Walton carries Michigan past Minnesota and into Big 10 final

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WASHINGTON (AP) Seconds after his coach told Michigan players to quit bickering, Derrick Walton Jr. had his own message to deliver.

The senior point guard huddled his teammates at midcourt and told them they couldn’t let the game get away. Then Walton backed up those words by having a hand in 18 consecutive points – scoring 14 of those himself and assisting on the others- down the stretch as eighth-seeded Michigan beat Minnesota 84-77 Saturday to earn a spot in the Big Ten Tournament final against Wisconsin.

Walton finished with 29 points, nine assists, five rebounds, two steals and just one turnover and took over the game for the Wolverines (23-11), who have defeated Illinois, No. 13 Purdue and Minnesota since their plane skidded off the runway earlier in the week and delayed their arrival in D.C. They have Walton to thank for getting them to their first conference championship game 2014.

“The game presented me opportunities to make plays,” said Walton, who was 8 of 15 from the floor and made all 10 of his free throws. “I just take what the game gives me. … My job is easy: just make sure to get the ball in the right spot.”

For more than seven minutes the ball was in Walton’s hands as he navigated big German forward Moe Wagner’s foul trouble and quarterfinal star D.J. Wilson’s off day and took over.

Wagner, who made his first six shots and finished with 17 points, wasn’t surprised by Walton’s dominance. Neither was the teammate who has known him since fifth grade.

“When he gets that look in his eye, I know when he’ll get it going,” backcourt mate Zak Irvin said. “At that point, just get him the ball and he’ll take care of it.”

In a tradition adopted for each win this week, players celebrated by dousing coach John Beilein with water and jumping up and down screaming, “Hey, hey, hey!” They’d love to do it one more time Sunday.

On the court, Beilein has gotten to the point that he trusts Walton to run the show, especially in pressure spots. After Minnesota tied the score at 55, Beilein let Walton settle things down.

“When I see him talking, I just shut up and sit down,” Beilein said, “because I know he sees what’s going on out there much better.”

Walton saw Minnesota’s Nate Mason, who finished ahead of him in all-conference voting, scoring 23 points and outdueled him. The Golden Gophers (24-9) couldn’t make up for the loss of injured guard Akeem Springs or handle Walton’s surge.

“We knew he’d be a threat,” Minnesota forward Reggie Lynch said of Walton. “It’s something we have to shore up down the road, covering great point guards.”

As Walton walked down the court to shoot free throws late in the game, a fan yelled out, “That’s what a first-team all-Big Ten point guard looks like.”

“He definitely played with a chip on his shoulder,” Michigan forward Mark Donnal said. “We’ve seen it plenty of times this season where he’s just taken over games and been that go-to guy.”


Springs tore the Achilles tendon in his right ankle in Minnesota’s quarterfinal win Friday against Michigan State and is out for the season. New starter Dupree McBrayer had 14 points and played all 40 minutes along with Mason, but only two bench points showed the potential for problems in the NCAA Tournament.

“We’re a totally different team now with Akeem out,” coach Richard Pitino said. “We’re going to have to start teaching some guys some different positions. That was a huge blow.”


Michigan: Playing far better than its seed, Michigan showed it has a ton of offensive options and can compensate if one or two players doesn’t have it. That’ll come in handy in the NCAA Tournament. “People can have bad days and miss shots, but we know somebody’s there who will carry us,” Wagner said.

Minnesota: Will have to make up for the loss of Springs moving forward, but the team knows it can count on Mason to shoulder the load.


Michigan: Looks to cap off an incredible week with a Big Ten Tournament title. Will face No. 24 Wisconsin, which beat Northwestern 76-48 in the other semifinal, in the final Sunday afternoon.

Minnesota: An NCAA Tournament bid that’s an impressive accomplishment after going 8-23 last season.

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

Late run sparks Villanova past West Virginia, into Elite Eight

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BOSTON — It is always just a matter of time before the avalanche comes.

And when it does, you better hope that lead you have is big enough to withstand what’s coming.

For No. 5-seed West Virginia, it was not. With 11 minutes left on Friday night in Boston’s TD Garden, the Mountaineers led 60-54 and had seemingly wrestled control of the game from the No. 1-seed in the East Region. Less than five minutes later, after the Wildcats hit four of their next five threes, Villanova had taken a 76-66 lead by going on a 22-6 run, and West Virginia was never able to recover.

Jalen Brunson led the way for the top-seeded Wildcats with 27 points and four assists while Omari Spellman finished with 18 points, eight boards and three blocks and Mikal Bridges chipped in with 16 points despite playing relatively poorly — by his standards — on Friday.

With a 90-78 win, Villanova advanced to the Elite Eight and a date with the winner of tonight’s game No. 2 Purdue-No. 3 Texas Tech.

