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No. 15 Arizona beats USC to defend Pac-12 title


LAS VEGAS — Deandre Ayton dribbled through the sea of red-and-white confetti, bobbing and weaving past cheerleaders and fans. The Arizona big man came upon a security guard, dropped a spin move that left both smiling and headed to the locker room.

Ayton’s night at the Pac-12 championship was just as smooth a ride.

Ayton had 32 points and 18 rebounds in one of the most dominating performances in Pac-12 Tournament history, leading No. 15 Arizona to its second straight title with a 75-61 victory over Southern California on Saturday night.

“The dominance he just put forth, if there’s another player better, I’d like to meet him,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “He put his team on his back, played the right way and absolutely was a one-man wrecking crew.”

Ayton put on a show along The Strip, bouncing back from a nervous Pac-12 opener against Colorado with two dominating games.

The Bahamian big man had 32 points and 14 rebounds in a semifinal win over UCLA and knocked the Trojans (23-11) around like bowling pins in the championship game. Ayton made 14 of 20 shots from the floor and all four of his free throws to lead Arizona (27-8) to its ninth Pac-12 title.

“I was a little starstruck, I wasn’t ready, rushing all of my shots against Colorado, not taking my time,” said Ayton, who matched the Pac-12 freshman record set by UCLA’s Kevin Love with his 23rd double-double. “Coach told me to face up, see what the defense is giving me and that’s what I did.”

USC gave Arizona trouble with its zone at times and had a decent offensive night. The Trojans just had no answer for Ayton.

“I don’t think you’re going to stop a guy like that, so we just have to try to do our best to contain him,” said Nick Rakocevic, led USC with 13 points. “Although he went off tonight.

Both teams fought through adversity to reach the title game.

Arizona was twice entangled in a federal investigation into shady recruiting practices. USC was named in the probe as well, leading to sophomore De’Anthony Melton to be ruled ineligible this season.

The Trojans also have played without Bennie Boatright since Feb. 15, when he suffered a season-ending knee injury, and backup point guard Derryck Thornton missed the semifinals due to an illness.

In the title game, USC had success getting into the lane and with its pick-and-roll on offense while giving the Wildcats trouble with its zone.

Arizona had success getting to the offensive glass — eight in the first half — and by getting the ball to Ayton, who had 13 points and eight rebounds by halftime.

USC led 33-30.

“We had a three-point lead at halftime in a Pac-12 championship,” USC coach Andy Endfield said. “That’s what you play for, that’s what you dream about.”

But Ayton continued to be a nightmare in the second half and USC went down a big man when Chimezie Metu picked up his fourth foul with 12 minutes left.

Arizona took off from there — literally.

Rawle Alkins brought the pro-Arizona crowd to a roar with a two-handed dunk over Elijah Stewart and Ayton followed with another dunk to make it even louder, putting Arizona up 53-46.

Ayton kept dunking and the crowd kept roaring until the confetti cannons went off.


USC: likely locked up a spot in the NCAA Tournament after its semifinal victory, but might sweat a little on Selection Sunday

Arizona: looking like one of the nation’s best teams at just the right time and should get a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.


Alkins’ dunk over Stewart caused maybe the loudest of the night in T-Mobile Arena and still had Arizona’s players talking long after the game.

“It took me a few seconds to realize what happened,” Arizona center Dusan Ristic said. “It was one of the best dunks I’d ever seen in my life.”


USC: will play in the postseason, hoping it will be in the NCAA Tournament.

Arizona: will play in the NCAA Tournament, most likely as a high seed.

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.”