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No. 8 Cincinnati rallies past Memphis 70-60 in AAC semis

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ORLANDO, Fla. — For the second straight day, the No. 8 Cincinnati Bearcats struggled but survived in the American Athletic Conference Tournament.

Coach Mick Cronin hopes that with the NCAA Tournament just a few days away, his players have learned their lesson.

“Hopefully, we learned a lesson that the other team — no matter their record or their situation — is coming to win,” Cronin said after the top-seeded Bearcats rallied to beat Memphis 70-60 on Saturday and advance to their second straight AAC Tournament final. “I think we were in shock that (Memphis) actually came out with confidence and wasn’t afraid of us.

“That’s going to be the same next week.”

Jarron Cumberland scored 18 points and Gary Clark had 17 points and 12 rebounds to help Cincinnati rally from a 13-point halftime deficit against Memphis, a day after the Bearcats overcame a six-point second-half deficit to beat SMU in the quarterfinals. Kyle Washington added 11 for the Bearcats, who advanced to play the winner of the Houston-Wichita State game later Saturday.

Jamal Johnson led Memphis with 17 points, but he didn’t score in the second half, when the Tigers wilted under intense defensive pressure from Cincinnati. Kyvon Davenport had 12 points and 11 rebounds for Memphis (21-13), which shot 51.9 percent in the first half but just 18.5 percent (5 of 27) in the second.

“When you make shots, things go a lot smoother and look a lot easier,” Tigers coach Tubby Smith said. “I thought we kind of got them back on their heels in the first half because we were attacking the basket and making shots. But we just didn’t seem to match Cincinnati’s intensity in the second half.”

Cincinnati trailed 42-29 at halftime but wiped out all of that in the first seven minutes of the second half with an active and aggressive defense.

Jacob Evans chased Johnson all over the floor and held him to 0-for-4 shooting after the freshman guard had hit all five of his field attempts in the first half, including four 3-pointers.

“He lit us up,” Clark said of Johnson’s first-half shooting. “When you let a guy like that get comfortable, the rim gets bigger. We didn’t let him get comfortable in the second half.”

Memphis missed 14 of its first 15 shots to start the second half and had two turnovers. That many opportunities put some life in the Cincinnati offense, which was dormant to that point.

The Bearcats went on a 21-2 run to start the second half that featured contributions from all five starters, including three 3-pointers from Cumberland, who ended the run with a 3 that gave Cincinnati a 50-44 lead.

The Bearcats were never seriously challenged after that. They made 10 of their last 11 free throws to seal the game.


Cincinnati: The Bearcats were projected to be a No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament and nothing that happens in the AAC Tournament likely would have changed that. However, Cincinnati hasn’t won a conference tournament since 2004 (in Conference USA) and Cronin has made a point of telling his players they need to finish something this season.

Memphis: The Tigers played really well at the end of the season, winning seven of their last nine and dominating Cincinnati for a half. The question now is whether that was enough to save Smith’s job. The Memphis coach was asked if he expected to be back next season and responded: “Who knows?”


Cincinnati: Faces the winner of Wichita State-Houston.

Memphis: Awaits word on a possible NIT berth.

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.”