Notre Dame stumbles vs. St. John’s, opens up Big East a bit

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NEW YORK– St. John’s is one of those sneaky teams that can pop up on a contender’s schedule down the stretch. Playing with a six-man rotation, the historically young Red Storm have had a trial by fire in 2011-12 and a spoiler has emerged.

No. 20 Notre Dame found that out on Saturday afternoon.

Freshmen Moe Harkless and D’Angelo Harrison combined to score 37 of St. John’s 61 points and helped to stave off a late Notre Dame run to sink the Irish, 61-58, at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

“I thought their defense really bothered us and sped us up,” said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey. “We had some great looks and didn’t make enough of them. You’re going to have to make some more jumpshots in the top of that zone to escape here today.”

That St. John’s zone kept Notre Dame on the perimeter and forced the Irish into 31 shots from the beyond the arc, of which they only converted four, giving them a dismal 12% clip on the afternoon.

Guard Jerian Grant, who had been averaging 13 points per game and was a 37% shooter from three on the year, was held to 1-of-9 from the floor and 0-of-5 from distance.

Even while forcing 16 St. John’s turnovers and grabbing 13 offensive rebounds, the shooting woes were too difficult to overcome.

“It was a big problem for us,” said senior Scott Martin, who was a bright spot for Notre Dame, finishing with 14 points. “[St. John’s] frustrated us and made us take [shots] from a little deeper than we wanted to take them.”

“We were digging out of a hole on the road and we’ve done that a couple times,” Brey explained. “I almost felt like the Law of Averages said, ‘You can’t have this one.’”

The loss snapped Notre Dame’s nine-game winning streak and made some shifts in the race for the top of the Big East.

Syracuse now clinches the Big East regular season title. It also keeps Marquette in good position for a Top 4 finish in the conference, which would mean a double-bye in the Big East Tournament.

Perhaps that’s something for Buzz Williams to dance about.

Loss aside, Notre Dame’s improbable season, especially considering the loss of star Tim Abromaitis early in the year, continues on.

“I wanted to see if I could red-shirt that year,” Brey jokingly recalled about his feeling after receiving the news of Abromaitis’ injury.

“When that went down, it affected Scott for a good six weeks, but it was a great atmosphere to coach in because there was no attention. [Critics said] we were done, wait until next year.”

Brey says that the time spent out of the media spotlight helped his team to come together after the loss of their Preseason All-Big East First Team selection.

He credits his young players, including point guard Eric Atkins, for stepping up in Abromaitis’ absence.

“We know our program has played through adversity before,” said forward Jack Cooley, whose emergence has been key to the Irish’s success. “Coach knows how to coach us when we’re a man down and we know how to play like that.”

The Irish move on to play Georgetown on Monday night, which will have important implications in seeding for the Big East Tournament.

The Hoyas, who got a convincing win at home over Villanova on Saturday, could tie Notre Dame in the conference with another win on Monday night.

If the Irish want to fend off the Hoya advance, they’ll need to shoot a better percentage than they did on Saturday afternoon.

“We had a good look to get to overtime, but we didn’t deserve it,” Brey said in closing about the loss to St. John’s. “They deserved it.”

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Elite Eight schedule, tip times, and announcer pairings

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Regional Finals – Sunday, March 26

2:20 p.m.,CBS, New York
No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 4 Florida (Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce)

5:05 p.m., CBS, Memphis
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 2 Kentucky (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)

Steve Alford: ‘I’m very happy at UCLA’

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UCLA head coach Steve Alford was still processing an 86-75 season-ending loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on Friday night when he had to answer questions about another blueblood program.

Sine the dismal of Tom Crean at Indiana, Alford has been one of the names rumored to be in the mix for the coaching vacancy. A reporter in the press conference in Memphis didn’t even get a chance to finish his question before Alford cut him off and a publicly state that he was happy in Westwood.

“I said it last week, and I’ll reiterate it again even more so, I guess, that I love Los Angeles,” Alford said. “To begin with, it’s a beautiful place, and our family has fallen in love with it. I’ve got two sons now, Kory first and now Bryce, that have graduated. Bryce is done, so he’s graduating from UCLA, so I’ve got two sons that are graduates from there, a daughter that loves the school she’s going to in Thousand Oaks. I’m very happy. I’m at UCLA. I don’t know of a lot of people that are out there wanting to leave UCLA.

