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Western Kentucky promotes interim coach Ray Harper

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It seems the fans like what Ray Harper’s doing at Western Kentucky. So do his bosses.

Harper will be the school’s new head coach, athletic director Ross Bjork announced Sunday. He’d had the interim tag ever since taking over from Ken McDonald, who was fired in early January.

The Hilltoppers (9-18, 5-9 in Sun Belt) are just 4-7 under Haper, but attendance is up. That was one of the things Bjork liked about him.

“We have total confidence in his ability to return our program to prominence,” Bjork said in a statement. “We put him in a very challenging situation by naming him our interim coach on January 6, but he has performed admirably in these unique circumstances while bringing much-needed energy and excitement to our program.

“He has a comprehensive plan for improvement for every aspect of our basketball program, and he is the right man to lead our historic program into the future. We are confident he will have us back on the path for success in short order.”

Harper, 50, was coach of the year at D-II Kentucky Wesleyan four times and won two titles while these. He also was NAIA coach of the year at Oklahoma City and won two titles there.

They’ve come to expect similar success at Western Kentucky.

The Hilltoppers are one of the game’s proudest programs, reaching the NCAA tournament 21 times, the Sweet 16 seven times and the 1971 Final Four. The last 11 coaches at the school have taken their teams to the Big Dance. McDonald was 62-36 during his tenure, including a trip to the second round in 2009.

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Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament chances take a major blow in loss to No. 16 SMU

SMU guard Nic Moore (11) shoots over Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
(AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
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Nic Moore scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half and added 11 assists as No. 16 SMU knocked off Gonzaga in Moody Coliseum on Saturday night, 69-60.

The Zags got 20 points and 16 boards from Domantas Sabonis, but Kyle Wiltjer scored just four points and shot 2-for-17 from the floor.

It wasn’t pretty.

And it may have been the end of Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament hopes.

Entering Saturday, the Zags had an RPI in the mid-60s, enough to keep them in the bubble conversation but not enough to make them anything more than a team that will be projected to end up on the cut-line.

The issue is a complete lack of quality wins on their résumé. Gonzaga beat UConn in the Bahamas. That’s a borderline top 50 win. They beat Washington, another borderline top 50 win. Beyond that? They swept Pepperdine, beat Tennessee and own a win over Montana. None of those are top 100 wins, and that’s why the SMU game was such a big deal. The Mustangs are a top 25 team. This was a road game. This win was the kind of thing that the Zags could pin at the top of their profile.

But Wiltjer didn’t show up, the Zags had no answer for Moore and they’ll head back to Spokane needing, in all likelihood, to win the WCC’s automatic bid if they want to dance.

POSTERIZED: Cal’s Jaylen Brown has his dunk contest entry

California's Jaylen Brown lays up a shot against Oregon State in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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Cal picked up a big win over Oregon State in Haas Pavilion on Saturday night, and the exclamation point was this emphatic dunk from Jaylen Brown: