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No. 3 Arizona looks like a national title contender again


Aaron Gordon led five players in double-figures with 19 points and 15 boards as No. 3 Arizona won their fourth straight game, knocking off Stanford 79-66.

It was the third straight game that the Wildcats have pounded a tournament caliber Pac-12 team, which more or less asserts that whatever had been ailing this team has been figured out.

The difference?

Arizona is pushing the ball more. They are getting out in transition and opening up the floor, which is where freakish athletes like Nick Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Aaron Gordon can thrive. They’ve also gotten better defensively, as losing Brandon Ashley has forced Miller to play Gordon exclusively in the front court and give more minutes to Hollis-Jefferson, who is one of the best perimeter defenders that you’ll find.

As a result, the last three games have seen, for this first time this season, Arizona just straight beating the breaks off of opponents. They won at Colorado by 27. They beat Cal in Tucson by 28. They were up 25 on Stanford with eight minutes left.

Are the Wildcats, dare I say, better without Ashley?

Well, no.

Ashley gave them front court depth and allowed them to be capable of using a lineup that could simply overwhelm anyone in the country with their size. What made Arizona so difficult with Ashley is that they were matchup-proof. They could play bigger than the biggest team in the country and matchup with anyone that tried to play four or five perimeter players.

But what losing Ashley has done is forced Miller’s hand. The inability of his forwards to shoot from the perimeter and the corresponding struggles of Johnson turned Arizona into a horrific half court team. Miller had no choice but to open things up a bit more, which is the style that actually better suits his personnel.

Think back to the fall, when all the chatter was about Gordon’s insistence on playing the three this season? Remember when I told you that Arizona would be at their best when Gordon was at the four? It’s his more natural position at this level and this point in his development. He’s even spent time playing the five, with Hollis-Jefferson at the four and Gabe York or Elliot Pitts seeing time on the perimeter.

We’ll have more on this this week, but since the change, Gordon is averaging 18.3 points and 9.0 boards. Hollis-Jefferson has shown the nation why he was one of the most popular players in the Class of 2013. Johnson had snapped out of his slump until Sunday’s 3-for-13 performance.

The Wildcats are different than they were when they still had Ashley available. It’s difficult to call them better than they were before, but they certainly are back to being one of the nation’s most dangerous teams.

And they certainly belong back in the conversation as a National Title contender.

Guy V. Lewis, coach of Phi Slama Jama teams, dies at 93

Guy Lewis
Associated Press
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HOUSTON (AP) Former University of Houston men’s basketball coach Guy V. Lewis, best known for leading the Phi Slama Jama teams of the 1980s, has died. He was 93.

He died at a retirement facility in Kyle, Texas, on Thanksgiving morning surrounded by family, the school said Thursday.

Lewis coached the Cougars for 30 years. He guided Houston to back-to-back NCAA title games in 1983 and ’84 but never won the national championship, losing to N.C. State in the 1983 final on Lorenzo Charles’ last-second shot, one of the NCAA Tournament’s greatest upsets and most memorable plays.

“It feels awful,” Lewis said after that game. “I’ve never lost a game that didn’t feel that way, but this one was terrible.”

Lewis, who helped lead the integration of college basketball in the South by recruiting Elvin Hayes and Don Chaney to Houston, was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013.

Known for plaid jackets and wringing his hands with a red polka-dot towel during games, Lewis compiled a 592-279 record at Houston, guiding the Cougars to 27 consecutive winning seasons from 1959-85. He was honored as the national coach of the year twice (1968 and `83) and led Houston to 14 NCAA Tournaments and five Final Fours.

Lewis had mostly avoided the spotlight since retiring in 1986. He suffered a stroke in February 2002 and had used a wheelchair in recent years.

He was known for putting together the “Game of the Century” at the Astrodome in 1968 between Houston and UCLA. It was the first regular-season game to be broadcast on national television. Houston defeated the Bruins in front of a crowd of more than 52,000, which, at that time, was the largest ever to watch an indoor basketball game.

Lewis attended the introductory news conference in December 2007 for Kevin Sumlin, the first black football coach in Houston history. It was a symbolic, significant appearance because Lewis signed Houston’s first two black basketball players and some of the first in the region in Hayes and Chaney in 1964, when programs were just starting to integrate.

Hayes and Chaney led the Cougars to the program’s first Final Four in 1967 but lost to Lew Alcindor’s UCLA team in the semifinal game.

“Basketball in the state of Texas and throughout the South is all due to coach Guy V. Lewis,” Hayes said in 2013. “He put everything on the line to step out and integrate his program. Not only that, he had vision to say: `Hey, we can play a game in the Houston Astrodome.’ Not only that, he just was such a motivator and such an innovator that created so many doors for the game of basketball to grow.”

Along with Hayes, Lewis also coached fellow All-Americans Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. The three were included on the NBA’s Top 50 greatest players list in 1996. Lewis and North Carolina’s Dean Smith were the only men to coach three players from that list while they were in college.

Players and CBS announcer Jim Nantz lobbied for years for Lewis to get into the Naismith Hall of Fame. When he finally received the honor in 2013 he made a rare public appearance. It was difficult for him to convey his thoughts in words in his later years because of aphasia from his strokes, so his daughter spoke on his behalf at the event to celebrate his induction.

“It’s pure joy and we’re not even upset that it took so long. … Dad is used to winning in overtime,” Sherry Lewis said.

Lewis announced his retirement during the 1985-86 season, and the Cougars finished 14-14, his first non-winning season since 1958-59.

Guy Vernon Lewis II was born in Arp, a town of fewer than 1,000 residents in northeast Texas. He became a flight instructor for the U.S. Army during World War II and enrolled at the University of Houston in 1946.

He joined the basketball team, averaged 21.1 points and led the Cougars to the Lone Star Conference championship. By the early 1950s, he was working as an assistant coach under Alden Pasche and took over when Pasche retired in 1956.

Funeral services are pending.

AP Sports Writer Chris Duncan contributed to this story.

Syracuse upsets No. 18 UConn as Tyler Lydon stars again

St Bonaventure Syracuse Basketball
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Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney combined for 34 points as Syracuse overcame an early 10-point deficit to knock off No. 18 UConn in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis, 79-76.

The talking point at the end of this game is probably going to end up being UConn’s decision not to foul Syracuse with 36 seconds left on the clock. Trevor Cooney dribbled out the clock and, with six seconds left, missed a 35-foot prayer, the offensive rebound getting corralled by Tyler Roberson, sealing the win.

But that’s not the real story here.

That would be Tyler Lydon, who suddenly looks like he may end up being the difference maker for this Syracuse team.

If you don’t know the name, I don’t blame you. Lydon was a low-end top 100 recruit that had been committed to the Orange for a long time. He’s not exactly a game-changing prospect, but he’s a perfect fit for Syracuse. At 6-foot-9, Lydon has the length to be a shot-blocker in the middle of the 2-3 zone — he entered Thursday averaging 3.3 blocks — but his biggest skill is his ability to shoot the ball from beyond the arc. When he plays the middle of that zone, when he is essentially the five for the Orange, they become incredibly difficult to matchup with defensively.

The question is whether or not he can consistently be that guy on the defensive end of the floor. Against UConn, Lydon had 16 points and 12 boards. Against Charlotte, he finished with 18 points, eight boards and six blocks. But neither the Huskies nor the 49ers have a big front line that crashes the offensive glass.

Lydon is great at using his length to make shots in the lane difficult, but at (a generous) 205 pounds, he may run into trouble against bigger, stronger front court players.

The perfect test?

Texas A&M, who the Orange will play in the title game on Friday.