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Michigan St hopes Bridges attacks defense in NCAA Tournament

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EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Miles Bridges can soar for slams, dribble to set up shots and make 3-pointers from all angles.

He can also drift, defer and drive his coach crazy.

Michigan State’s Tom Izzo has been privately and publicly prodding Bridges to do more with the ball, going as far as saying he needs to be more of a jerk on the court and more selfish.

“As we keep saying to him all year long, ‘Just be more aggressive,'” Izzo said Tuesday .

Bridges, though, pushes back at times.

“I can’t do it without my teammates,” he said softly.

The third-seeded Spartans will need Bridges to play like a star at times in the NCAA Tournament to improve their chances of chasing the school’s third national championship. His first opportunity is Thursday night against 14th-seeded Bucknell in Detroit. And the 6-foot-7 forward knows it.

“I definitely don’t want to go home after all the work we put in,” Bridges said. “I’m going to have to take over games.”

Bridges didn’t take his first opportunity to make millions in the NBA after his freshman season, choosing to chase a priceless championship in college.

“This is the top opportunity that I wanted when I came back,” he said. “I wanted to win a national championship. Now that it’s here, I’m just going to have to play. I can’t talk anymore. I have to go out there and win it.”

When Bridges scores a few more points than his average, the Spartans win.

He scored 20 points 11 times this season, and helped his team win each of those games as part of the school-record 28 victories in the regular season.

The All-Big Ten and preseason All-America player leads the team with nearly 17 points per game, ranks second with almost seven rebounds and is third with just under three assists. He led the Spartans to their first Big Ten outright championship since 2009 as one of four players in the nation with his averages in points, rebounds and assists along with almost one block per game.

Bridges averaged 20 points and eight-plus rebounds in two NCAA Tournament games last year on a team without much experience, depth or size that beat Miami by 20 points and lost to Kansas by 20.

Less than a month later, Bridges did what few potential lottery picks do and stayed in college.

“I got some unfinished business here,” Bridges said last year at the foot of the school’s Sparty statue. “I want to stay .”

The signature moment of this season, so far at least, was making a game-winning 3-pointer in the final seconds against Purdue.

“I just wanted to make memories with my teammates and that’s what I’ve done this year,” he said.

The low point for Bridges was being briefly ineligible, two days before the final game of the regular season at Wisconsin. Earlier that week, Yahoo! Sports published expense reports listing a $70 lunch with Bridges’ parents and a $400 cash advance to his mother. The school denied the allegations in the report, but later announced its compliance office discovered an NCAA violation because Bridges’ family had dinner with an agent last winter without his knowledge. That finding made the sophomore star ineligible for about a day before the NCAA reinstated him. Bridges had to donate $40 to a charity of his choice as a condition of the reinstatement process.

“No great story comes without trials and tribulations,” Bridges said.

Bridges and his teammates had a chance to clear their minds and relax their bodies last week, idling between the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments. They went to see “Hamilton” in Chicago, practiced at the Bulls’ facility and saw the NBA team play.

“Everybody, like our seniors, starts thinking the end is near so you have to deal with all those things,” Izzo said. “In Miles’ case, who knows when the end will be? But I think he’s handled everything pretty well.”


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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.”