Defense and toughness lifts Stanford to unlikely Sweet 16 status

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ST. LOUIS — As Chasson Randle sat at the podium following the Cardinal upset victory over No. 2 seed Kansas on Sunday afternoon, the junior guard, and Stanford’s leading scorer, was asked if he felt motivated by Jayhawk freshmen Andrew Wiggins and Wayne Selden not knowing who he was after the duo was asked about him at Saturday’s pre-game press conference and didn’t know how to respond.

“We definitely saw that video. (Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins) told me not to talk about it,” Randle said as he and his head coach shared a laugh. “But, you know, I definitely took it as a challenge. So did my teammates. It wasn’t just a stab at me, it was a stab at our team. And we took it as a challenge. And it was a little bit extra motivation for today’s game.”

Dawkins and Randle have plenty of reason to smile after Stanford’s win over Kansas on Sunday. Despite shooting 0-for-9 from the three-point line and turning the ball over 16 times against Kansas, Stanford is on its way to an unlikely Sweet 16 appearance against No. 11 seed Dayton in Memphis on Thursday because of the toughness and determination they showed against Kansas on the defensive end of the floor.

MOREKansas loses to No. 10 Stanford | Bill Self’s fifth tourney loss to No. 9 seed or lower

“We beat a very good Kansas team. I could not be any more proud of my guys and how they played for 40 minutes tonight,” Dawkins said. “I thought the energy, the effort, especially on the defensive end, is probably as good as I have seen it all season long. I was really proud of the way our guys stepped up when they made runs and was able to sustain some momentum at the end.”

The Stanford defense was a major reason why the Cardinal are moving on and why they’re a major contender to make the Elite 8. The length of Stanford’s defense gave Kansas issues for the entire game and senior forward Josh Huestis relentlessly shadowed Kansas star freshman forward Andrew Wiggins when Stanford didn’t switch into a 2-3 or, briefly, a 1-3-1 zone. Wiggins finished with four points on 1-for-6 shooting and was limited to single digits in points for only the fifth time this season.

“We wanted to make it difficult for (Wiggins) to do anything. And him being young, we wanted to see if he would work for it after he got a little frustrated and as you saw, he started to defer,” Huestis said. “He only took six shots and scored four points so the coaches gave us a great game plan. He stopped moving as much, he wasn’t looking for his shot nearly as much and wasn’t trying to rebound as much. So we did a great job.”

Kansas head coach Bill Self also acknowledged that Stanford’s overall length presented a major problem for the Jayhawk offense as Kansas was limited to 32 percent shooting (19-for-58) for the game.

“They played better, made more plays, made the most of their inside touches and we struggled scoring over their length,” Self said.

“We definitely spent a lot of time talking about — and preparing for — their bigs,” senior center Dwight Powell said. “And the way they like to attack the rim. Very athletic team. So I guess it was definitely one of our focuses to just be physical and have guys in the lane and be ready to help because they were quick on drives. And make sure we made the proper rotations.”

Powell was also big on the offensive end for Stanford as he went for a team-high 15 points. With the senior center playing well, the Cardinal are a different ballclub and Powell bounced back from an 0-for-8 shooting night against New Mexico in the Round of 64 as he fouled out with only three points and four rebounds.

“Dwight has had an amazing career here for us. He has been one of our leaders. He was one of my first elite recruits. And he’s responded,” Dawkins said. “And so when he had a tough time, you know, I know he is mature enough to bounce back. I know no one was feeling any worse about his performance the other night than Dwight. So what I wanted to tell Dwight is make sure he concentrates on the things he does very well every night and the rest will just happen. And I thought he did that tonight.”

Not many probably expected Stanford to go through St. Louis unbeaten, but for an experienced team like the Cardinal, it’s something they’ve worked towards all season.

“I think every season, something we talk about (is) every season is like a lifetime. Obviously you will have your ups and downs throughout different games and throughout different stretches of games,” Powell said. “But from day one — before we even started preseason — we always had a goal to make the tournament and to make a run. And we never lost sight of that and never lost hope, and we never stopped fighting for that every single game regardless of how things were going.”

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: