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Kansas beats West Virginia 88-74 to reach Big 12 finals

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Dedric Lawson transferred to Kansas in part to win championships.

He’ll have that chance Saturday night.

The former Memphis standout scored 24 points and the No. 17 Jayhawks, who failed to win a share of the Big 12 regular-season title for the first time in 15 years, roared into the conference tournament title game with an 88-74 victory over West Virginia on Friday night.

“It wasn’t our best game,” Lawson said, “but looking forward to going out there and playing for a championship. Looking forward to going out there and winning something meaningful.”

Quentin Grimes added 18 points before leaving late with cramps, Devon Dotson had 13 and Marcus Garrett 11 for the third-seeded and reigning champion Jayhawks (25-8). They advanced to the final for the third time in four years and will face fifth-seeded Iowa State.

“We need to learn how to close something out, and we get that opportunity tomorrow,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “They have the same opportunity. It’s going to make for a great game.”

The 10th-seeded Mountaineers (14-20) led much of the first half and hung tough early in the second, but three games in three days finally caught up to them. Tough wins over Oklahoma and No. 8 Texas Tech left them with tired legs — probably minds, too — and the Jayhawks eventually went on a 13-2 run midway through the second half to seize control.

The lead reached 20 with 7 1/2 minutes to go, and the Jayhawks cruised the rest of the way.

Lamont West led West Virginia with 16 points. Derek Culver had 14.

“I don’t want to blame fatigue,” Culver said. “Just lack of paying attention to what is going on around you. I’ll be the first one to blame. We just got to go back to the drawing board.”

Kansas has won the tournament 11 times, and Iowa State is unbeaten in four championship trips, but the two teams have met in the finals just once: The Cyclones won 70-66 in 2015.

Grimes has struggled with his shot most of the season, to say nothing of living up to his five-star status out of high school. But the freshman guard found his stroke from the opening minute, when he buried the first of five first-half 3-pointers to get the Jayhawks off and running.

West Virginia pulled ahead midway through the half, but Grimes added three more 3s to regain the lead, then hit a buzzer-beater from 30 feet to give the Jayhawks a 48-40 advantage.

“He was the reason for the run,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “He was very good.”

Lawson fueled their clinching run, getting it started with an easy basket and added another bucket and a 3-pointer during the 13-2 charge. By the time Garrett finished it off, a crowd heavily in favor of Kansas was buzzing about the opportunity to face the Cyclones.

“I bet Iowa State has 70 percent of the building tomorrow,” Self said. “You play that first game and you win, you can hustle the tickets off the team that doesn’t win. And they’re pros at hustling tickets in Kansas City. It’ll be the first time in a long time we haven’t had a comparable home court, I’d predict. It should be a fun game.”

OOPS MOMENT

The Jayhawks were ahead 75-58 with 6:33 left when West hit a pair of free throws. Freshman big man David McCormack gathered the ball while standing out of bounds and tossed it to Garrett for the inbounds. But when Garrett stepped over the out-of-bounds line, it wound up being a turnover, and Self immediately called timeout to lay into his team on the bench.

BIG PICTURE

West Virginia lost four players to injuries, transfers and dismissals, and it left them with very little depth. That appeared to play a factor in the second half, when the Jayhawks began to get up and down the floor and the Mountaineers were unable to keep up.

Kansas has played this week with a chip on its shoulder after failing to win a share of the regular-season title. Now, the Jayhawks have a chance to match the 1999 team by winning the tournament as a No. 3 seed, and perhaps help their NCAA Tournament seeding on Selection Sunday.

New-look Virginia back to work after winning NCAA title

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Tony Bennett’s first offseason as a national champion coach has come with benefits on the recruiting trail. His first season at Virginia after winning the title, however, will bring challenges.

Five players who helped Virginia beat Texas Tech to capture the first basketball title in school history are gone, and that’s four more than expected. Center Jack Salt graduated, and guards De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy declared for the NBA draft. Seldom-used Marco Anthony transferred.

Recruiting was already well underway before the Cavaliers won it all, but Bennett said Wednesday the result “certainly can’t hurt and I think it has helped. It validates a lot of good stuff that’s happened in the past.”

Virginia hopes the spoils of those improvements are evident quickly in incoming freshmen guard Casey Morsell, big men Justin McKoy and Kadin Shedrick and junior college shooting guard Tomas Woldetensae.

Virginia opened its summer practice period on Tuesday, and Bennett said he’s not sure just yet who will be ready to contribute.

“Everyone will have ample opportunity, the newcomers, so to speak,” he said. “To say who, you just don’t know. … There are some opportunities out there. So it’s the returners and we can go down the list of the guys we brought in, but I think they’re excited about the opportunity.

“There’s always a learning curve any time you go from whether it’s high school to college or junior college to college or coming from a redshirt to being eligible. … Going up a level and playing in the ACC, for any of these guys, there’s the challenge of the physicality and the level of talent and the speed.”

Woldetensae, a left-handed shooter, averaged 17.3 points per game and shot 47.6 percent from 3-point range last season at Indian Hills Community College.

“We thought we needed to add some experience and a quality player on the perimeter and when he was mentioned and we did our homework and watched film and all those kinds of things,” he said. “His personality came out as a young man of character and we always start there. He seemed wanting to challenge himself at a very high level.”

