Sam Dekker, Frank Kaminsky catch fire as No. 1 Wisconsin beats No. 2 Arizona

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LOS ANGELES — With the game and shot clocks dwindling down due to Arizona’s decision to play out the possession despite trailing by five, Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker knocked down a dagger of a three-pointer that sealed a second consecutive trip to the Final Four for Bo Ryan’s program. And what occurred on the next stoppage of play summed up the second half, and the season for Wisconsin.

After getting color commentator Reggie Miller’s attention, senior guard Josh Gasser pointed to Dekker and essentially said “stones.” Dekker’s performance was far too big for that designation however, as “boulders” along the lines of the dance Sam Cassell used to do in the NBA being a solid equivalent. Dekker scored 20 of his 27 points in the second half and Frank Kaminsky added 15 of his 29 to lead Wisconsin to the 85-78 win in the West regional final.

“Rondae [Hollis-Jefferson] and Stanley [Johnson] are two physical, good defenders, but we as a team were able to get them into a little bit of foul trouble and that really helped,” Dekker said. “So that opened up the driving lines for myself, and Bronson got me some good looks from the outside and really got my shots going.

“So all in all, it was just a lot of confidence. I was put into a position to hit some shots and they were able to go down for me.”

Kaminsky’s performance came nearly one year to the day after torching the Wildcats for 28 points and 11 rebounds in Anaheim, and while his overall field goal percentage may not have been at the level it’s been throughout the season that was mostly because of what Arizona was able to do defensively in the first half.

While he did score 14 points Kaminsky shot 5-for-13 from the field in the first half, and as a team the Badgers made just under 39 percent of their shots. The second stanza was an entirely different story for Wisconsin as a whole, as they shot 15-for-19 from the field and 10-for-12 from beyond the arc. Kaminsky hit a three on the first possession of the second half, and from there he and his teammates had success knocking down shots.

“I was a little out of control in the first half, throwing up some wild shots, trying to play too fast, trying to make everything. Get a 10-point lead in one shot,” Kaminsky said. “So I just knew I had to calm down in the second half and work through my teammates and work within the offense and try to figure out what we needed to do to push out the lead.

“And I was able to get some stuff inside. I hit a three to start the second half,” the national Player of the Year candidate added. “So it was just one of those things where I was trying to make too many things happen in one possession. So I just had to play it possession by possession.”

Wisconsin averaged nearly 1.62 points per possession in the second half, and considering how well Arizona’s played defensively throughout the year that will go down as one of the best halves of basketball played by any team in the country this season. Wisconsin’s ball and player movement led to a number of looks that while challenged in most instances were of solid quality, and once the Badgers got rolling Arizona found itself chasing the game in spite of their own offensive success.

In Hollis-Jefferson the Wildcats have one of the best defenders in the country, and he was able to do a good job on both Dekker and Kaminsky whenever he had the opportunity to defend them. The problem: Arizona couldn’t clone the sophomore, as whoever wasn’t being defended by Hollis-Jefferson ended up going off in the second half.

And with Arizona having to go small late in an attempt to force turnovers, Hollis-Jefferson wound up defending Kaminsky with Dekker being the beneficiary.

“I thought Rondae was the one guy that really could guard any of them,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said. “We tried to figure out how he could get two of them to play. But there was only one of him, and the other guy that he wasn’t on went to work.

“And as we moved Rondae around, that guy will go quiet. But as he left one Wisconsin player, the other one would heat up. And Sam Dekker in the second half was spectacular.”

Arizona shot 55 percent from the field and 27-for-29 from the foul line, with Hollis-Jefferson and Brandon Ashley scoring 17 points apiece to lead the way. Unfortunately for Arizona there were too many frustrating possessions on the other end of the floor to make that effort count for anything in the end, as Wisconsin put together a second half shooting exhibition for the ages.

Leading the way was Dekker, who battled through a nagging ankle injury earlier in the season and in the last two games has stepped up in a big way for Wisconsin. Saturday evening the junior caught fire in the second half, putting forth a clutch performance that one of the sport’s all-time clutch performers in Reggie Miller had to respect.

“I said, ‘Sam’s got stones like you,'” Gasser said when asked of his exchange with Miller. “He laughed. He agreed with me. He gave me a good head nod.”

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men’s basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified.

The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.

Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports’ governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme – including a former Adidas executive – by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville’s contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added.

“This argument is as novel as it is wrong,” the school wrote in its response. “Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself.”

Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP).

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who’s now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit’s family.

Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal’s immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville also dismissed the NCAA’s contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools.

“The enforcement staff’s remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws,” the response stated, “and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University’s athletics interests.

“For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff’s dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.