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Utah beats California in OT, advances to first-ever Pac-12 title game

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When hired as Utah head coach in 2011, Larry Krystkowiak took on what at the time was a monumental task. The program, which finished below .500 in each of the two seasons prior to Krystkowiak’s arrival, was making the move from the Mountain West to the Pac-12 and a lot of work needed to be done to ensure that the program would not only be competitive in its new home but successful as well.

That first team won just six games, but Krystkowiak and his staff steadily rebuilt the Utah program, and last season the Runnin’ Utes made their first Sweet 16 appearance since 2005. Late Friday night Utah took another step forward, as they advanced to the Pac-12 tournament title game for the first time in program’s brief history in the conference with an 82-78 overtime win over No. 3 seed California.

Lorenzo Bonam’s coast to coast drive for a layup that left his hand just before time expired pushed the game into overtime, and in the extra session the Runnin’ Utes were able to grab control of the game and hold off the Golden Bears in the end.

Last year’s team had a first round draft pick in Delon Wright, and this year’s group is anchored by a projected lottery pick in sophomore center Jakob Poeltl. Poeltl’s ability to not only score from 15 feet and in but also find open teammates makes him a tough matchup. And with this being the case, Cal made the decision to defend him straight up as opposed to sending double teams on the catch or first dribble.

As a result Poeltl finished the game with 29 points and 11 rebounds, outplaying the Golden Bear front line. What helped Cal was the fact that Utah shot just 7-for-21 from three, and fellow forward Kyle Kuzma had a quiet night with just five points. But Bonam added 18 points, and senior Brandon Taylor adding 12 points on 4-for-8 shooting from the field.

Both teams found the going tough at times offensively, with Cal’s Jaylen Brown shooting 3-for-17 from the field and fellow freshman Ivan Rabb being held in check until he made a couple key shots late in regulation. But in the extra session it was Utah that executed well enough to get the shots they needed to pick up the win. That goes hand in hand with the questions some have asked regarding the Golden Bears’ ability to finish close games against quality competition.

Cal’s done a very good job of this at home, where they finished the season undefeated, but that hasn’t carried over into games away from home. There was the loss at Virginia in December, and the collapse at Arizona just last week. Of course there’s no shame in losing to a Virginia, Arizona or Utah, but given the talent and the teams they’ll need to beat in order to make a run deep into the NCAA tournament Cal needs to get better in tight situations.

While Cal will return home to get ready for the NCAA tournament, Utah will look to come up with a strategy that can be successful against an Oregon team that swept the season series. And in Utah’s fifth season as a member of the Pac-12, a win over the Ducks would be a watershed moment for a program that has steadily developed into one capable of sustaining (and building upon) this success for years to come.

 

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.

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.