“This is a pretty special place. We’ve worked awfully hard. Our staff has worked hard. We’ve got the No. 2 recruiting class coming in next year. We’re opening a brand-new, state-of-the-art, 60-plus million practice facility, Mo Ostin Center, that is going to be spectacular that we’ve worked awfully hard to be a part of that, and I want to see that through, and we’ve got some special kids that are coming to join us.

“I’m very, very happy where I’m at, and hopefully, that’ll continue.”

Alford won a national championship with the Hoosiers in 1987, scoring more than 2,400 points in his career under head coach Bob Knight. He has been with UCLA since 2013, reaching the Sweet 16 in three of his four seasons with the Bruins.

Crean was fired on March 16 after nine season in Bloomington.

Lonzo Ball has officially declared for the 2017 NBA Draft

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Following a season-ending loss in the Sweet 16 of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, UCLA freshman point guard unsurprisingly announced that he will enter the NBA Draft.

“That was my final game for UCLA. I appreciate the fans,” Ball told reporters.

The 6-foot-6 point guard has a strong case to be the No. 1 overall pick. It could be almost too enticing for the Los Angeles Lakers to pass on a Southern Cal product if the ping pong balls fall in their favor. New Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka were in Memphis for Friday night’s Sweet 16 matchup with Kentucky.

Ball, in an All-American freshman season with the Bruins, averaged 14.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and a nation’s best 7.6 assists per game, while shooting 56 percent from the field and 42 percent from three.

He ended his college career with an 86-75 loss to the Wildcats, scoring 10 points, off 4-of-10 shooting, with eight assists.

VIDEO: Florida’s Chris Chiozza beats Wisconsin at the buzzer

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NEW YORK — So you didn’t think the NCAA Tournament had enough excitement this year?

Wisconsin and Florida solved that problem for you.

The Badgers started things, as they erased a 12-point deficit in the final 4:15 to force overtime, a stretch that included an 8-0 run at the end of regulation that was capped by a Zak Showalter running three with 2.5 seconds left on the clock to tie the game at 72.

Wisconsin jumped out to a lead in overtime, but the combination of an inability to make free throws and and this epic chasedown block from Canyon Barry left the door open for the Gators, who eventually won the game on this running three from Chris Chiozza:

What.

A.

Game.

If we get a better one than this, I just hope I’m courtside for it.

KeVaughn Allen led the way for the Gators with 35 points, and no one else on the Gators scored more than eight points, but it didn’t matter. The Gators are still headed to the Elite 8, and Mike White will have a chance to play for the right to go to the Final Four in his first NCAA Tournaments.

Replacing a legend like Billy Donovan was never going to be easy, but White is doing an admirable job.

The other subplot here: With the win, Florida becomes the third member of the SEC in the Elite 8, and with a regional final against South Carolina on Sunday afternoon, it guarantees that there will be at least one SEC team in the Final Four.

While there were celebrations in the Florida locker room, Wisconsin’s was one of devastation.

The Badgers started four seniors, including tournament stalwarts Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes, who played in their 17th career NCAA Tournament games.

Hayes had 22 points, but he’s going to be haunted by the free throws he missed. He was 7-for-14 from the line on the night, including four missed freebies in overtime. The end was similarly heart-breaking for Koenig, as he was a non-factor in overtime due to an injury he suffered on the possession before Showalter’s game-tying three.

Both of them are going to spend years thinking ‘What if?’ That’s how the NCAA Tournament works.

Everyone leaves in tears, either because they’re cutting down the nets at the Final Four or because their season — their career — just came to an end.

Hayes and Koenig were no different.

VIDEO: Canyon Barry saves Florida with epic chase down block

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Florida’s Canyon Berry had the best chase down block since LeBron James in the 2016 NBA Finals.

It kept Wisconsin’s lead at two points and gave the Gators a chance to tie and, eventually, win the game.

Look at this: