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Northwestern rides hot start to beat Wisconsin 60-52

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A switch to a zone defense may be just what Northwestern needed to get going in Big Ten play.

At the least, the zone has given the Wildcats a spark during a tough road stretch.

Derek Pardon scored 17 points on 8-of-8 shooting, and Northwestern rode a game-opening 18-1 run to beat Wisconsin 60-52 on Thursday night.

Scottie Lindsey added 14 points for the Wildcats (14-10, 5-6 Big Ten), who held the Badgers without a field goal until Brad Davison’s 3 with 13:38 left in the first half ended Northwestern’s spurt.

Coach Chris Collins credits the zone for helping the Wildcats win twice on a three-game road swing.

“It’s enabled us to get off to good starts because it takes a while for teams to kind of see how they can attack it,” Collins said.

But what started as a runway slowed down into a miss-filled mess that allowed the Badgers to hang around in the second half.

Northwestern went 8 of 8 from the foul line to hang on after Aleem Ford’s 3 with 1:21 left got Wisconsin within 52-46. Ford finished with 12 points.

The early struggles caught up with Wisconsin late.

“We got the ball point-blank. We got the ball deep and didn’t complete,” coach Greg Gard said. Northwestern “is too good of a team when you have to dig out of that type of a hole, against a veteran team.”

Khalil Iverson had 15 points and nine rebounds for the Badgers (10-14, 3-8), who have lost four straight games and seven of their last eight. Northwestern held Badgers star forward Ethan Happ to 6 of 13 from the field and 14 points.

Wisconsin did manage to get within two possessions late in the game after playing more active defense and keeping the Wildcats off the glass during an ugly second half for both schools.

The teams combined to shoot 15 of 52 after halftime, including 5 of 18 (28 percent) for Northwestern.

But the game-opening run gave the Wildcats a comfortable cushion the rest of the night. Northwestern attacked the basket and flustered Wisconsin.

“Often in basketball, the way you start the sets the tone for the game,” Collins said. “I thought our energy was good.”

TIP INS

Northwestern: Bryant McIntosh’s assist on Lindsey’s 3-pointer with 15:59 to go in the first half allowed the senior to pass Illinois’ Dee Brown for seventh place on the conference career list. The assist also allowed Lindsey to join Michigan’s Gary Grant and Illinois’ Demetri McCarney as the only players in Big Ten history with 1,650 points and 675 assists. … The Wildcats’ three-game road swing is their longest in league play since the 2002-3 season.

Wisconsin: Iverson continued his midseason surge after entering the night averaging 13 points in his last four games. The 6-foot-5 forward can find holes along the baseline and maneuver his athletic frame for buckets when Happ gets double-teamed.

IN THE ZONE

The Wildcats earlier in the season were giving up too many points in the paint and too many fouls playing primarily man-to-man, so Collins switched to a zone. It helped them open and close their three-game road trip with victories.

“We were having a hard time with communication, with fouling, with dribble penetration,” Collins said, “and I think going to the zone has helped us in all three of those areas.”

HAPPENINGS

Subjected to another healthy dose of double teams, Happ had four of Wisconsin’s eight first-half turnovers. The Badgers, who are plagued by injuries in the backcourt, don’t have enough consistent shooting from 3-point range or enough penetrators to take the pressure off Happ.

UNFAMILIAR GROUND

The Badgers’ steak of 19 straight NCAA tournaments is in serious jeopardy. It’s a young team in which freshmen or less experienced players have been forced to play more minutes because of injuries, especially at guard.

“It’s definitely frustrating. No one here is used to losing,” said Davison, who had 11 points. “We’re going to keep working, keep pushing, keep trying to improve.”

Christian Vital going back to UConn for junior season

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Dan Hurley is keeping his roster intact at the top.

Christian Vital, UConn’s second-leading scorer a season ago, is returning to school after declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, he announced Monday via social media.

“Great Talk Today Coach! Appreciate The Wisdom You Have Let Me In On!” Vital wrote “I Think It’s Time To Get Back To Winning Ways In Storrs! I’m Going To Need That #1 Back ASAP! WE GOT (UNFINISHED) BUSINESS!”

The 6-foot-2 junior-to-be Vital joins Jalen Adams, who was the Huskies’ top-returning scorer, back in Storrs in Hurley’s first year. Vital averaged 14.9 points on 38.3 percent shooting. Adams previously announced he would return to school without declaring for the draft.

The return of UConn’s top two scorers underscores an even bigger trend under Hurley as the Huskies appear to have avoided any major defections from last year’s roster despite the coaching change.

UConn is coming off a 14-18 season that proved to be the last of coach Kevin Ollie’s six years with the Huskies that included a national championship but also back-to-back losing seasons.

Chris Silva returning to South Carolina for senior season

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South Carolina is getting an first-team all-SEC performer back.

Chris Silva, who led the Gamecocks in scoring and rebounding last season, is returning to school after declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, the school announced Monday.

“I’m thankful for the experience of going through the draft process,” Silva said in a statement. “I want to thank all of the teams that gave me the opportunity to workout for their organization. I’m excited to announce that I’m returning to South Carolina for my senior season. I can’t wait to get back on the court with my brothers and continue to work on my game.”

The 6-foot-9 Silva, who did not get an NBA draft combine invite, averaged 14.3 points and 8 rebounds per game as a junior.  He shot 46.7 percent from the floor.

“Going through the evaluation process was an unbelievable experience for Chris and us,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said in a statement. “He comes back to a place he loves with some knowledge on some of the things that we have to help him improve on in his efforts to one day fulfill his lifelong dream of playing in the NBA.”

In addition to being South Carolina’s leading scorer, he was the SEC co-defensive player of the year last season after averaging 1.4 blocks per game. His return to Columbia gives the Gamecocks a potential contender for SEC player of the year in 2018-19.

Kansas fires athletic director Sheahon Zenger

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Kansas has fired athletic director Sheahon Zenger, effective immediately, citing a lack of progress in key areas within the athletic department.

“Sheahon has been a loyal Jayhawk, and our athletics department has improved in many areas under his leadership,” Kansas Chancellor Doug Girod wrote in an email to KU faculty and staff. “But athletics continues to face a number of challenges, and progress in key areas has been elusive. To achieve the level of success we need and expect, I have determined a change in leadership is necessary.”

Zenger had been in the role of AD since 2011.

The issue, of course, is not the play of the Kansas basketball program. The Jayhawks have won every Big 12 regular season title since 2004, and head coach Bill Self has taken the program to two Final Fours since Zenger was hired.

The football team is still a disaster, but one can’t help but wonder whether or not the real issue at hand here is Kansas’ getting tied into the FBI’s investigation into college basketball.

The Jayhawks were not mentioned in the initial indictments that were handed down, but Kansas was a central figure in the superseding indictments that were dropped after the national title game. The mother of Billy Preston, who did not play for the Jayhawks this season, was alleged to have been funneled $90,000 by Adidas, while Silvio De Sousa’s status is currently in question after the FBI alleged his guardian was paid at least $20,000 to help offset money that the family had already accepted from a rival shoe company.

All of that came in the aftermath of dealing with Cheick Diallo and Cliff Alexander, both of whom had their one season in Lawrence reduced due to off the court issues.

“Since becoming chancellor, I have spent countless hours with higher education peers and Jayhawks to hear their perspective on KU,” Girod wrote. “A common thread in these conversations is that, as a major public university with national aspirations, we must continue to strive for excellence in all areas — including athletics. As I have said many times, a successful athletics department is inextricably linked to our broader mission as a flagship research university.”

Louisville, ex-AD Tom Jurich reach $4.5M settlement

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The University of Louisville has reached a $4.5 million settlement with former athletic director Tom Jurich, who was fired in the wake of a national federal corruption investigation of college basketball.

Jurich disputed his Oct. 18 firing for cause after nearly 20 years as AD and had considered suing the school. The University of Louisville Athletic Association and Board of Trustees on Friday approved the settlement. Jurich’s employment ended “without cause” as a result of his resignation, also described in the settlement as “retirement.”

He’ll also receive another $2.6 million in accrued employment benefits, along with home game tickets and parking for Louisville football and basketball for 20 years.

An audit of the University of Louisville Foundation released last June showed that Jurich averaged annual compensation of more than $2.76 million from 2010-16, including more than $5.35 million in 2016.

Then-interim president Greg Postel had placed Jurich on paid administrative leave in September after the school’s acknowledgement of its involvement in the investigation. Trustees voted 10-3 to fire Jurich, two days after the ULAA unanimously fired Hall of Fame men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino.

The former AD said in a joint statement that he “spent the better part of my career” working with dedicated athletes, coaches and staff to elevate Louisville. He added, “I am proud of what we accomplished, which is well documented.”

Jurich’s legal team had stressed that the ex-AD did nothing illegal and hadn’t violated NCAA rules.

Trustee chairman J. David Grissom said in the statement that “Everyone is pleased that this matter has been successfully resolved. All parties can move forward to begin the next chapter.”

Jurich played a major role in Louisville’s success on the field and how the school handled issues off it. He led the school’s 2014 entry into the Atlantic Coast Conference and oversaw numerous program and facility upgrades, including a $63 million expansion of the football stadium due for completion by fall.

He also hired several successful coaches including Pitino, who guided the Cardinals to the 2013 NCAA men’s basketball championship. Louisville ultimately vacated that title in February as part of NCAA penalties for a sex scandal after an escort’s book allegations that former basketball staffer Andre McGee hired her and other dancers to strip and have sex with players and recruits.

Pitino has filed a $38.7 million federal lawsuit against Louisville, alleging breach of contract.

Georgia Tech’s Okogie to sign with agent

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Georgia Tech guard Josh Okogie, one of the big winners from this past weekend’s NBA combine, announced on Monday that he will be signing with an agent and remaining in the NBA Draft.

The 6-foot-4 Okogie finished his sophomore season averaged 18.5 points and shooting 38.4 percent from three. The numbers he posted during the athletic testing at the combine, as well as his 7-foot wingspan, makes Okogie an ideal 3-and-D wing at the NBA level.

“Josh is a tremendous young man and an excellent student-athlete,” said head coach Josh Pastner. “He has set a tremendous example, making the Dean’s List this past semester, and deserves a lot of credit for making himself a much better player over the course of his two years here. We will miss him in our program in many respects, from his performance on the court to the energy he plays with and brought to our team. We fully support his decision to take this next step, and wish him all the best.”