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No. 19 Arizona pulls away late to beat Cal 66-54

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Arizona coach Sean Miller grabbed the microphone to address the McKale Center when, just for a brief second, his voice broke.

“It’s been a tough week,” the usually-fiery coach said.

It could not have ended any better: With Miller cutting down the nets as Pac-12 champion for the fifth time in six seasons.

A week that started with Miller’s job in jeopardy ended in joy Saturday night with a Pac-12 clinching 66-54 victory over California.

“Devastating and the second word I would use is remarkable,” Miller said. “A lot lesser programs, teams, universities would have crumbled and we didn’t. That says something about us and our future.”

Miller’s future appeared to be in doubt after an ESPN report said the coach was caught on an FBI wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment to Deandre Ayton to attend the school.

Miller missed last weekend’s game against Oregon and sat out three practices as the school investigated. He vehemently denied the report in a statement on Thursday and, just a few hours later, university President Robert C. Robbins announced Miller would keep his job.

The Wildcats clinched a share of the Pac-12 title later that night with a victory over Stanford, setting up a chance to clinch it outright in the Arizona seniors’ final home game.

Instead of rolling over the last-place Bears, Arizona (24-7, 14-4) had a hard time shaking them, needing a 13-1 closing run to finish off the title and tumultuous week.

Ayton had 26 points and 20 rebounds, giving the Wildcats the lift they needed during an off night by second-leading scorer Allonzo Trier.

“Lot of emotions, an emotional week, a lot of things flying around,” Arizona point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright said. “Everybody was just drained mentally and physically.”

Cal had a chance to spoil Arizona’s party, bouncing back from a disappointing first game on the road trip through the desert. The Bears (8-23, 2-16) matched Arizona shot for shot in the first half and miss for miss in the second, keeping the Wildcats within reach until the final 4 minutes.

Justice Seung had 17 points to lead the Bears, who ended the regular season with seven straight losses.

“I feel really good about our guys’ effort, heart and determination against a very good basketball team,” Cal coach Wyking Jones said. “They followed the game plan, played with toughness and that’s all we ask of them.”

Cal held its own against the Wildcats in the first half by getting good penetration off the dribble, something it didn’t do in a lopsided loss to Arizona State on Thursday. The Bears took a 17-16 lead with a 7-0 run and rallied from 11 down to pull within 38-35 at halftime on Don Coleman’s lean-in 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Both teams shot well in the first half. Neither did to start the second, including with a combined scoreless streak that stretched past 4 minutes.

The Bears used a slowed-down game to their advantage keeping Arizona within reach until the Wildcats pieced together a 6-0 run to go up 61-53 with 2 1/2 minutes left and kept going from there.

“We turned it over and it didn’t feel like we got a really good look the last couple possessions, so that was kind of the difference in the game,” Jones said.

BIG PICTURE

Cal bounced back nicely from its 31-point loss to Arizona State with a solid performance that should give it a boost headed into next week’s Pac-12 Tournament.

Arizona looked lackluster at times against the Pac-12’s last-place team on a night when it should have been motivated to send its seniors off in a blowout. The Wildcats found a way to close it out, earning the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament.

TRIO’S TROUBLES

Three key Arizona players had rough nights in their final home games. Trier, who’s expected to leave after his junior season, scored two points on 1-of-10 shooting. Jackson-Cartwright and fellow senior Dusan Ristic combined for seven points.

“It means so much to them, they want to play well and it almost works against them,” Miller said.

ACKNOWLEDGING NON-SENIORS

Arizona honored its seniors — including regulars Jackson-Cartwright, Ristic and Keanu Pinder — after the game, but Miller took it a step further. In the past, he has not acknowledged players who were expected to leave early for the NBA draft. He did with Saturday night, saying they would leave early and thanking Ayton, Trier and Rawle Alkins in front of the home crowd.

UP NEXT

Arizona has a first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas and will play on Thursday.

Cal opens the Pac-12 Tournament Wednesday as the No. 12 seed.

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.