(Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Miller returns, Arizona clinches tie for Pac-12 title

2 Comments

TUCSON, Ariz. — With coach Sean Miller back on the job and Allonzo Trier reinstated, No. 19 Arizona clinched at least a share of the Pac-12 title with a 75-67 victory over Stanford on Thursday night.

Dusan Ristic scored 15 of his 21 points in the first half. Ristic, a senior, set a school record by participating in his 111th victory. Trier, reinstated by the NCAA after a two-game suspension, added 18 points for the Wildcats (23-7, 13-4 Pac-12) and Deandre Ayton, the freshman who leads the Pac-12 in scoring and rebounding, had 12 points and 10 boards.

Arizona has won or shared the conference regular season title five times since 2010-11 and beat Stanford for the 17th straight time. The Wildcats can clinch the title outright by beating California on Saturday night or if USC loses to UCLA.

Arizona clinched the No. 1 seed in next week’s conference tournament because the Wildcats beat USC in their only meeting this season.

Reid Travis scored 23 points for the Cardinal. The loss for Stanford (16-14, 10-7) was a blow to the Cardinal’s hopes for a top-four finish in the conference and a first-round bye next week.

Miller returned after a one-game absence, getting a loud welcome from the McKale Center throng as he entered the arena, waving to the fans as his players smiled and clapped.

Earlier in the day, Miller read a statement to reporters vehemently denying he had approved payment to Ayton, or any player, in his time at Arizona. The university’s president said an examination of the facts found no evidence of Miller wrongdoing and the school was standing by its coach.

ESPN said it is standing by its report that a wiretap shows Miller talking about a $100,000 payoff to Ayton. Ayton has denied that anything was given to him to attend Arizona.

Ristic scored nine in a 16-3 run that put the Wildcats up 35-23 on Trier’s 12-footer in the lane with 2:02 to play in the half. Arizona led 37-28 at the half behind Ristic’s7-of-8 shooting.

Miller called time out after Stanford’s Oscar Da Silva was alone inside for a dunk that gave the Cardinal their last lead, 20-19, with 9:58 left in the first half. Arizona clamped down its defense and Stanford scored just three points in the next 7 1/2 minutes.

The decisive run came with Ayton on the bench with two fouls. Ayton, who fouled out in Arizona’s 75-73 win at Stanford on Jan. 20, sat out 8 minutes of the first half.

The Cardinal kept the deficit to single digits most of the second half and were down 69-64 after Daejon Davis’ dunk with 1:04 to play. Trier made four from the line and Ayton two to finally put the game away.

BIG PICTURE

Stanford probably needs to win the conference tournament to make the NCAA field but still has a shot at a top four finish in the conference with a victory at Arizona State on Saturday.

McKale was rocking and the emotion of Miller’s return — as well as Trier’s — carried the team to its early lead. The Wildcats will be heavily favored to clinch the conference title outright against last-place California on Saturday night.

TRIER BACK

About 2 hours before tipoff, Arizona announced the NCAA had cleared Trier to return to the team.

He missed games at Oregon State and Oregon last weekend after testing positive for what the university described as a “miniscule” amount of the banned substance that had led to his 19-game suspension last season. Trier said he unknowingly ingested the substance a year ago.

The university had argued that the positive test was the result of a remnant of what Trier had taken last year.

Trier entered the game tied for second in the Pac-12 in scoring at 19.6 points per game.

UP NEXT

Stanford: at Arizona State on Saturday night.

Arizona: hosts California on Saturday.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
4 Comments

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
1 Comment

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
7 Comments

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

Getty Images
4 Comments

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

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
4 Comments

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.