Nick Johnson’s block saves Arizona’s undefeated record

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Anyone that watched the final possession of No. 3 Arizona’s 68-67 victory over No. 17 San Diego State will ask the same question: Where did he come from?

SDSU’s Chase Tapley proved, once again, why he is one of the nation’s most underrated players, as he led the Aztecs with 19 points on Christmas night, hitting a pair of tough, contested threes in the final minutes. But after Mark Lyons knocked down two free throws with 13.1 seconds left to put Arizona up 68-67, Tapley found the ball in his hands with a chance to knock off the Wildcats. Tapley ran off of a pair of high-ball screens, turning the corner and finding what appeared to be a wide open lane to the basket.

But as Tapley went up to lay the ball in with his left hand, Nick Johnson exploded — quite literally, it looked like he was a halftime performer jumping off of a trampoline — towards the goal, swatting the shot off the back board and locking up the win for the Wildcats.

It was an unbelievable way to cap off what turned into a terrific second half of basketball between the two teams that just may be competing for West Coast supremacy.

What’s scary about Arizona right now is that they are only going to get better as their freshmen big men continue to develop. Kaleb Tarczewski didn’t have a single point or rebound in 18 minutes tonight. Grant Jerrett had one point and six boards in 18 minutes. Brandon Ashley was the only one that played well, as he finished with a respectable nine points and seven boards. And that came against a team that’s known for having a lack of size up front.

Those three big guys have a way to go to get better, but they are still young. They’ll get there.

And with guys like Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom on the roster, the “there” that they need to get to isn’t all that high.

The perks of having seniors on your roster is that they can help carry your team through tough times, keeping your head above water as the more talented youngsters learn how to pull their own weight. Hill and Parrom are as good as anyone in the country when it comes to all-around ability and leadership. Throw in the likes of Lyons and Johnson — who sealed the win with the free throws and the block — and you can see why the Wildcats are 12-0 for the first time since 1987-88 despite their front court issues.

Pac-12 teams must be licking their chops.

Because now that Arizona owns wins over Florida and San Diego State, they are now a target.

Every single league team will be thinking “RPI booster” whenever they face Arizona.

That’s not a bad thing for the league.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

No. 7 South Carolina upends No. 3 Baylor to advance to the Elite 8

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NEW YORK — It was with a whipping and a whimper that Baylor’s season can to an end on Friday night.

The final two minutes of the game wasn’t actually a game. No. 7 seed South Carolina dished out a 70-50 beatdown that wasn’t in doubt after the Gamecocks used an 18-0 run at the end of the first half to turn a rock fight into statement, and for the final two minutes of the game, the Gamecocks and, eventually, Baylor dribbled out the remaining seconds before joining arms at center court for a postgame prater.

It’s the third straight year that Baylor has been bounced from the NCAA tournament by a team seeded lower than them. In 2015, it was R.J. Hunter’s heroics that knocked his dad off of a stool and sent No. 14 seed Georgia State into the second round of the tournament. In 2016, the Bears fell in the first round to No. 12 seed Yale, prompting one of the most memorable press conference moments in NCAA tournament history.

And on Friday night, it was South Carolina that sent the Bears into offseason hibernation.

It was a disheartening end to a season, a loss that will surely provide fodder for the people that traffic in ‘Scott Drew can’t coach’ jokes, the irony being that the 2016-17 season was definitive proof that Scott Drew is almost certainly better at his job than you are at yours.

“When you coach for a while and you make Elite Eights and Sweet 16, you kind of start taking it for granted that you will always be successful in March,” Drew said. “But it’s a good reminder to be here and know how hard it is.”

No. 1 North Carolina handles No. 4 Butler en route to Elite Eight

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North Carolina, the top seed in the South Region, led by as many as 20 en route to a 92-80 win over No. 4 Butler in the Sweet 16 matchup on Friday night at the FedEx Forum in Memphis.

The Tar Heels were led by 26 points, off 8-of-13 shooting, from junior point guard Joel Berry II. The 6-foot floor general had been hampered by an ankle injury through the first weekend. While he still seemed to favor that same ankle at times, his play was a big improvement on his 3-of-21 shooting through the NCAA Tournament’s first two rounds. Justin Jackson nearly matched Berry’s game-high with 24 points.

Andrew Chrabascz, in the final game of his four-year career at Butler, finished with 21 points, seven rebounds and four assists.

North Carolina, the last of the ACC’s nine tournament bids, advances to the Elite Eight to face the winner of No. 3 UCLA and No. 2 Kentucky. The Wildcats own a win over North Carolina, defeating the Tar Heels, 103-100, on Dec. 17 behind 47 points from Malik Monk.

Missouri lands No. 1 player in Class of 2017 as Michael Porter Jr. commits

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Missouri and new head coach Cuonzo Martin have landed the No. 1 player in the Class of 2017 a week after he took the job as forward Michael Porter Jr. committed to the Tigers on Friday.

Formerly a Washington commit under now-fired head coach Lorenzo Romar, the 6-foot-9 Porter was released from his Letter of Intent this week and many believed he’d end up back at Missouri.

The Porter family lived in Columbia for many years as two of Michael’s older sisters play for the Missouri women’s team while Michael Porter Sr. was an assistant coach for the women’s team.

When Porter Sr. was hired to Missouri to be an assistant coach on Martin’s staff this week — after losing his assistant coaching job at Washington when Romar was fired — it all but sealed the deal that the Porters would return to Missouri and Michael Jr. would play for the Tigers.

Missouri might not be an NCAA Tournament team next season after struggling to an 8-24 finish and 2-16 record in the SEC. But Porter might be the most productive freshman entering college basketball next season as he has a chance to be dominant in the SEC.

Oklahoma State promotes assistant coach Mike Boynton to head coach

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Oklahoma State has decided to promote assistant coach Mike Boynton to head coach, the school announced on Friday.

Boynton was an assistant with the Cowboys under former head coach Brad Underwood, who left Oklahoma State to take the Illinois job last weekend. Also an assistant coach at Stephen F. Austin, South Carolina, Wofford and Coastal Carolina, Boynton is a native of New York City who played his college ball for the Gamecocks.

The hire of Boynton is surprising since he doesn’t have any head-coaching experience as it follows in the footsteps of Cal promoting assistant coach Wyking Jones earlier in the day. Boynton also notably won the job over broadcaster and former Oklahoma State guard Doug Gottlieb as Gottlieb interviewed for the job but wasn’t selected.

 

Rhode Island junior E.C. Matthews will return to school

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Rhode Island junior guard E.C. Matthews will return to school for his redshirt senior season, the school announced on Friday.

The 6-foot-5 Matthews led the Rams in scoring at 14.9 points per game this past season as he returned from a torn ACL and helped Rhode Island reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1999.

Besides for being a talented scorer, Matthews is a good overall playmaker for the Rams as he also put up 4.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game.

With Matthews returning, it gives head coach Dan Hurley a huge weapon for next season as Rhode Island returns everyone besides the senior front court of Hassan Martin and Kuran Iverson.