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No. 4 Kentucky easily beats Alabama 73-55 at SEC Tournament

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tyler Herro scored 20 points and the fourth-ranked Kentucky Wildcats started their quest for a fifth straight Southeastern Conference Tournament title by beating Alabama 73-55 Friday night in the quarterfinals.

With a heavy contingent of Big Blue Nation on hand, the Wildcats (27-5) improved to 17-2 all-time at this tournament against Alabama, and they got a measure of revenge for opening SEC play with a 77-75 road loss to the Crimson Tide back on Jan. 5. Kentucky will play either No. 8 Tennessee or Mississippi State in the semifinals Saturday.

Alabama (18-15) needed to beat Kentucky again to burnish its resume for the NCAA Tournament after going 8-10 in conference play during the regular season. Beating Mississippi in the second round likely won’t be enough for the Tide. Coach Avery Johnson is 6-0 against everybody not named Kentucky in this tournament but has yet to beat the Wildcats, who’ve ended the Tide’s run each of his four seasons.

P.J. Washington, Kentucky’s lone representative on the AP All-SEC team, finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds. He also had four blocks. Immanuel Quickley added 12 points.

Kentucky held Alabama to a season-low 30.4 percent shooting. Kira Lewis Jr. came in averaging a team-high 13.9 points a game and finished with three points. Tevin Mack scored 22 in helping Alabama upset Kentucky in January. This time, the junior missed all seven shots and was held scoreless.

That left opportunity for Alex Reese, a sophomore who came in averaging just 5.5 points a game, and he only played seven minutes for Alabama in the second round. Reese led Alabama with 15 points.

Alabama, trying to get back to the semifinals for a third straight year, led twice in the opening minutes with Herbert Jones’ jumper putting the Tide up 6-4. Washington hit a 3, then Herro added a pair of free throws to start Kentucky on a 17-2 run that Richards capped with a dunk and a pair of free throws midway through the half.

The Tide got within 33-27 on a 3-pointer by Dazon Ingram with 2:24 left, but they couldn’t get any closer as Kentucky scored the next six. The Wildcats led 39-29 at halftime.

Kentucky just kept padding the lead, struggling to push the margin past 15. Herro finally gave the Wildcats their biggest lead with a 3 with 48 seconds left for the final margin.

BIG PICTURE

Alabama: The Crimson Tide hurt their NCAA hopes having lost seven of the last 10. They also didn’t help themselves during the nonconference slate with losses to Northeastern, UCF and Georgia State that not even a win over Murray State could ease.

Kentucky: The Wildcats are dangerous enough when they’re running the floor and knocking down shots. They showed off their length and defense early with five steals they converted into eight points. They also finished with a season-high 10 blocks.

HE’S BACK

The Wildcats got Reid Travis back from a sprained right knee that kept him out of the past five games since being hurt Feb. 19 at Missouri. He came off the bench and didn’t hit his first shot until 19:12 to go in the second half. Travis finished with eight points and seven rebounds in 23 minutes.

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.