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This isn’t a ‘fluky’ title game, but both Kentucky and UConn are ‘lucky’ to be here

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RELATEDUConn played Florida’s game | Alex Poythress | Kentucky’s game-winner

ARLINGTON, Texas — Amida Brimah has no idea that he’s the reason UConn is playing in the national title game.

A 7-foot center from Ghana by way of Florida, Brimah doesn’t even start for the Huskies. He’s an excellent shot-blocker and has a softer touch around the basket than most folks are willing to admit, but his frame is closer to supermodel than superhuman and, frankly, at this point in his development his impact on a game isn’t much more than being tall and having a soft touch.

And despite that, despite the fact that Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels are all playing the best basketball of their careers in this tournament, Brimah is why Napier is drawing comparisons to Kemba Walker and Daniels is now considered a first round pick.

Because Saint Joseph’s had UConn beaten.

They shredded the Husky defense and forced Napier into his worst game of the postseason. With 45 seconds left of UConn’s opening round win, the Hawks held a three point lead. Napier turned down a ball-screen from Brimah, driving right past DeAndre Bembry and getting all the way to the rim … where he missed.

It wasn’t the first time in his career that Napier missed a critical shot and it certainly won’t be the last, but it was one of the only times this season where Napier couldn’t find a way to make a play when the Huskies really needed one. All the Hawks had to do was get one rebound, and they would have been a string of excitement-sapping free throws from a date with Villanova in the Round of 32.

Instead, all-league senior forward Halil Kanicevic found himself out of position, and as the rebound rolled off the rim, Brimah was able to gather the loose ball, collecting himself before drawing a foul as he hit a little turn around jumper while getting fouled. The three-point play tied up the game. The foul was Kanicevic’s fourth, and when he fouled out with 3:48 left in overtime, the Hawks were all but dead.

So while Boatright’s defense and Daniels’ offensive explosion and Napier’s Kemba-ing will be what gets credited for UConn’s run to their fourth national title game in the last 15 years, if it wasn’t for one play from a freshman center that comes off the bench and has scored eight points in the last four games, UConn would have been spending their spring break back in Storrs.

“People tell me about it, but I don’t think like that,” Brimah said.

FINAL FOUR: National title game primer | All of our Final Four coverage

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Aaron Harrison is well aware that he’s the reason Kentucky is now 40 minutes away from winning title No. 9.

He knows it, his team knows it, the entirety of Big Blue Nation knows it. Unless you’ve spent the last week and a half under a rock, you know it, too.

With 40 seconds left against Louisville, Harrison hit a three to give the Wildcats the lead for good. Two days later, he hit a three against Michigan to put Kentucky into the Final Four. Saturday night? You already know.

John Calipari called him Aaron the Assassin. Alex Poythress said, “He’s got some hangers. He’s got the biggest balls I’ve seen.” Andrew Harrison added, “They’re growing. We’re just glad he has those.” It doesn’t matter what happens on Monday night, Aaron Harrison will go down as a legend in the city of Lexington and Commonwealth of Kentucky. Nine months from now, there will be more Aarons born in Fayette County than ever before. Every kid in the state will spend the entire summer counting down the time in their hand, squaring up an imaginary Josh Gasser, rising, from 25 feet on the left wing and burying a three over the outstretched arms of an invisible Caris LeVert.

“My daughter [Erin] tweeted out she just became my second favorite ‘Aaron,'” Calipari said.

He’s had his One Shining Moment.

Three times.

And to think, the best clutch three-pointer shooter in NCAA tournament history entered the Big Dance shooting a whopping 32.6% from beyond the arc.

“I’m not this genius up here,” Calipari said. “He could have missed that shot or they could have made their shot and then Bo’s sitting up here.”

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It happens like this every year.

Every team that makes a run in the NCAA tournament does so because, at one point or another during the six games they have to win to bring home a trophy, a shot at the end of a game happens to go in or a loose ball just happens to bounce their way.

And that is what makes March Madness great.

That’s why every close game becomes so intense. One play could end a season or send a team off into immortality.

