Arizona State caps 0-2 week with blowout loss at Utah

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Nine days ago the Arizona State Sun Devils earned a signature victory for their resume, beating then-No. 2 Arizona 69-66 in overtime. Conventional wisdom had Herb Sendek’s team well on its way to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009, and with contributors such as guards Jahii Carson and Jermaine Marshall and center Jordan Bachynski Arizona State has the look of a team capable of winning once there.

But just as important as picking up quality wins at this point in the season is building on the momentum gained from such results. And it’s safe to say that on their trip to Colorado and Utah, Arizona State did not get the job done. After getting beat decisively on the glass in a 61-52 loss at Colorado on Wednesday night, things got even worse for the Sun Devils in Salt Lake City.

After scoring the first two points of the game Arizona State struggled mightily against a Utah team looking to rebound from a tough overtime loss to Arizona, trailing by as much as 27 in the first half. Utah would win 86-63, resulting in an 0-2 road swing for an Arizona State team that while well-positioned to reach the NCAA tournament can’t afford to get too comfortable. Neither the effort nor the execution were there for Sendek’s Sun Devils, and by the time they flipped the switch and cut the margin to 13 points in the second half the hole was too deep to climb out of.

Shaquielle McKissic (16 points, five rebounds) and Egor Koulechov (11 points, eight rebounds) showed up ready to play, but the same can’t be said for most of their teammates. Arizona State’s three most important players combined to shoot 7-for-29 from the field and as a team the Sun Devils shot just 31% from the field. By comparison Utah made 54% of its shots, with Delon Wright putting on a clinic in all-around guard play.

Wright made all seven of his shots from the field, finishing the game with 22 points, nine rebounds and six assists. UCLA’s Kyle Anderson may be one of the frontrunners for Pac-12 Player of the Year, but from a versatility standpoint Wright isn’t far behind. With the weakness of their non-conference schedule Larry Krystkowiak’s Utes likely need the automatic bid to reach the NCAA tournament, but with players such as Wright and Jordan Loveridge this program has taken steps in the right direction. And given their youth, 2014-15 could be a really good year for Utah.

As for Arizona State, upcoming home games against Stanford and California become more important on the heels of Sunday’s poor performance. With a ticket to the NCAA tournament well within their reach, Arizona State has to play with greater urgency than they displayed this weekend.

John Calipari reminds Kentucky fans to remain classy in defeat

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Before traveling to Phoenix for the Final Four festivities, Kentucky head coach John Calipari used his Twitter account in an effort to diffuse the anger members of Big Blue Nation have directed at a referee following a heartbreaking loss in the Elite Eight.

In the days following the season-ending loss to North Carolina, some fans — not all — have harassed official John Higgins. They’ve flooded the Facebook page of his roofing business, leaving negative reviews and lowering his company’s star rating. Some have gone even more extreme, going as far as sending death threats over the phone.

Based on the replies, some have received the message. Others haven’t. The latter, despite it being a small but vocal group, can, unfortunately, paint a fan base with a broad brush.

Mark Emmert: NCAA Board of Governors to meet ‘in the next few days’ to determine N.C.’s tournament standing

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Late on Wednesday night, the state of North Carolina reached an agreement to repeal the controversial and discriminatory House Bill 2 law, which is commonly known as the bathroom bill.

The NCAA had given the state a deadline of Thursday morning to make a change in this law or they would miss out on hosting NCAA tournament game until the 2022 season, so it’s not hard to connect the dots here. The pressure the NCAA asserted on the state helped create a change.

The question is just how much of a change, as many believe that the repeal does not do enough to change what is discriminatory about the law.

“What distinguished North Carolina,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said, “there were four distinct problems that the board had with that bill, and they removed some of them but not all of them. If you removed two or three of them, is that enough?”

The NCAA Board of Governors have stretched out the process of determining future tournament sites as far as possible, Emmert said, meaning that a decision on this new bill will be made soon.

“Because this happened on such short notice, we have to find a time to get together with the board, and that will probably happen in the next few days,” Emmert said, and in those meetings, the board “will determine if this [new] bill is sufficient change.”

“I’m personally very pleased they have a bill to debate and discuss. Hopefully we can be in a place where we can announce the board’s decision early next week.”

Gonzaga’s Mark Few named AP Coach of the Year

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Gonzaga head coach Mark Few has added to his program’s banner season with an individual award, being named AP Coach of the Year on Thursday afternoon.

Few led the Bulldogs to their first Final Four. The Zags enter the national semifinal with a 36-1 record. Up until Feb. 25, they were flirting with a perfect season. A loss to BYU is currently the only blemish on their season.

Few also won his 500th career game during the course of the 2016-17 season. Since 2014, two coaches from outside the major conferences have earned his honor. Gregg Marshall was named AP Coach of the Year in 2014 after leading the Shockers to a perfect regular season.

This was a very competitive race this season. Sean Miller lost two players expected to be key pieces this season — and had Allonzo Trier miss 19 games — but guided Arizona to the Pac-12 Tournament championship. Jay Wright led Villanova to another Big East title despite two cornerstone pieces — Ryan Arcidiancono and Daniel Ochefu — gone from last season’s national championship team. For a while, Baylor’s Scott Drew seemed to be the favorite. The Bears didn’t receive a single vote in the preseason top-25 poll but went on to earn a No. 1 ranking.

Few’s season continues on Saturday against South Carolina.

Frank Mason is named AP Player of the Year

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Kansas point guard Frank Mason III was named the AP Player of the Year on Thursday afternoon.

The senior floor general for the Jayhawks headlined the AP All-American team, which included UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball, Villanova Swingman Josh Hart, Purdue big man Caleb Swanigan and North Carolina small forward Justin Jackson.

Mason averaged 20.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 5.1 assists, and shot 49 percent from behind the 3-point line during the 2016-17 season. He helped guide Kansas to its 13th consecutive Big 12 regular season title.

He becomes the fourth senior in a row to win the award, preceded by Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine, Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminksy and Creighton’s Doug McDermott.

He had previously been named player of the year by NBC Sports.

TJ Leaf declares for the 2017 NBA Draft

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UCLA freshman forward TJ Leaf announced he is declaring for the 2017 NBA Draft on Thursday afternoon.

The 6-foot-10 Leaf averaged 16.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.1 blocks per game. His shooting numbers were also impressive, connecting on 62 percent of his field goals, including 27-of-58 from beyond the 3-point arc.

This news comes six days after Lonzo Ball officially announced he had played his last game at UCLA. Neither move is shocking, with Ball in the running for the No. 1 overall pick and Leaf also pegged as a first round selection.

The Bruins will have quite a bit of turnover next season with guards Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton exhausting their eligibility. UCLA head coach Steve Alford has a six-man recruiting class set to come in to help replenish the roster. It’s led by versatile forward Kris Wilkes, point guard Jaylen Hands, and big men Cody Riley and Jalen Hill.