LAS VEGAS (AP) Isaac Hamilton scored 22 points, and No. 3 UCLA overcame an uneven performance by Lonzo Ball while holding off rival Southern California 76-74 on Thursday night in the Pac-12 quarterfinals.
Ball got into early foul trouble and the young point guard struggled as the Trojans cut into a 14-point deficit before missing a tying 3-pointer and then two more shots in the final minute while trailing by three.
Ball, the Pac-12 freshman of the year, finished with 12 points and seven assists. Next up for Ball and the Bruins is a matchup with No. 7 Arizona in the semifinals on Friday night.
T.J. Leaf scored 14 points in his return after missing a game with a left ankle injury, and Thomas Welsh added 11 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out. UCLA (29-3) earned its 10th straight win.
Jordan McLaughlin scored 18 points and Elijah Stewart added 17 for USC (24-9), but each missed shots in the lane in the closing seconds while trailing by three.
Bennie Boatwright scored 11 points, but was 3 of 11 from the field and missed a tying 3 attempt with 34 seconds left.
Meeting in the tournament for the second straight year, the Los Angeles rivals played a much closer game than the last encounter, a 102-70 UCLA rout on Feb. 18. After USC started 1 of 14 from the field, it slowly got back in it.
Southern California coach Andy Enfield was confident going into the game that the Trojans had done enough to warrant an NCAA invite. A strong showing even in defeat could further help the cause.
It wasn’t easy, but UCLA cleared the first hurdle in a tough three-step task. The Bruins are hoping to beat Arizona on Friday and potentially No. 5 Oregon in the final, a feat that could give them a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
UCLA coach Steve Alford spent much of the game pointing out the free-throw discrepancy to the referees. The Bruins didn’t attempt their third free throw until 11:08 remained. The Trojans, who took it to the basket more, had 18 by then. USC finished with a 25-13 edge.
FOUL MOOD, TOO
USC’s second-half angst was directed at the scorer’s table after Enfield removed Stewart when it was announced he had four fouls. He had three, and Stewart quickly jumped off the bench and returned.
USC: The Trojans would like to return to the NCAA Tournament and make up for a dismal loss in 2016, when they blew a big lead and lost in the first round to Providence.
UCLA: Friday night will settle the season series with Arizona. Each team won on the other’s home floor in the regular season.
Colson, No. 22 Notre Dame cruise past No. 21 Virginia 71-58
NEW YORK (AP) Since coming into the Atlantic Coast Conference four years ago, Notre Dame has more than held its own as a football school in a tough basketball league.
There was one box the Fighting Irish had not checked yet, and they did it at the best possible time.
Bonzie Colson had 21 points and 10 rebounds and No. 22 Notre Dame beat No. 21 Virginia for the first time since joining the ACC, topping the Cavaliers 71-58 on Thursday night to reach the tournament semifinals.
“It’s nice to get the first one when the stakes are really high,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “(The players) know everything we’ve accomplished in four years, that’s the one thing we didn’t have an answer for. They wanted to beat this program. This program has kind of had our number.”
The third-seeded Fighting Irish (24-8) will face second-seeded and No. 16 Florida State on Friday in the late semifinal at Barclays Center. North Carolina-Duke will be both the main event and opening act.
The Fighting Irish were 0-5 against the Cavaliers (22-10) since entering the ACC, never breaking 66 points in the process. For once, Notre Dame’s offense ran smoothly against Virginia’s active defense and the Irish even managed to push the pace some against the methodical Cavaliers.
“I think our smaller lineup (with the 6-foot-5 Colson at center) … really spreads the floor,” Brey said. “And Matt Farrell was fabulous with his decisions off the ball screen, dragging their help. Bonzie was slipping into space. We were hitting and making the extra pass. We’re really hard to deal with when we can get into that rhythm.”
Notre Dame started both halves strong and used an 11-0 run, highlighted by a steal and reverse slam by Rex Pflueger, to build a 17-point lead five minutes into the second half.
“I think we’re really hungry and motivated to play these guys,” Colson said. “It’s been a tough route playing them in the past, so I think we wanted it more. We got off to a great start. That’s something Coach Brey has been emphasizing, great starts on offense.”
The Cavaliers never made a serious push back.
“We were behind in the play,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “They really were moving the ball well. They’re hard to guard. They played well, and we didn’t have one of our better games.”
Devon Hall and Darius Thompson led Virginia with 12 points each.
Colson had his ACC-best 19th double-double for the Irish. They have won seven of eight.
Virginia: The Cavaliers are not going to win many games in which their opponent shoots over 45 percent. Notre Dame shot 52.2. Virginia is not built to trade baskets, especially if leading scorer London Perrantes goes 1 for 9 from the field as he did against the Irish.
“Obviously, Notre Dame played some good defense tonight. But, yeah, missed some chippies, some layups. I had a couple of open 3s that I missed,” Perrantes said.
The Cavaliers will go as far as their defense takes them in the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s not going to change for us,” Bennett said. “It’s just doing it a little bit better and taking care of the ball.”
Notre Dame: The Irish got efficient contributions from up and down the starting lineup. Matt Farrell scored 14 points and VJ Beachem and Steve Vasturia each added 12. And the Irish did it without much help from the 3-pointer. They shot 65.5 percent from 2-point range and 29.4 from 3.
Virginia: The Cavaliers will be making their fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance, probably as about a fifth or sixth seed.
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish split two games with Florida State during the regular season.
“They come at you in waves, physically and athletically,” Brey said.
Xavier clinches an NCAA tournament bid as head coach Chris Mack goes rogue
That’s the only way to explain why, with 39 seconds left and a 57-56 lead, Mack picked Kamar Baldwin, Butler’s best free throw shooter on the season, to shoot two. Kethan Savage had just been fouled going to the rim, but a hard fall directly on the small of his back forced Savage to the sideline.
That meant that Xavier was allowed to pick one of the other four players on the floor to shoot the free throws.
There was Kelan Martin, a 77.4 percent free throw shooter, and Andrew Chrabacsz, a 75.0 percent free throw shooter. Then there was center Nate Fowler, a sophomore center who stands 6-foot-11 and shoots 76.9 percent from the line, but he’s only been to the charity stripe 39 times this season and averages under 12 minutes a night.
Fowler would have been the savvy pick.
Xavier’s staff, however, recommended everyone except Kamar Baldwin, Butler’s best free throw shooter this season. And that’s precisely who Mack went with. Like I said, he went rogue, but it was a savvier decision than you may realize. A freshman playing in his first Big East tournament game, and he hadn’t shot a free throw all night?
Baldwin went 1-for-2 from the line, and on the ensuing possession, a Trevon Bluiett jumper gave the Musketeers the lead for good. Xavier would go on to win 62-57, a win that should end all the speculation about whether or not the Musketeers are an NCAA tournament team. Xavier entered Thursday having lost six of their last nine games. Those three wins — their only three wins since Feb. 4th — all came against DePaul. Overall, the Musketeers were 5-9 since their star point guard, Edmond Sumner, went down with a torn ACL.
That was enough to raise the question: Is this truly a tournament team?
“We have competitive guys,” Mack said. “They understand what’s at stake. I don’t know how you can’t. [It’s] 2017. Everywhere we go, guys have their phones up to their noses. So I’m sure they’re snapchatting, but at the same time they’re probably checking twitter and seeing the bottom line. We’re aware of all that stuff.”
The answer, in all likelihood, was that Xavier probably had done enough to earn an at-large bid even if they had lost on Thursday, but getting that monkey off their back will make Selection Sunday just that much less stressful.
It also puts the Musketeers in position to make a real run at the Big East title.
They’ll play the winner of Creighton-Providence in the semifinals on Friday night, and neither of those teams are imposing. A win there and a trip to the title game — likely against Villanova — wouldn’t be a bad thing for this group. Even without Edmond Sumner, Xavier is a talented team. They’re physically tough, but not so much mentally. Leadership has been an issue for this group. When this going gets tough, they’ve had a tendency to fold.
The opposite was true on Thursday.
The Musketeers won a game as a scrappy underdog, which is exactly the kind of program they’ve been during their most successful March runs.
And Thursday’s win gives them a chance to do it again this year.
Duke advances past Louisville in ACC quarters, to face North Carolina
BROOKLYN — The story of Thursday afternoon’s ACC semifinal between fifth-seeded Duke and fourth-seeded Louisville is going to be Grayson Allen.
Allen — the Preseason National Player of the Year who has simultaneously been the most scrutinized player in college basketball, one of the biggest disappointments in the sport and a guy who is as banged up physically as he’s been in the media this year — broke out of a month-long slump in emphatic fashion. He scored 18 points in 28 minutes off the bench as the Blue Devils erased a 12-point deficit in the final 13 minutes to knock off Louisville, 81-77.
Over the course of the previous eight games, Allen had averaged 6.9 points and shot 26 percent from the floor as he battled an ankle injury that kept him out for a game and a lack of confidence that sent him to the bench. It came to a head on Wednesday, as Duke was able to beat Clemson despite the fact that Allen contributed no points and one technical foul in just 12 minutes. As a team, the Blue Devils were just 5-3 in those eight games.
“He wasn’t ready to play as well last night,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said after Thursday’s win. “Look, I love Grayson. Grayson, I got his back all the time. And everyone in our program has his back all the time. It’s just, the public eye on our program is a blessing and can be a curse. So we have to be able to deal with all of it.”
The game changed during a 24-9 run midway through the second half, one that turned a 61-49 deficit into a 73-70 lead for the Blue Devils. That run was sparked by three straight threes that Luke Kennard, who scored 16 of his 24 points in the final 13 minutes, made. But during that stretch, Allen and Louisville sub David Levitch got into a minor altercation. On one possession, Levitch was whistled for two fouls for crowding Allen, the latter of which came as Allen shot a three-pointer. Allen his all three of his free throws, cutting the Louisville lead to three.
Coach K pulled Allen from the game after that sequence and proceeded to give him a hug while driving home his happiness with the effort by enthusiastically smacking Allen on the butt.
“I believe in him. I love him,” Coach K said. “And I thought what he did today was sensational. I loved it. I loved it. He was himself today.”
The Duke team let him know, Kennard said, that on Wednesday, “he wasn’t himself.” He didn’t play the way they knew he could play. He didn’t do the things he’s capable of doing. Everyone saw it, and his teammates made sure to let him know about it.
“There’s no need to coddle him because he doesn’t need it,” senior Matt Jones said. “It’s basketball. You have your ups and you have your downs. G knows everyone in this locker room has his back.”
That’s the narrative that you’re going to get on Thursday, that Allen’s back and healthy and confident, just in time for the Blue Devils to square off with North Carolina in the semifinals of the ACC tournament on Friday night.
In the Barclays Center.
On national television.
I’ll admit, I’m extremely fired up for that game. If that’s the narrative, it’s a damn good one.
But it’s not the reason that Duke made their comeback on Thursday against Louisville.
That can truthfully be credited to two things: Kennard’s takeover and Duke’s 2-3 zone, which caught Louisville completely off-guard. The zone was thrown on with Duke down 12, and it totally changed the rhythm of the game.
“Any port in a storm, so to speak,” Coach K said. “We could not stop them in transition in man. And they missed some shots. It’s not like we played a great zone, but it changed a little the tempo.”
That change in tempo was all the difference. Instead of Louisville getting stops and easy points in transition, they were settling for threes and trying to drive against a packed-in zone defense that was designed to dare the three-point deficient Cardinals from firing away.
“Coach had that in his back pocket,” Jones said. “We just got competitors and we want to win. We don’t work on it in practice.”
That surge coincided with Kennard’s game-changing trio of threes. A couple of possessions before Louisville took their biggest lead of the game, Kennard, who missed seven of his first ten shots from the floor, threw up three bricks from beyond the arc on the same possessions. He made the next four shots he attempted, three of which came from beyond the arc, and that’s what launched the run and the comeback.
Getting Grayson Allen right was huge for the Blue Devils. Their ceiling is significantly lower when he’s not playing well, and he hadn’t played well since going for 25 points in a win over North Carolina at Cameron Indoor Stadium in early February.
But the reason Duke won on Thursday was because Kennard got hot at the right time and Duke’s defense made the plays they needed to make.
And at the end of the day, the reason Duke can win a national title is because, on any given night, the Blue Devils have three guys that can be the best player on the floor in any game they play.
North Carolina cruises past Miami, Roy Williams insults President Trump
NEW YORK, N.Y. — Roy Williams was feeling pretty good after top-seeded North Carolina picked off Miami, 78-53, in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament on Thursday afternoon, good enough to take a swing at President Donald Trump.
The ACC tournament in being played at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn this season, the first time the ACC tournament has been played in the city that doesn’t sleep, and Williams was asked about the value of the move and whether or not the added media coverage was beneficial.
Ole Roy … he’s not impressed by the Big City.
“It used to be much more so than I think it is now,” Williams said. “Now everybody’s has got social media, and we don’t need The New York Times to find out what in the dickens is going on in the country. You know, our president tweets out more bullsh– than anybody I’ve ever seen. We’ve got social media. In the old days, there’s no question it was the media capital of the world, but I’m not sure it is right now. Media capital of the world is sitting right there, right there, right there.”
He’s not wrong, about any of it.
A conference featuring Duke, North Carolina and Louisville is going to be smothered in media regardless of where a tournament is held.
And President Trump?
He tweets out a lot of crazy stuff.
All of that is true.
As far as the game was concerned, North Carolina, just six weeks removed from losing by 15 points in a game they trailed by 22 points in Coral Gables, cruised past the Hurricanes on a night where they never appeared to hit top gear.
Their transition game was effective but it wasn’t really dominant. The Tar Heels hit a couple of threes but they never caught fire. They got a few offensive rebounds, but Miami scored more second-chance points.
If anything, it was UNC’s defense that made a statement, holding Miami to just 53 points, 35.8 percent shooting and just 0.803 points-per-possession.
That’s the kind of defense that UNC is going to have to play if they want to make a run as a Final Four and a national title.