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No. 21 Houston tops Wichita State, advances to AAC final

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ORLANDO, Fla. — Senior guard Rob Gray never liked the idea of waiting for the selection committee to put his No. 21 Houston Cougars into the NCAA Tournament.

Gray wanted to get there by winning the American Athletic Conference Tournament and gaining an automatic bid, an opportunity he will have Sunday when Houston plays in the championship game against No. 8 Cincinnati.

He scored 33 points to lead the Cougars to a 77-74 victory over No. 11 Wichita State in the semifinal round Saturday.

Gray, who dominated the second half, also made a key late-game steal and hit the final two free throws with 5 seconds remaining.

“We had high expectations coming in. We wanted to go on a three-game win streak and cut down the nets in the conference tournament,” Gray said. “It’s a big deal to come here and make the championship game, and even win it, because it changes the perception that maybe the committee has about our program.”

Corey Davis Jr. scored 19 points for Houston (26-6).

Landry Shamet led Wichita State (25-7) with 19 points while Shaquille Morris had 12, including 10 in the final seven minutes to keep the game close. Rashard Kelly and Austin Reaves each scored 10.

“In our conference, you hear a lot about Cincinnati and Wichita State, but I think that’s perception more than anything else,” Houston coach Kelvin Simpsonn said. “We have got a good team, too.”

Galen Robinson gave the Cougars a 75-74 lead with 1:12 remaining. It was set up with a steal by Gray. Robinson also intercepted a Wichita State inbounds pass with 9 seconds to go that set up Gray’s final free throws.

Houston led through much of the game, but Kelly gave Wichita State its first lead after intermission, 60-59, with 7:12 remaining.

The lead changed hands or was tied eight times in the final seven minutes.

“We lost to a very good team,” Shockers coach Gregg Marshall said. “They’re a good defensive team. They’re gritty, tough and well-schooled. That’s just a tough one to lose.”

Houston dominated much of the first half, leading 37-31 at the break.

The Shockers, who came into the game averaging 83.3 points per game, were cold in the first half, when they shot just 27 percent (8 of 30) from the field.

Davis sparked the Cougars early by scoring eight consecutive points, allowing the Cougars to open a 20-11 lead.


Houston: After losing their opener in this tournament the past two years, the Cougars are thrilled to be in the title game.

Wichita State: This first season in the American Athletic Conference has been a good one for the Shockers, despite Saturday’s loss. They are ready for the NCAA Tournament.


Houston: Plays the AAC championship game against Cincinnati on Sunday.

Wichita State: Waits to see where it opens the NCAA Tournament.

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.”