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Thornwell helps South Carolina beat Tennessee 70-60

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) South Carolina is off to its fastest start to Southeastern Conference competition in two decades.

The Gamecocks understand that will matter a whole lot more if they also have a quality finish.

Sindarius Thornwell scored 22 points Wednesday as South Carolina defeated Tennessee 70-60 for its third straight victory. South Carolina (13-3, 3-0 SEC) is off to just its second 3-0 start in Southeastern Conference competition since joining the league in 1991-92.

The Gamecocks also had a 3-0 start to league play in 1996-97 and went on to post a 15-1 SEC record and earn the conference’s regular-season title that year.

“It means a lot just because I remember times we were 0-3 starting SEC play,” Thornwell said. “It means a lot. We’ve kind of preached to the young guys how much it means and how much every game counts.”

South Carolina is chasing its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2004. South Carolina won its first 15 overall games last year – including a 2-0 start in SEC play – but landed in the NIT after fading down the stretch.

“Every game’s going to be a grind,” Thornwell said. “It doesn’t get any easier from here, so we try to stay focused and prepare every game like it’s our last and try to keep winning.”

The Gamecocks also have earned back-to-back SEC road wins for the first time since 2011. In its last road game, South Carolina won 67-61 at Georgia on Jan. 4.

South Carolina’s defense and tenacity helped the Gamecocks withstand their offensive struggles on a night when each team committed 22 turnovers.

“Between turnovers and fouls and bad decisions, we just made this a prehistoric game today,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. “It’s unbelievable, the inability to understand time, score and make better decisions. I can’t speak for (Tennessee). I’m speaking for our team. But it’s a win, and we did play hard.”

Tennessee (8-8, 1-3) shot just 32.7 percent and struggled to score one night after announcing that junior guard Detrick Mostella had been dismissed from the team. Mostella had been averaging 10.5 points per game to rank second on the team.

The difference in the game came from 3-point range, where South Carolina shot 7 of 13 while Tennessee was just 1 of 11. That disparity led to Tennessee’s third straight loss.

“I just think we’ve got too much character with this group. These guys, they’re not going to quit playing,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “They realize there’s a long way to go, and we’re working toward being a better team.”

South Carolina’s Hassani Gravett, who entered the night averaging just 4.2 points per game, scored 12 points. Duane Notice added 11.

Grant Williams scored 15 points and Robert Hubbs III and Lamonte Turner had 12 each for Tennessee.

BIG PICTURE

South Carolina: The Gamecocks won by relying on the defense that has carried them all season. South Carolina is allowing just 60 points per game. Opponents are shooting 36.8 percent overall and 27.8 percent from 3-poiont range against the Gamecocks. South Carolina entered the night ranked fifth among all Division I teams in field-goal percentage defense, eighth in 3-point percentage defense and ninth in scoring defense.

Tennessee: The Vols clearly missed Mostella, who had a team-high 26 3-poiint baskets this season while providing instant offense off the bench. Tennessee made a single basket during one stretch of nearly 13 1/2 minutes in the first half. The Vols finished the first half with 14 turnovers and only six baskets.

KEY STAT

South Carolina has gone 10-0 in games Thornwell has played. The Gamecocks went 3-3 when Thornwell was serving a suspension last month.

STREAK (BARELY) STAYS ALIVE

Tennessee extended its string of consecutive games with at least one 3-pointer to 183 only after Turner made a shot that bounced high off the rim and fell through with 1:51 remaining. The last time Tennessee failed to make a single 3-pointer was in a 77-67 loss to Duke on Nov. 21, 2011.

NEXT UP

South Carolina hosts Mississippi on Saturday.

Tennessee is at Vanderbilt on Saturday.

More AP College Basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org

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: