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Bryce Alford gets tearful sendoff in No. 3 UCLA’s Senior Night win

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LOS ANGELES — Bryce Alford lifted his warmup jersey to wipe his watery eyes. His father and coach, Steve Alford, had tears, too.

The third-ranked Bruins were an emotional mess before the game tipped off on Senior Night. It showed in the early going until they got their act together in the second half to beat Washington State 77-68 on Saturday night for their ninth straight win and a 16-1 finish at home.

“No one really warned me it was going to be like that,” the younger Alford said. “I was not ready for that at all. Kind of got me out of rhythm. The amount of emotion kind of drains you before the game and it’s hard to refocus.”

The Bruins shot 44 percent, a rare struggle this season, and didn’t clamp down until a 14-0 run over the final 10 minutes to earn their 28th victory, tying the 2007-08 team for most in a regular season.

Aaron Holiday scored 16 points, Isaac Hamilton added 14 and Thomas Welsh had 13 points and 11 rebounds for the Bruins (28-3, 15-3 Pac-12), who played without injured TJ Leaf. He wore a walking boot to protect his sprained left ankle and his No. 22 jersey over a gray hoodie while sitting on the bench.

Lonzo Ball had 12 points and 14 assists to break Gary Payton’s freshman Pac-12 assist record in what many believe was his last game at Pauley Pavilion. The touted freshman is expected to leave early for the NBA draft.

“I just felt for the seniors. They’ve been here the last four years. I’ve been here one year,” Ball said. “So far, I’m not looking back at it. There’s a lot of season left.”

Bryce Alford finished with 13 points and made two 3-pointers, tying Jason Kapono’s school career record with 317.

Charles Callison led the Cougars (13-17, 6-12) with 25 points. Josh Hawkinson added 16 points and 14 rebounds, becoming the school’s career rebounding leader with 1,003.

“We hung with them for three-fourths of the game and we just ran out of energy the last eight minutes,” Hawkinson said. “We just let down our guard and I think that helped them win.”

Hawkinson scored six straight points and Callison hit a 3-pointer that put the Cougars ahead 47-44. The Bruins missed eight of 10 shots during a 4 1/2-minute stretch and trailed 51-50.

Bryce Alford made a 3-pointer to launch the 14-0 run that gave UCLA a 64-51 lead. Ike Anigbogu came up with a big block of WSU’s Robert Franks as he was going in for what appeared to be a wide-open dunk.

“We just missed a lot of our shots,” Washington State coach Ernie Kent said. “If we were to have made half of them, that’s the difference in the game.”

Callison scored 13 of the Cougars’ final 17 points while the Bruins went 3 of 5 from the free throw line in the closing minutes.

The Cougars closed the first half on a 16-9 run to trail 35-34. Alford missed two 3-point attempts, airballing the first one, and Hamilton’s layup at the buzzer was declared no good.

BIG PICTURE

Washington State: The Cougars head into postseason play having lost two in a row and seven of nine and don’t figure to hang around long. They tied for ninth with Stanford in the league standings, but the Cardinal earned the No. 9 seed by virtue of their win over WSU.

UCLA: The Bruins enter next week’s Pac-12 Tournament as the league’s hottest team, but they could run into No. 6 Oregon and No. 7 Arizona in Las Vegas. They lost to both teams during the regular season as well as crosstown rival USC.

LEAF’S RETURN

The elder Alford said he expects Leaf to play in the Pac-12 Tournament. By then, the freshman will have had a week’s worth of rest after injuring his ankle last Wednesday against Washington.

SENIOR NIGHT

The court was crowded when the younger Alford was introduced. In addition to his coach-father and mother Tanya, brother Kory, sister Kayla, grandparents Sam and Sharan Alford, his uncle and his girlfriend were on hand. Also bidding farewell to Pauley were seniors Hamilton and Jerrold Smith, who has played a total of 33 minutes in his career.

TRIBUTE

The 1966-67 UCLA team that went 30-0 and won the national championship under coach John Wooden was honored at halftime on its 50th anniversary. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Lucius Allen and team captain Mike Warren were on hand. They were part of Wooden’s second undefeated team.

UP NEXT

Washington State: The 10th-seeded Cougars will play Colorado in an opening-round game at the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas on Wednesday.

UCLA: The third-seeded Bruins will play either USC or Washington in the tournament quarterfinals Thursday.

March Madness 2017: ACC Tournament Bracket: Duke-Louisville a quarterfinal game

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The ACC Tournament bracket is now set after Saturday’s action, and no one is happier about this news than Virginia. The Wahoos ended up as the No. 6 seed, but their half of the bracket doesn’t including No. 1 North Carolina, No. 4 Louisville or No. 5 Duke. Surprisingly enough, Florida State earned the No. 2 seed in the ACC Tournament.

No. 5 North Carolina locks up outright ACC title with win over No. 17 Duke

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Joel Berry II scored 28 points, Isaiah Hicks added 21 points and nine boards and No. 5 North Carolina finished off their outright ACC regular season title, beating the field by two full games, in a 90-83 win over No. 17 Duke in the Dean Dome on Saturday night.

And with the win, the Tar Heels have just about locked up a No. 1 seed in the south, regardless of how the ACC tournament plays out. It’s not totally safe, not if, say, Louisville beats Duke, UNC and Notre Dame en route to the ACC tournament title, but as long as UNC wins a game or two next week in Brooklyn, they should be just fine.

The biggest story here, however, is that Duke cost themselves a shot at being the No. 4 seed in the ACC tournament, and what that means is that the Blue Devils are going to have to win four games in four days if they want to be the ACC tournament champs. It also means that their beat-up superstar, Grayson Allen, has one less day to try and get his ankle right.

To be frank, it makes me wonder if it’s worth it for Duke to truly make a run at this thing.

Think about it like this: Duke’s season isn’t going to be determined by how they do in the ACC tournament. With the expectations this group had coming into the year, it’s about Final Four and national titles. This is also a team that doesn’t have certain guys practicing due to injuries, and now they’re going to be asked to play 40 minute games on, potentially, four consecutive days?

That’s seems like an unnecessary risk when winning the ACC tournament would very likely require Duke to go through Louisville and North Carolina before they even get to the title game.

It’ll also never play out that way.

Competitiveness has a way of winning out in situations like this.

Anyway, back to Carolina, they sure did make me look smart for calling them the nation’s best team a few weeks ago. When this group has Isaiah Hicks and Theo Pinson healthy, they are very, very good even on the nights that one of Justin Jackson or Berry doesn’t play all that well.

 

March Madness 2017: Pac-12 Tournament Bracket: Oregon No. 1 seed

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The Pac-12 tournament will have plenty of drama, as both USC and Cal are squarely on the bubble and Oregon, Arizona and UCLA will be competing for a No. 1 seed and the right to remain in the west region on Selection Sunday. Only one of them will be able to do so.

Introducing Cinderella: The Jacksonville State Gamecocks are headed to the NCAA tournament

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Conference: Ohio Valley

Coach: Ray Harper

Record: 20-14, 9-7 (t-4th)

Ratings and Rankings:

Kenpom: 168
RPI: 169
AP/USA Today: Not ranked

Seeding: A lot of this will depend on just how many upsets there are in the conference tournaments this week, but I can’t see Jacksonville State climbing higher than a No. 15 seed. That said, they do have wins over Belmont and Tulsa, so that matters.

Names you need to know: The strength of this team is in the back court, where Malcolm Drumwright and Greg Tucker carry the load. Those two combined for 39 points in the upset win over No. 1 seed Belmont in the semifinals of the OVC tournament, and combined, they averaged 23.7 points and 6.4 assists.

Stats you need to know: Four. That’s how many national titles that Ray Harper has won in his career, two at the Division II level with Kentucky Wesleyan and two at the NAIA level with Oklahoma City. All told, during his time at those two jobs, he made it to a national title game nine times in 11 seasons. He also has now made the NCAA tournament three times in six seasons as a Division I head coach, all three of which came as an upset-winner of a league tournament. Long story short: the man knows how to win in tournament play.

Big wins, bad losses: Jacksonville State’s best win of the season came against Belmont, who won the OVC regular season title by five games, in impressive fashion. They also own a win at Tulsa, who finished .500 in the AAC this year.

How’d they get here?: After getting picked last in their division in the OVC, the Gamecocks finished 9-7 in the league and were the No. 4 seed in the tournament, but they upset Belmont and then smacked around UT Martin in the league title game.

Outlook: There are two things to like about this team: Ray Harper is coaching them and they have talented guards that have proven they can make plays in big games. But they’re very likely going to end up playing a top 10 team in the first round of the NCAA tournament. I can’t see them pulling off the upset.

How do I know you?: You probably don’t. The school has sent a few football players to the NFL, but this is the first time, since their move to the Division I level, that the Gamecocks have been relevant.

So congrats for that.

March Madness 2017: SEC Tournament bracket set, Kentucky-Florida likely

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The SEC tournament got some luck with Florida and Kentucky ending up on the opposite sides of the bracket, meaning that the two best teams in the league likely won’t meet until the final. What will be interesting, however, are the SEC’s bubble teams. Vanderbilt and Georgia actually got pretty favorable brackets if they’re going to put together a run that would garner them enough wins to get an at-large bid.