(AP Photo/John Locher)

Gonzaga beats Saint Mary’s 85-75 in WCC title game

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LAS VEGAS (AP) Gonzaga reached the NCAA Tournament the previous 17 times by building its resume over the course of the season.

The Zags didn’t have that luxury this year. Lose in the West Coast Conference title game and there was a chance one of the nation’s longest NCAA streaks would come to an end.

Gonzaga took the guesswork out of its postseason fate with a dominating offensive performance, shooting its way past Saint Mary’s 85-75 Tuesday night in the WCC championship game to earn its 18th straight NCAA Tournament berth.

“All is well in Zagville!” Gonzaga coach Mark Few told the crowd inside Orleans Arena after the game. “The streak is alive!”

It certainly was in jeopardy heading into the WCC tournament.

Despite sharing the WCC regular-season crown, Gonzaga (26-7) had a few smudges on its resume and was not a lock to make the NCAA Tournament.

The Zags took the suspense out of Selection Sunday with a balanced attack and by shooting 61 percent in the latest installment of their rivalry with Saint Mary’s.

Eric McClellan scored 20 points, Kyle Wiltjer 17 and Josh Perkins added 16 for Gonzaga, which helped seal its 15th WCC title by hitting 21 of 22 free throws.

Domantas Sabonis added 15 points and eight rebounds, helping the Zags establish an early inside-out game that set the stage for the rest of the hot-shooting night.

Gonzaga’s guards, supposedly the weak link on this team, closed it out by scoring 19 of the Bulldogs’ final 21 points.

“It was huge for us because nothing’s guaranteed,” said Wiltjer, who made 6 of 10 shots and all four of his free throws.

“We didn’t want to be on the outside looking in on Selection Sunday and I’m proud of these guys for these past couple games, just having the will to win.”

Saint Mary’s (27-5) tried to keep up with the Bulldogs’ shooting and did most of the way through, making 12 of 25 from 3-point range.

The Gaels were hurt by turnovers to fall into a big early hole and ran out of steam after tracking the Bulldogs down in the second half.

Saint Mary’s must wait for Selection Sunday to see if it has a spot in the NCAA bracket, though it should be in good shape. Emmett Naar had 25 points and Joe Rahon added 16 for the Gaels.

“It was a heck of a game,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said. “We played well enough to win offensively and we weren’t close defensively.”

Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s are no strangers to the WCC title game, meeting for the eighth time since 2004.

The difference this time was the favorite.

In the past, it was always Gonzaga. The Zags have been the dominant force in the WCC and beat Saint Mary’s five times in seven games with the tournament title on the line.

This season, the Gaels had the edge heading into Las Vegas. They swept Gonzaga during the regular season for the first time since 1995 and entered the WCC tournament as the No. 1 seed.

The third leg of this season’s rivalry was an offensive showcase, the teams combining to hit 13 of their first 14 shots, revving up the already-amped atmosphere inside Orleans Arena even more.

“The coaches preach for us to come out and let it rip and it’s fun to play like that,” McClellan said.

The Zags gained some separation with a bit of defense.

Gonzaga didn’t exactly keep the Gaels from making shots – they went 13 of 26 in the first half – but did harass them into turnovers that set up shots in transition.

The Zags outscored Saint Mary’s 15-4 on points off turnovers and hit 18 of 26 shots to lead 43-35 at halftime.

“We didn’t do a lot of things right defensively, but turnovers that lead to easy baskets at the other end is hard to defend,” said Rahon, who was 4 of 7 from 3-point range.

The torrid shooting continued in the second half and the Gaels cut down on the turnovers, allowing them to keep up with the Zags in an entertaining second half.

Gonzaga used a mini spurt capped by McClellan’s straightaway 3-pointer to push the lead to 75-67 with just over 2 minutes left and kept its cushion from there to leave no doubt about extending its streak.

TIP INS

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs lead the all-time series against Saint Mary’s 63-29 … Gonzaga has not missed the NCAAs since 1998. … McClellan made all nine of his free throws.

St. Mary’s: The Gaels had eight total turnovers, leading to 20 points for Gonzaga. … Evan Fitzner had 11 points. … Dane Pineau finished with 10 rebounds, including six of Saint Mary’s 11 on the offensive glass.

WHAT’S NEXT

Gonzaga will play in the NCAA Tournament.

St. Mary’s must wait to see if it gets an NCAA at-large bid on Sunday.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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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

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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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

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
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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.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.