How far could Kansas have made it in 2010 if Ali Farokhmanesh hadn’t hit that three? The comparisons between Napier and Kemba Walker would me much more difficult to make if Arizona’s Jamelle Horne hit an open look from three at the end of their Elite 8 matchup in 2011. Florida doesn’t win a title in 2006 without Corey Brewer’s falling down three-point play against Georgetown in the Sweet 16. I could go on and on and on, but you get my point.

You have to be really, really good to win a national title. Great, even.

But you can’t bring home a ring with a lot of luck, too.

No. 8 Gonzaga outlasts depleted No. 16 Arizona

ORLANDO, FL - NOVEMBER 27:  Przemek Karnowski #24 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs attempts a shot during the game against the Iowa State Cyclones at HP Field House on November 27, 2016 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
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No. 8 Gonzaga jumped out to a 23-9 lead and held on as No. 16 Arizona rallied down the stretch, beating the Wildcats 69-62 in Los Angeles on Sunday night.

The Bulldogs got 18 points and a pair of blocks from 7-foot-1 center Przemek Karnowski’s whose impact on this game cannot be measured by the box score. Karnowski is an unbelievable passer out of the post, but he’s also a terrific scorer that almost has to be double-teamed. And when that double-team comes, the ball is out of his hands and into the hands of an open teammate.

The big man is also a force on the defensive end of the floor, where his size allows him to take up space in the lane and his length causes all kinds of problems for players trying to finish in the paint.

That’s worth noting because he isn’t anywhere near to being the most-heralded player on that roster. That title probably goes to Nigel Williams-Goss, who was all-Pac 12 at Washington. Or Jordan Mathews, who averaged 13 points the last two seasons at Cal. Johnathan Williams III was a top 50 prospect. Zach Collins was a McDonald’s All-American. Josh Perkins was recruited by Kentucky.

Point being, this is a very good Gonzaga team, one with talent and depth.

And Karnowski is as important as anyone on the roster.

It’s also worth noting here that Arizona put up an impressive fight for a team playing with seven guys right now. Parker Jackson-Cartwright sprained his ankle Wednesday night. Allonzo Trier still isn’t playing. And the Wildcats fought back from 14 points down in the first eight minutes to make this a game down the stretch.

Arizona has a lot of issues right now.

But there’s still talent on this roster and this is still a team of kids that are going to battle every time they take the floor.

SATURDAY’S SNACKS: Big road wins for UCLA, West Virginia

MADISON, WI - DECEMBER 03:  Nigel Hayes #10 of the Wisconsin Badgers is defended by Kristian Doolittle #11 of the Oklahoma Sooners during the first half of a game at the Kohl Center on December 3, 2016 in Madison, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 11 UCLA 97, No. 1 Kentucky 92

This one was a ton of fun to watch as UCLA shook off a sluggish start to run past Kentucky at Rupp Arena. CBT’s Rob Dauster has the story on this one and why it was important for both teams.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

No. 25 West Virginia 66, No. 6 Virginia 57: Bob Huggins’ group has a potential signature victory as West Virginia won a big one on the road. I have more about why this one is particularly important for West Virginia here.

No. 9 Baylor 76, No. 7 Xavier 61: The Bears added to what is the best résumé in college basketball with an impressive win over a very good Xavier team. Manu Lecomte was the star of the show, finishing with 24 points and five assists. We went in depth on this game here.

No. 5 Duke 94, Maine 55: It wasn’t the outcome as much as the fact that Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden returned to the floor.

No. 8 Gonzaga 69, No. 16 Arizona 62: The Bulldogs got 18 points from Przemek Karnowski and 16 points from Josh Perkins as they were able to get past a depleted Arizona team dealing with a myriad of injuries. Credit to Arizona, however. They were down 14 points early and managed to make this a game.

Providence 63, No. 21 Rhode Island 60: That’s back-to-back losses for the Rams, and a really nice win for a young Friars team. Kyron Cartwright led the way with 19 points and eight assists.

STARRED

Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin: After just missing a triple-double in a big win over Syracuse in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge earlier this week, Hayes dominated in a 90-70 win over Oklahoma with 28 points on 10-for-13 shooting. Hayes made both of his three-point attempts and also added six assists and two rebounds. Hayes is playing like an All-American lately.

