressed with their composure down the stretch and making their free throws," Smith said. "It's a sign of a poised, mature, veteran team."
The Terrapins advance to Sunday's regional final against second-seeded UConn. The Huskies reached the title game with a 71-59 win over Southern Illinois in Friday's early game.
Maryland is back in the regional final for the second straight year. Last year, the Terps advanced to the Final Four before bowing out to ACC rival and eventual champion Duke in the semifinals.
"This is a veteran bunch, and these guys have all had quiet goals all year long," Maryland coach Gary Williams said of the Terps' subdued celebration. "But they really want to get back there again."
Kentucky got off to a hot start, taking a 10-4 lead with the help of two Bogans 3-pointers in the opening minutes of play. Dixon countered with two treys of his own for the Terps, pulling them into a 12-12 tie.
A Bogans three-point play and a 3-pointer by Prince put Kentucky up 19-14 at the 11:41 mark, but the Cats experienced one of their familiar scoring droughts over the next 5:32, making just one field goal. Maryland took advantage with a 15-3 run that included five points from Dixon and four from Mouton.
Kentucky pulled within 33-30 and had three chances to pull closer, but turned the ball over four straight times just before the half. Wilcox got free for a dunk with five seconds left to give the Terps a 39-33 lead at the break.
The first half featured four ties and five lead changes. Maryland never trailed in the game's final 38 minutes of play.
The key stretch in the second half came midway through the period as Maryland converted on six straight trips down the floor to break a 53-53 tie. Drew Nicholas started the run with a 3-pointer, but it was five consecutive inside baskets after that which helped the Terps take a 66-59 lead.
"We gave away a lot of weight to them, and they took advantage," Smith said of the 260-pound Baxter and the 240-pound Wilcox.
Maryland finished 44 percent from the field (26 of 59). Baxter was 6-for-9 to lead the Terps.
Kentucky shot only 40 percent from the field (25 of 62) and made just 11 of 17 from the foul line. The Cats also had 17 turnovers to 14 assists to negate a 38-36 rebounding advantage.
Bogans followed Prince with 15 points. Marquis Estill and Jules Camara added 12 and 10, respectively.