Gonzaga might be the leader for Kyle Wiltjer’s services

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One of the biggest stories off the college basketball offseason recently has been the late transfer of Kyle Wiltjer. Now there are reports that his new destination could already be decided.

Wiltjer, who averaged 10.2 points and 4.2 rebounds for Kentucky last season, is a Pacific Northwest kid for Portland, and he may make his way back to the region, with Gonzaga reportedly being the top team on his list.

Says Adam Zagoria of ZagsBlog.com

“Gonzaga,” one coach at another school trying to recruit him said.

The 6-foot-10 Wiltjer visited the Gonzaga campus this week, ESPN.com reported.

With the transfer of Houston’s James Young to Oregon, it’s unlikely Wiltjer lands in his home state at Oregon, according to the report.

Looks like Wiltjer already has the support of Bulldogs’ point guard Kevin Pangos.

“I told him obviously I would love to have him at Gonzaga if he chose to leave Kentucky, but I’m not gonna pressure him too much. He’s my friend and whatever decision he makes, he has to live with. I hope he comes back and to play with him, but we’ll see.”

Wiltjer left the Wildcats in search of a more prominent role at another high-major program. With Gonzaga losing Elias Harris and Kelly Olynyk, Wiltjer’s size and outside shooting ability could help fill the talent gaps left by them.

Follow David Harten on Twitter at @David_Harten

Pitt moves into 1st-place ACC tie destroying Louisville

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PITTSBURGH – Nike Sibande scored 15 points off the bench, nine Pittsburgh players entered the scoring column and the Panthers demolished Louisville 91-57 on Tuesday night and moved into a first-place tie with Clemson in the ACC.

Entering play Tuesday, the top five teams in the ACC were separated by just a game in the standings. A win by No. 8 Virginia against No. 22 North Carolina State Tuesday would create a three-way tie for first between Clemson, Pitt and the Cavaliers.

Against Louisville, the Panthers (17-7, 10-3) distributed 23 assists on 28-made baskets. Defensively, Pitt held Louisville (3-21, 1-12) to 27.6% (16 for 58) shooting and outrebounded the Cardinals 37-30. Mike James scored 11 points for Louisville.

El Ellis made a pair of foul shots to bring Louisville into a 14-all tie with 13:36 before halftime. Pitt then went on a 16-2 run over nearly the next five minutes. Six-different Panthers scored during the run. Nate Santos’ 3-pointer with 9:38 before the break made it 27-16 and Pitt led by double digits the rest of the way. A 47-27 halftime lead turned into a 58-28 margin just 1:59 into the second half.

With the win, the Panthers reached double digits in conference wins for just the second time in 10 ACC seasons. Pitt went 11-7 in its first year in the ACC following its 12-6 campaign in its final year in the Big East in 2012-13.

Louisville will continue its road trip when it takes on No. 19 Miami on Saturday. Pitt travels to face Florida State on Saturday.

Appleby scores 35 as Wake Forest holds off Tar Heels 92-85

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Tyree Appleby scored a season-high 35 points, 23 coming at the free-throw line, and Wake Forest built a big lead early then held on for a 92-85 victory over North Carolina on Tuesday night.

Appleby was just two points short of his career high while tying his best of 11 assists and sharing the team lead with seven rebounds. Though only 6 of 20 from the floor, he made a career-best 23 of 28 free throws including 13 straight in the final two minutes when the Tar Heels got as close as seven after trailing by 26 early in the second half.

Damari Monsanto had three 3-pointers and 16 points with seven rebounds and Matthew Marsh came off the bench to score 10 points for the Demon Deacons (16-9, 8-6 ACC), who won their second straight after losing four in a row.

Caleb Love made all four of North Carolina’s 3-pointers, including three in the final minute, and finished with 24 points for the Tar Heels (15-9, 7-6), who have lost three straight. Armando Bacot, who played only eight minutes of the second half before fouling out, had 17 points and 11 rebounds. RJ Davis added 16 points and Pete Nance had 11 points and 10 rebounds.

When these teams met on Jan. 4, an 88-79 win for North Carolina, there were 20 lead changes. Tuesday night, there was a lone lead change two minutes into the game as Wake Forest quickly took control and led 47-25 at halftime.

