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Xavier looks to extend string of upsets against Gonzaga

In a matchup of past and present Cinderellas, No. 1 seed Gonzaga and No. 11 seed Xavier will square off Saturday for each school’s first trip to the Final Four.

The Bulldogs are 8½-point favorites over the Musketeers and Westgate sports book manager Ed Salmons expects the clock to strike midnight on Xavier’s impressive run of upsets over No. 6 seed Maryland, No. 3 seed Florida State and No. 2 seed Arizona.

“At some point, they’re going to run out of gas. This might be the spot,” Salmons said. “I’d be shocked if they hang with Gonzaga the whole game. I think Gonzaga will wear them down. At some point, they’ll crack.

“That team has overachieved so much, it’s ridiculous.”

Friday’s showdown between UCLA and Kentucky was the most-anticipated matchup of the Sweet 16, but Xavier’s stunning 73-71 win over Arizona on Thursday as 7½-point underdogs was the biggest decision at Las Vegas sports books.

“We needed Xavier to win that game straight up. Otherwise it would’ve been a big loss for us,” Mirage sports book manager Jeff Stoneback said. “Everybody was all-in on Arizona. We had several five-figure money-line wagers on Arizona and every parlay was rolling in on Arizona.”

The Musketeers, who erased an eight-point deficit in the final 3:44, went ahead 73-71 on Sean O’Mara’s layup with 44 seconds left and held on to bust countless brackets and turn futures tickets on the Wildcats into trash.

The wiseguys sweated out a win on the under as the total closed at 145 and also sat at 144½.

The public took a tough loss on the over as Arizona missed a jumper and O’Mara missed a free throw with 22 seconds left before Allonzo Trier missed a 3-pointer in the final seconds and Xavier dribbled the clock out.

One South Point bettor is hoping the glass slipper is a better fit for South Carolina, the surprising No. 7 seed that buried Baylor 70-50 on Friday as 3-point underdogs. The South Point wrote a $1,000 futures ticket on the Gamecocks at 90-1 odds to win the NCAA title before the tournament began.

The public won Thursday on Kansas, a 5½-point favorite over Purdue which broke open a close game at halftime en route to a 32-point rout. But it lost on Michigan, which closed at pick Thursday in its 69-68 loss to Oregon.

“The public was all-in on Michigan,” Stoneback said.

The Wolverines’ loss — which wasn’t over until Derrick Walton Jr.’s jumper bounced off the rim in the final seconds — also ended Derek Stevens’ tournament betting binge. The Las Vegas casino owner would have pocketed $1 million if Michigan had won the NCAA title on a $12,500 futures bet he made March 14 at 80-1 odds at the Golden Nugget. Stevens, who owns The D and the Golden Gate, also lost $109,000 betting on the first round for total tourney losses of $121,500.

The top-seeded Jayhawks are favored by 7 points over the Ducks in Saturday’s nightcap.

“I definitely think that Oregon can beat Kansas. It’s a huge coaching mismatch. Oregon coach (Dana Altman) is really good,” Salmons said. “Kansas’ win (Thursday) will go to their heads. They’ll come in so overconfident, I can definitely see Oregon beating them or at least covering the spread.”

Salmons said he took a big five-figure money-line parlay Friday on North Carolina and Gonzaga. The top-seeded Tar Heels covered as 7-point favorites over Butler in a 92-80 win.

At least one professional bettor has wagered that Xavier will upset the Bulldogs and stay at the ball. Stoneback said he took a money-line bet on the Musketeers at plus-340.

After a rash of overs in the first two rounds, five of the eight Sweet 16 games went under, including Kentucky’s 86-75 win over UCLA.

Salmons said the Westgate took some smart money on the Kentucky-UCLA over, but Stoneback said sharp money was on the under at the Mirage.

“We need the over in the UCLA-Kentucky game,” he said before it tipped off. “We haven’t been in this position much.”

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0354. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.

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