That’s the way that it works with this Villanova team. Armed with the most potent, high-volume three-point shooting attack in college basketball — maybe in the history of college basketball — fans of their opponents are just waiting for the inevitable.

On Friday night, Villanova shot 13-for-24 from three, which is damned-impressive and exactly what we expect at the same time, but the game was won during that five-minute surge when West Virginia just didn’t have an answer.

VIDEO: Omari Spellman, Eric Paschall with mammoth dunks for Villanova

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Villanova took the lead on West Virginia and turned the tide of momentum with a pair of emphatic dunks in transition.

It started with Omari Spellman, who had an unbelievable sequence, spiking a shot into the floor before throwing down a put-back dunk all over a defender:

A couple of possessions later, Eric Paschall finally did the impossible.

He dunked on Sagaba Konate:

I am having way too much fun at this game.

No. 1 Kansas into Elite Eight with win over No. 5 Clemson

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OMAHA, Neb. — Once Kansas found its stride, Clemson had little chance of keeping pace – even after a late stumble.

The No. 1 Jayhawks ran away from the No. 5 Tigers with a second-half flurry that powered them to a 80-76 victory Friday night at CenturyLink Center to put them in the Elite Eight on Sunday against either Duke or Syracuse.

Kansas moves on to the Midwest Region final on the back of a second-half offense that Clemson had nearly no success in slowing until the final minutes, when the Tigers turned a 20-point laugher into  a six-point nail-biter.

Malik Newman paced Kansas with 17 points while Devonte Graham 16 and Udoka Azubuike 14 and 11 rebounds.

Clemson got 31 points from senior Gabe DeVoe, but there just wasn’t enough help around him for the Tigers to keep things competitive after the Jayhawks hit them with three-consecutive 3s in the opening minutes of the second half to open up a 20-point lead.

Clemson was already hanging on by a threat after it shot just 35.7 percent from the floor and committed eight turnovers. DeVoe’s 12 first-half points kept the Tigers afloat, but they never enjoyed a lead before halftime.

The Jayhawks, meanwhile, had five players  score at least six points in the first half, including 10 from Azubuike, Their usual strengths – 3-point shooting (4 of 13) and Devonte Graham (1 of 7) – were absent in the first half, but Clemson was unable to take advantage as Kansas continued to get quality looks inside and stops on defense.

The Jayhawks previously played Syracuse in December, beating the Orange by 16 on a neutral floor in Miami. They haven’t faced the Blue Devils, though they have already shared a building with them once this year in the Champion’s Classic. Kansas topped Kentucky, 65-61, while Duke defeated Michigan State, 88-81, that November night in Chicago.

VIDEO: Mikal Bridges tries to dunk on Sagaba Konate, gets denied

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There really is nothing better in this world than seeing someone who is typically a great dunker take flight to try and dunk on Sagaba Konate of West Virginia, because it never, EVER ends well for the dunker.

See: Bridges, Mikal:

Auburn AD Greene gives Bruce Pearl a vote of confidence

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Speaking publicly for the first time about head coach Bruce Pearl, new Auburn athletic director gave his embattled head coach a vote of confidence.

Greene was on an in-house podcast produced with the voice of Auburn sports, and was asked about Pearl’s standing in a pod that lasted less than five minutes and felt more like a press release than anything else.

“He’s been a tremendous blessing for the Auburn family,” Greene said. “The FBI investigation is a long process. We’re going through that process to make sure that we, as a university, are doing what it is that we’re supposed to do to comply. Coach Pearl has been excellent in that regard and I look forward to continuing to work with him as we continue to do the very best to support he, his staff and the student athletes of Auburn University.”

This is the first time since former assistant coach Chuck Person was arrested that a member of the Auburn athletic department had spoken so positively about Pearl. In the fall, Auburn’s president Steven Leath lamented Pearl’s lack of cooperation in the investigation, but just last week released a statement saying Pearl is “working with university officials as part of our due diligence.” Pearl said after his team’s 84-53 loss to Clemson in the second round of the NCAA tournament that he would like to return.

There has been speculation that Pearl’s job was in jeopardy ever since Auburn was mixed up in the FBI’s complaint. Two players were forced to sit out this entire season after the FBI alleged they had received money funneled through Person from a runner for an agent and a financial advisor.

“One of the challenges that we have facing the industry is college basketball,” Greene said. “We want to make sure we work incredibly hard to clean up the game, to make it as pure as it can possibly be so that our student-athletes can enjoy the intercollegiate athletic experience. one of the things that we have to keep in mind is that the state of college basketball is not in a good place right now and I’m a little bit disappointed that auburn is involved in that, but that doesn’t take away from the excellent job that Coach Pearl has done.”