The Tar Heels trailed by 10 with 3 1/2 minutes left in the game not long after Bacot fouled out. They got as close as seven in the final minute thanks to Love but no closer because of Appleby.

Still, it took two from the line by Daivien Williamson with 12 seconds left for a 10-point lead that finally ensured the win before Love hit his final 3-pointer.

In their Jan. 4 game, North Carolina scored 32 points off 15 turnovers. Tuesday, the Deacons committed just five. They finished 33 of 42 at the line to 21 of 26 for the Heels.

North Carolina is home against Clemson and Wake Forest is host to Georgia Tech, both games on Saturday.

Texas A&M beats Auburn 83-78, completes season sweep

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COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Wade Taylor IV had 22 points and seven assists, Julius Marble scored a career-high 20 points and Texas A&M beat Auburn 83-78 on Tuesday night to complete a regular-season sweep.

The last of 11 lead changes in the final eight minutes came after Texas A&M made 7 of 9 shots, with three straight makes from Marble, to build a 78-74 lead with 2:09 left.

Auburn guard Wendell Green Jr. was short on a long 3-pointer and Tyrece Radford secured the defensive rebound before being fouled with 24.9 seconds left. Radford made two free throws to extend Texas A&M’s lead to 80-76. Green had a layup roll off the rim and Andersson Garcia went 1 of 2 from the line for a five-point lead before Auburn was short on another 3-pointer with 10.8 left.

Texas A&M was 31 of 39 from the free-throw line compared to 9 of 14 for Auburn.

Garcia added 11 points and Radford scored 10 for Texas A&M (17-7, 9-2 SEC), which also beat then-No. 15 Auburn 79-63 on Jan. 25. The Aggies are off to their best conference start since joining the SEC in 2012.

Green finished with 20 points and six assists for Auburn (17-7, 7-4). Johni Broome had 18 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out late and Jaylin Williams and Allen Flanigan each scored 12 points.

Texas A&M plays at LSU on Saturday. Auburn, which has lost four of its last five games, hosts No. 3 Alabama on Saturday.

South Carolina’s Staley defends team after Auriemma comments

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina coach Dawn Staley strongly defended her top-ranked Gamecocks on Tuesday following critical comments by UConn coach Geno Auriemma two days earlier.

Auriemma said after the top-ranked Gamecocks’ 81-77 victory that Huskies guard/forward Lou Lopez Senechal had bruises on her body from the game.

“It’s just appalling what teams do her now,” he said. “It’s not basketball anymore. I don’t know what it is, but it’s not basketball.”

Staley fired back Tuesday on her radio call-in show, saying when her team has success, “we’re called something other than players that are locked in.”

“They play the right way,” she continued, “and approach it the right way whether they win or lose. We don’t denounce anybody’s play. They are always uplifting the game of women’s basketball and when we were getting our heads beat in by UConn for all those years, I said nothing.”

South Carolina’s victory Sunday was its fourth in the past five meetings between the schools, including the national championship game last April.

Staley’s South Carolina teams had been 0-7 against UConn before their recent run of success.

“We’ve been called so many things and I’m sick of it,” Staley said. “I’m sick of it because I coach some of the best human beings the game has ever had.”

South Carolina (23-0, 10-0) visits Auburn on Thursday night.

Forward Mawot Mag to miss rest of season for No. 24 Rutgers

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 01 Minnesota at Rutgers
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PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Junior forward Mawot Mag will miss the rest of the season for No. 24 Rutgers after tearing the ACL in his right knee.

Rutgers announced the injury Tuesday, hours before the Scarlet Knights were to play at No. 18 Indiana. Mag was hurt Saturday in the first half of a game against Michigan State, a 61-55 win.

Mag, who was born in Melbourne, Australia, started every game for Rutgers this season, averaging 7.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and a steal. His best performance came in an overtime win over Ohio State when he scored a career-high 15 points and added a late 3-pointer to give the Scarlet Knights breathing room in a 68-64 decision.

Aundre Hyatt, a junior who has been averaging 9.4 points and 4.2 rebounds off the bench, is expected to replace Mag in the starting lineup.

“We’re going to miss Mawot greatly,” coach Steve Pikiell said. “He’s a high-energy player, a veteran presence and the ultimate glue-guy. He’s one of our best team defenders and one of our best offensive rebounders. There’s not a better person in our program.”