The Cavaliers were delighted that Mamadi Diakite decided to come back for his senior year after testing the professional waters. And they added senior transfer Sam Hauser, who averaged 14.9 points and 7.2 rebounds last season at Marquette. Hauser will be eligible to practice with the team, but won’t be able to play until 2020-21.

Bennett’s offseason included numerous speaking engagements, recruiting, talking to NBA scouts about his players and some time to decompress.

He also checked an item off his bucket list when, with his father, longtime college coach Dick Bennett, he played Augusta National Golf Club, home of The Masters. That, he said, “was amazing.”

Now, it’s back to work.

“I’m grateful for the busy-ness of it,” he said of the offseason. “It means something good happened.”

Four-star forward commits to West Virginia

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West Virginia landed a top-75 recruit Thursday night.

Isaiah Cottrell, a 6-foot-9 forward from Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, committed to West Virginia’s 2020 recruiting class.

Cottrell picked the Mountaineers overs offers from the likes of Kansas, Washington and Arizona, among others. His father, Brian Lewin, played for West Virginia in the 1990s. The four-star prospect continues a promising recruiting trend for Bob Huggins, who landed a top-40 commit in center Oscar Tshiebwe in the 2019 class.

The Mountaineers missed the NCAA tournament last season for the first time in four years as they slid to 15-21 overall and last in the Big 12 with a 4-14 mark.

John Calipari’s new deal at Kentucky worth $86 million over 10 years

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John Calipari and Kentucky agreed in April to what was described as a “lifetime contract.” Thursday, the exact terms of that deal were disclosed.

The Wildcats coach’s new contract worth $86 million over 10 years.

“I’ve said from day one that this would be the gold standard and it has been for student-athletes and coaches,” Calipari said in a statement released by the school. “As I enter my 11th year, I’m reminded it took me 20 years to get an opportunity to like this. There is no other place I want to be. As I look forward, my mindset is what’s next and how can we be first at it for the young people that we coach.”

Calipari, 60, will likely continue to be a source of speculation for other jobs presuming he keeps things rolling in Lexington as he has for the last 10 years, but what Kentucky is paying him will almost certainly be more than any other program – and potentially NBA franchises – are going to be willing to. Calipari’s success, NBA history and ability to always be central to the broader college basketball conversation means he’ll always be in demand, but it’s hard to picture a situation that could intrigue Calipari enough to leave one of – if not the – best jobs in basketball.

“(Calipari) has added a special chapter to the greatest tradition in college basketball and it’s a chapter we want him to continue writing until the end of his coaching career,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “We are pleased to announce a new contract that will enable him to do exactly that.”

Calipari 305-71 with one national championship, four Final Fours and 26 first-round draft picks in 10 years with the Wildcats. He and Kentucky will likely open the 2019-20 season as one of the frontrunners for the national championship.

Michigan State reports violation for Tom Izzo hosting visit for former high school

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Michigan State self-reported an NCAA rules violation for Tom Izzo hosting Iron Mountain High School for a tour while the team was in town to compete for its first ever state title that weekend.

Izzo unknowingly committed the violation — which only occurred because Iron Mountain was competing in the Breslin Center that weekend — and the Spartans immediately gave notice once they became aware of it. Proud of his alma mater for advancing to Michigan’s final weekend, Izzo was merely taking interest in players and a team connected to his youth. The Iron Mountain program toured the Breslin Center with Izzo and toured Michigan State’s locked room while also watching the Spartans practice before their state semifinal game.

Since it was a special privilege for Iron Mountain, playing in an event there, the Spartans were technically at fault for a violation. The fact that Izzo and Michigan State have to report a violation for this sort of thing is kind of ridiculous since Izzo has a natural connection to the team in question. Although Michigan State likely isn’t going to get hit with any NCAA issues from this, it’s the kind of thing that critics come to question about the NCAA’s rulebook.

Former lacrosse star Pat Spencer commits to Northwestern for basketball

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Northwestern landed a unique graduate transfer on Thursday as Loyola lacrosse star Pat Spencer will spend his final year of college eligibility hooping for the Wildcats, according to Stadium’s Jeff Goodman.

A former high school basketball standout at Boys’ Latin (MD), Spencer was one of the best lacrosse players in the country for the Greyhounds the past four years in college. He was selected in two drafts during the Spring. Spencer was taken first overall in the inaugural PLL College Draft while getting taken seventh overall in the MLL’s Collegiate Draft. Loyola remains in the NCAA tournament as Spencer is playing out his senior season of college.

Spencer is passing up multiple professional lacrosse opportunities to play Big Ten basketball for Northwestern. For a stud athlete in a sport to pass up money to pursue another athletic dream is one of the college basketball’s best things to follow next season.

As if Spencer’s background wasn’t unique enough, he’ll be at a Northwestern team starving for an identity since making the NCAA tournament a few seasons ago. By playing in the Big Ten, Spencer will be thrown against Final Four contenders and potential draft picks, which makes this transition particularly intriguing. It’s a cool story to follow this season as college hoops doesn’t often get athletes from other sports playing in such prominent conferences.

Greg Paulus famously went from Duke point guard to Syracuse quarterback as a graduate transfer, but he was leaving the sport to pursue an opportunity to play football. Spencer choosing basketball over a sure pro shot in lacrosse is an interesting opportunity for him this season. It’ll be interesting to see if he can still contribute anything on the hardwood.

(Ht: Jeff Goodman, Stadium)