Josh Hart, Villanova: Speaking of All-American caliber play, the senior guard put up a triple-double in the Wildcats’ 88-57 win over Saint Joseph’s as he finished with 16 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. Hart was 6-for-10 from the field and 3-for-6 from three-point territory as he had a tremendous outing.

Sebastian Saez, Ole Miss: Underrated nationally, the senior forward had his fourth double-double of the year with 20 points and 16 rebounds in a win over Memphis. Saez also added three blocks as he now has 12 or more rebounds in five games this season.

Anthony Livingston, Texas Tech: The Red Raiders needed three free throws from Livingston with under three seconds left for a one-point win over Rice as Livingston finished with 33 points and seven rebounds.

Collin Smith, George Washington: Also knocking in a huge go-ahead bucket was Smith as his three-pointer with three seconds left gave the Colonials a win over USF. Smith ended up with 22 points and eight rebounds.

STRUGGLED

E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island: Matthews finished 3-for-13 from the floor with just nine points as No. 21 Rhode Island lost their second straight game, this time falling to Providence, 63-60, on the road.

JeQuan Lewis, VCU: Lewis had 23 points and 11 assists in a come-from-behind win over Princeton during the week, but he had just three points and one assists – and turned an ankle – in a 64-46 loss to Illinois in Miami on Saturday.

San Diego State: The Aztecs took a 65-59 loss to Loyola (IL) on Saturday, a loss that puts SDSU is an all-too-familiar hole: Bad losses on their résumé that they won’t be able to make up for in league play.

TOP 25

  • No. 2 Kansas shook off a slow start to knock off Stanford in Phog Allen Fieldhouse, 89-74. Reid Travis was terrific for the Cardinal, finishing with 29 points and nine boards.
  • Using a balanced scoring effort, No. 15 Purdue picked up an easy home win over Morehead State. Freshman guard Carsen Edwards knocked down four triples to finish with a team-high 16 points while Caleb Swanigan and P.J. Thompson both finished with 13 points and six assists.
  • Kelan Martin went for 30 points as No. 18 Butler knocked off Central Arkansas, 82-58.
  • Andrew White hit seven threes and finished with 26 points while Franklin Howard chipped in with 13 assists for No. 22 Syracuse as they held on to beat North Florida, 77-71, in the Carrier Dome.
  • Tyler Dorsey scored 29 points as No. 23 Oregon beat Savannah State, 128-59.

NOTABLE

  • Michigan State avoided a loss at home to Oral Roberts despite playing without Miles Bridges. That’s a positive, I guess.
  • Torin Dorn and Terry Henderson combined for 45 points as N.C. State held on to beat Boston U., 77-73.
  • Solid win for Wake Forest on the road at Richmond as John Collins had 16 points, 13 rebounds.

No. 4 Kansas cruises to 89-74 victory over Stanford

LAWRENCE, KS - DECEMBER 03:  Frank Mason III #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks is reacts after making a basket during the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Allen Fieldhouse on December 3, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) Jerrod Haase received a long, loud ovation upon his return to Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday.

The rest of the cheers were for the Jayhawks.

Frank Mason III scored 20 points, Devonte Graham delivered an early 3-point barrage and fourth-ranked Kansas pulled away late for an 89-74 victory over Stanford, spoiling the return of the Cardinal’s coach to the building where he once starred as a player.

“Certainly an emotional day,” Haase said. “My emotions right now are more frustrated we didn’t play at a higher level, but for me personally, it means a lot – the reception.”

The Jayhawks (7-1) hardly greeted him as warmly, using their speed, depth and outside shooting to turn a 43-35 halftime lead into another rout at a building that has seen its share of them.

“We talked about how they packed the lane and how we were going to have to drive, pitch and drive it again,” Graham said. “We just did a good job of moving the ball, attacking bad close-outs and having the confidence to let them fly.”

Graham hit five 3s and finished with 15 points, and Josh Jackson and Svi Mykhailiuk added 13 points apiece, as the Jayhawks won for the 44th consecutive time in their old barn.

Reid Travis had a career-best 29 points and nine rebounds for Stanford (6-3), doing most of his damage at the free throw line. The career 54 percent free throw shooter was 19 of 22, breaking the school record for makes set by Todd Lichti against UC Santa Barbara during the 1987-88 season.

Travis also set records for makes and attempts in a game against Kansas. Rayford Young of Texas Tech hit 18 foul shots in February 1999 and Iowa State’s Craig Brackins attempted 21 in January 2009.

“I felt like my teammates did a great job of establishing me early, getting me in the post,” Travis said. “I knew I had to draw a lot of fouls, get us to the line early and get a rhythm going.”

After falling into an early deficit, Kansas coach Bill Self began going with a bigger lineup to deal with Travis in the paint, and that seemed to open up Graham on the perimeter. He knocked down all five of his 3-pointers in the first half, helping the Jayhawks to a 43-35 lead.

Stanford kept going to Travis inside, and the 6-foot-8 brute kept going to the free throw line. During two separate stretches of the second half, he made four free throws in less than a minute.

“He drew basically 17 fouls on four guys, so that just goes to tell you we didn’t play the scouting report,” Self said. “Our guys just played butt-behind and let him go wherever he wanted to go.”

The Jayhawks showcased their versatility in other areas, though.

Down the stretch, Jackson scored on a nifty dunk off an alley-oop pass, Mason got a tilting runner to go while crashing to the floor, and Mykhailiuk knocked down 3-pointers from the wing that sent the lead ballooning toward 20 late in the game.

BIG PICTURE

Stanford’s first-year coach played three seasons for the Jayhawks under Roy Williams, and later served as their director of basketball operations. Haase then followed Williams to North Carolina, but he was fondly received on Saturday, getting a massive ovation from an appreciative crowd.

“I remember clearly walking into Allen Fieldhouse when I was first recruited,” Haase said, “and I think I’ll remember the feeling at shootaround today, walking into the arena.”

Kansas snapped a two-game skid against the Cardinal that included an NCAA Tournament loss in 2014, when Andrew Wiggins and Co. couldn’t slow down Stanford in St. Louis. The Jayhawks were even able to get their benchwarmers some action for the third straight game.

STATS AND STREAK

Mason led the Jayhawks in scoring for the fifth time in eight games. … Kansas had 20 assists and only nine turnovers. … Travis was just 5 of 14 from the field. … Stanford was 2 of 8 from beyond the arc. … The Cardinal only had seven assists on 21 field goals.

UP NEXT

Stanford gets nearly two weeks off before playing Cal State East Bay on Dec. 16.

Kansas continues its six-game home stand against Missouri-Kansas City on Tuesday night.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25.

PHOTOS: Maine demonstrates against HB2 law in game vs. Duke

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You may not have noticed it if you didn’t know what to look for, but Maine’s basketball team made a point to protest North Carolina’s controversial HB2 law on Saturday evening when they visited No. 5 Duke and Cameron Indoor Stadium.

The Bears got their doors blown off, which is about what was expected to happen once news came down that Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden would be back in the lineup, but the game will nonetheless make – and has made throughout the week – national headlines.

Maine’s statement was simple: To support inclusion and equality in sports by wearing t-shirts with the America East logo in rainbow:

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via Maine Athletics

Earlier this year, both the NCAA tournament and the ACC championship game joined a growing list of events — including, but not limited to, the 2017 NBA All-Star game and a Bruce Springsteen concert — to get pulled from the state due to the discriminatory law. Albany was forced to cancel a game at Duke due to the HB2 legislation, and Maine considered canceling this game as well.

Head coach Bob Walsh opted not to, choosing instead to use the platform that the game gave them to help promote You Can Play, an organization whose goal is to eliminate homophobia and transphobia in sports through social activism. The organization was previously partnered with the America East.

Over the summer, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski condemned the law, calling it “embarrassing“.

POSTERIZED: Dennis Smith Jr. takes flight

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While Lonzo Ball, Markelle Fultz and the Kentucky stars are the freshmen getting all the publicity, Dennis Smith Jr. of N.C. State is quietly sitting as a potential No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft.

Why?

Because’s he’s a point guard that can do things like this: