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Report: Big East votes to invite UConn to rejoin

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WEST HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The presidents of the schools in the Big East voted Monday to extend an invitation to UConn to rejoin the conference for basketball and other sports.

A person with firsthand knowledge confirmed to The Associated Press that the schools’ presidents voted by conference call on Monday morning. That person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

UConn has a Board of Trustees meeting scheduled for Wednesday when it is expected to accept the invitation, and an announcement is expected from the Big East as early as Thursday morning.

“I know a little bit about the back and forth on it. I think it could be a great thing for the state,” Democratic Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont told reporters at an unrelated news conference Monday. “Let’s face it, UConn, in particular UConn basketball, we can compete with anybody. We’re ready to take on the very best. Let’s see how the negotiations go.”

The result of the vote was first reported Monday by CBS Sports.

UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma cautioned that the expected move doesn’t mean a return to the glory days of the old Big East.

The Hall of Fame coach, speaking to reporters at a charity golf event, noted the conference is not the same one that once included schools such as Notre Dame and Louisville.

“It’s like saying you’re moving back to your hometown, but the block that you lived on and half the city is gone,” he said. “It’s not the same.”

Auriemma said his team’s success has never depended on what conference it is in, and he doesn’t see that changing.

The UConn women have never lost to an American Athletic Conference opponent, going 120-0 in the regular season and six conference tournaments.

The conference bylaws require UConn to pay a $10 million withdrawal fee and give 27 months’ notice before leaving. But terms of the departure were still being negotiated on Monday.

UConn is expected to spend at least another season in the AAC before it moves, and junior Megan Walker said keeping that spotless record intact will be a priority. She said the Huskies understand the league’s other teams now have even more motivation to beat them.

“Ever since I got to the University of Connecticut, we’ve always been the black hats, the bad guys,” she said. “I enjoy it. If we didn’t want that challenge, we wouldn’t be here at this university. I’m excited to leave the conference or whatever. Whatever conference we are in, I’m excited to play.”

Trading trips to Tulsa and Tulane for games at St. John’s and Villanova, Auriemma acknowledged, would help the school when it comes to finances and selling fan interest. UConn currently is dealing with a deficit in its athletic division of more than $40 million.

Auriemma said he’s not sure what the move means for the future of UConn’s football program. But the coach said he can foresee a day when all schools, not just UConn, have multiple conference affiliations based on what is best for each sport. UConn already plays hockey in Hockey East and has retained its Big East membership in field hockey and lacrosse.

Auriemma also challenged UConn fans, many of whom he noted have been calling for the Huskies to rejoin the Big East for six years, to back up their preference by attending more games.

“So, if this does happen, there better be 16,000 at the XL Center every night,” he said.

Kentucky holds off Houston to move on to Elite Eight

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Kentucky used a late three-pointer from freshman Tyler Herro to get past No. 3 seed Houston with a 62-58 victory on Friday night to advance to the Elite Eight in the Midwest Region. The freshman’s go-ahead three-pointer with 25.8 seconds left gave Kentucky a two-point lead as Herro also made two free throws for the game’s deciding advantage. Kentucky closed the game on a 7-0 run to advance to the Elite Eight for the seventh time in head coach John Calipari’s 10 seasons as the team’s coach.

Kentucky (30-6) struggled with perimeter shooting (4-for-12) as they didn’t make a three-pointer in the second half until Herro’s late shot. Herro (19 points) was Kentucky’s main threat on the evening as he went 7-for-13 from the floor.

But the Wildcats don’t advance on Friday without a gutsy effort from All-American forward P.J. Washington.

After missing the tournament’s first weekend with his foot in a hard cast, Washington made his return to the Kentucky lineup in the Sweet 16 as he came off the bench to finish with 16 points on 6-for-8 shooting. Washington wasn’t fully healthy, but his presence was huge for the Wildcats. The sophomore forward was a go-to player on offense while registering a key block that ignited the fast-break look for Herro’s go-ahead three. For Washington to play this well on a bum foot is a signature moment to an already memorable sophomore season.

With freshman Keldon Johnson (seven points, 3-for-12 shooting) having an off-day, Herro’s ability to create his own shot, and Washington’s stability on the inside, was all that Kentucky needed on offense as they grinded out this win against Houston’s strong defense.

This win wasn’t pretty for Kentucky, but they have to be pleased to advance on a night where only two players were clicking on offense. The Wildcats put forth a solid defensive outing against the Cougars, but they’re going to need more than Herro and Washington if they want to advance to another Final Four.

No. 2 seed Kentucky moves on to face No. 5 seed Auburn in Sunday’s Elite Eight in Kansas City. The Tigers are riding an 11-game winning streak as they’re one of the hottest teams in the field. But the Wildcats knocked off the Tigers, 80-53, during a blowout home SEC win in Lexington in late February.

Since that February loss to Kentucky, Auburn hasn’t lost, as the Tigers’ offense continues to put up flurries of points behind a dangerous collection of three-point shooters. Although it’s looking like Auburn will be without versatile sophomore wing forward Chuma Okeke (knee) on Sunday, Auburn is still a very credible threat with the way they’re playing. Although we saw a blowout between these two teams in the regular season, a similar result in the Elite Eight would come as a surprise given how good the Tigers have looked in recent weeks.

Houston (33-4) had one of its most successful seasons in decades as they advanced to the second weekend for the first time since 1984. This loss is going to sting for the the AAC champions, however, as they came very close to knocking off one of the sport’s bluebloods until the final minute. The Cougars were led by Armoni Brooks as he buried five second-half three-pointers to pace Houston as he finished with 20 points. Guards Corey Davis Jr. (14 points) and Galen Robinson Jr. (10 points) also finished in double-figures for the Cougars.

With a chance to close out Kentucky in the final minutes, Houston went cold as Brooks couldn’t knock down a final dagger. With its big men battling foul trouble, Houston’s guards made a huge late push as the Cougars went on a 20-10 run to take a three-point lead. But Houston couldn’t close on either end of the floor as they let Herro take an open look and Washington get comfortable on the block during key defensive possessions.

Head coach Kelvin Sampson has re-built Houston into a nationally-respected program with back-to-back appearances in the Round of 32. The Cougars also had the opportunity to close out games during back-to-back tournaments where they ended up losing in the final minute.

Last season, Jordan Poole’s buzzer-beating three-pointer lifted Michigan past Houston when the Cougars were clinging to a late lead in the Round of 32. This year, Houston led 58-55 with 1:16 left before seeing its lead melt away during the final possessions in the Sweet 16. These seasons have certainly been memorable for the Cougars but some giant postseason “What Ifs?” loom as the main story.

If Sampson ends up leaving Houston for another job this offseason — either way, Sampson is going to get paid by someone for his recent string of success — then it’ll be fascinating to see how the Cougars maintain. It’s been fun having Houston basketball back in the national college basketball landscape these past few seasons. Sampson has helped develop some fun guards to watch with some teams that came very close to making deep runs in the tournament.

No. 10 Iowa rallies past No. 7 Cincinnati

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Iowa rallied from a slow start to get past No. 7 seed Cincinnati with a 79-72 win on Friday in a South Region NCAA tournament game in Columbus.

Cincinnati generated an early 18-5 lead in the first half as they fed off of the Bearcat-friendly Columbus crowd only to see the No. 10-seed Hawkeyes get hot in the second half.

Things turned in Iowa’s favor about midway through the first half when the Hawkeyes started working the ball more inside. Behind sophomore big man Luka Garza (20 points, 8-for-11 shooting), the Hawkeyes were able to establish an inside presence while opening up the team’s perimeter-shooting options.

In the second half, freshman Joe Wieskamp (19 points) and the Hawkeyes started to make an abundance of threes as they finished 11-for-22 (50 percent) from the perimeter — including a blistering 7-for-10 mark in the second half. Junior guard Jordan Bohannon also tallied 13 points while Nicholas Baer added 10 points as Iowa outscored Cincinnati 48-36 in the second half.

Using the hot shooting of senior point guard Justin Jenifer (19 points), Cincinnati appeared to be completely in the driver’s seat in the first half. But once Iowa started responding with a flurry of second-half threes, the Bearcats struggled to play from behind in the final minutes. Jarron Cumberland (18 points) didn’t get rolling as a scorer until the second half while big man Nysier Brooks (11 points) fouled out with a few minutes left. Tre Scott also finished with 10 points on the afternoon for the Bearcats. Cincinnati struggled to match Iowa’s hot perimeter shooting as they were 6-for-27 from three-point range (24 percent) on the day.

This is a great comeback win for Iowa, as they overcame the bad start by working to take better shots. Forcing a lot of early looks, once the Hawkeyes started getting Garza comfortable on the block, it opened up looks for their shooters. It’s also notable that junior forward Tyler Cook, one of Iowa’s best players, was limited to only five points on 1-for-9 shooting.

Iowa was playing sluggish basketball the final three weeks of the regular season. Friday’s second half was a reminder of how dangerous the Hawkeyes can be if they are hitting shots. And for Iowa to rally when Cook was playing this poorly is yet another positive sign that the Hawkeyes are not to be taken lightly going forward.

With Iowa’s win, the Big Ten now moves to 6-0 in the 2019 NCAA tournament after a 5-0 start on Thursday. Iowa advances to face the winner of No. 2 seed Tennessee and No. 15 seed Colgate on Sunday in Columbus.

Sunday’s Things to Know: Houston wins AAC title; three autobids earned; bubble madness in the Big Ten

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The final regular-season Sunday in college basketball had some drama as a major conference title was decided. On the postseason side, three more autobids were also claimed while the bubble had some action as well.

Houston runs past Cincinnati to claim AAC regular-season title

Houston earned its first regular-season conference title since 1992 with a convincing 85-69 road win at No. 20 Cincinnati. The No. 12 Cougars poured on 48 second-half points as they went on a 35-12 run to put the game away. Corey Davis Jr. scored a career-high 31 points while freshman Nate Hinton produced a double-double of 16 points and 11 rebounds — knocking down some key three-pointers to ignite the comeback run.

For the fourth time in the last six games, Houston scored at least 85 points, which is a notable accomplishment considering the Cougars generally prefer to play on the slower side (232nd in adjusted tempo on KenPom). Houston already has a top-15 defense, so if its offense is getting hot before the postseason, then it’s a trend to keep an eye on during Championship Week.

Autobids handed out to Bradley, Gardner-Webb and Liberty

Sunday didn’t have very many regular-season games left. But there were plenty of conference tournaments to keep track of with three autobids being handed out in traditionally one-bid leagues.

The Big South kicked the autobid day off as Gardner-Webb earned its first NCAA tournament bid in school history by knocking off Radford for a true road win. With back-to-back true road wins during the conference tournament, the Bulldogs certainly earned their way into the Field of 68 with two difficult wins.

Things got crazy during the second half of the Missouri Valley Conference title game shortly after as Bradley rallied from an 18-point second-half deficit to stun Northern Iowa. A day after knocking out a Final Four team from last year in Valley No. 1 seed Loyola, the Braves followed it up with their eighth win of the season in which they were trailing at halftime to come back and win. This will be Bradley’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 2006 when they stunned the nation as a No. 13 seed who made the Sweet 16.

Finally, Liberty gutted out yet another road win for a team in an autobid situation by advancing in front of a sold-out crowd at Lipscomb. A high-level game featuring two teams who deserve a real look from the NCAA tournament committee, the Flames are back in the Big Dance for the first time since 2013. While Liberty is a potentially-dangerous double-digit seed, Lipscomb remains on the bubble as they have a long week of waiting ahead.

The bubble gets crazy in the Big Ten

Among bubble teams playing on Sunday, things got especially chaotic in the Big Ten. Indiana began the conference’s bubble day with a home win over Rutgers. Winners of four consecutive games, the Hoosiers have played their way back into the serious at-large discussion after a mid-season freefall.

Later in the afternoon, No. 21 Wisconsin outlasted Ohio State for an overtime road win that brutally hurts the Buckeyes’ bubble profile. Rallying from 23 points down to tie the game and force overtime, this was a golden opportunity for Ohio State to add some insurance by getting another Q1 win. Instead, they’ve dropped three straight games as the slide continues entering the postseason.

These two results mean that Thursday’s Big Ten tournament matchup between Indiana and Ohio State will have massive implications for the bubble. Both of these teams appear to be teetering right on the edge of the cut line as this result could ultimately put one team in while leaving the other team out of the proceedings.

No. 12 Houston beats No. 20 Cincinnati 85-69 for AAC title

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CINCINNATI — Galen Robinson Jr. raised his arms at midcourt as the buzzer sounded and red-clad Cincinnati fans headed glumly for the exits. No. 12 Houston has just drubbed the American Athletic Conference’s defending champion, leaving no doubt about who’s best this time around.

It’s the Cougars, and it’s not even close.

Corey Davis Jr. scored a career-high 31 points Sunday, and Houston dominated the second half for an 85-69 victory over No. 20 Cincinnati that clinched the AAC’s regular-season title outright.

The Cougars (29-2, 16-2) knocked off the defending champs and earned their first league title since 1992 in the Southwest Conference. Coach Kelvin Sampson got a celebratory dousing from his players afterward.

“At no point in time this year did I think we were a great team, but I thought we were a pretty good team and it showed on the road,” said Sampson, who had a white towel draped over the back of his soaked blue shirt.

Down by six early in the second half, Nate Hinton hit back-to-back 3s that started a 35-12 spurt. Davis’ back-to-back 3s put the Cougars up by 17 points and sent Cincinnati fans headed home with 4:22 to go.

“Corey Davis is the best two-way player in this league, plays both ends with the same voracity,” Sampson said. “Corey’s been consistently good. He never had a bad practice, never had a bad game.”

Hinton added 16 points and a career-high 11 rebounds as Houston scored at least 85 points for the fourth time in the past six games.

Last year, the Bearcats (25-6, 14-4) won the regular-season title and the AAC Tournament, beating Houston in the title game. This time, the Cougars swept the season series, winning in Cincinnati for the first time after 16 losses.

The Bearcats were outrebounded 42-28, with the Cougars getting 18 offensive rebounds. Coach Mick Cronin said the rebounding performance was embarrassing and suggested he’d invite some of Cincinnati’s football players to try out after such a poor showing.

“You give a team like that extra chances, they’re going to light you up,” Cronin said. “There’s not a whole lot to say when you get whipped that bad physically, dominated physically. The dam’s going to break eventually.”

The Cougars put themselves in position for a league title by beating the Bearcats 65-58 in Houston on Feb. 10, holding Cincinnati scoreless for the final 6:11.

Jarron Cumberland scored 20 points for Cincinnati on 4-of-11 shooting from the field.

Cincinnati held a slim lead through most of the first half, but Davis Jr. made a jump shot, a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws in the last 1:33 that sent the Cougars into halftime up 37-35. They missed eight of their first nine shots in the second half, and Cincinnati pulled ahead 47-41 .

Hinton hit back-to-back 3s that sparked the decisive run. The Cougars went 8 of 14 from beyond the arc in the second half while pulling away.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

While Houston held its ground, the Bearcats’ losses this week to UCF and Houston could knock them out of the Top 25.

BIG PICTURE

Houston finally overtook the team that had dominated them until this season — Cincinnati leads the series 31-5. The Cougars also set a school record with 29 regular-season wins, topping the 28-win team from 1967-68.

Cincinnati fell to 0-4 against ranked teams on the season, the main reason they never gained much traction in the poll despite their gaudy record. The Bearcats opened the season at home with a loss against then-unranked Ohio State and concluded it with the loss to the Cougars.

RARE DRUBBING

Houston handed Cincinnati its most lopsided loss since a 75-59 defeat at Temple on Feb. 10, 2015. It was the Bearcats’ most lopsided loss at home since a 68-47 defeat against VCU on Dec. 20, 2014.

FAREWELL

The Bearcats honored senior point guards Justin Jenifer and Cane Broome pregame.

TOUGH AAC HOME

The Bearcats have rarely lost an AAC home game, going 34-3 in the past four seasons. The only other losses were against Temple and Wichita State. Overall, Cincinnati is 49-5 in AAC home games since the league was formed for the 2013-14 season.

UP NEXT

Both teams will start tournament play Friday in the quarterfinals in Memphis, Tennessee.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

No. 17 Houston hits 16 3-pointers in 94-50 win over ECU

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HOUSTON — Houston had one of its best offensive nights of the season. Coach Kelvin Sampson was more impressed with his team’s intensity and defense.

Armoni Brooks scored 17 points, Corey Davis Jr. added 12 and No. 17 Houston hit 16 3-pointers while beating East Carolina 94-50 on Wednesday.

Brooks and Davis combined to hit nine 3-pointers while the Cougars (19-1, 6-1 American Athletic Conference) finished 16 of 24 from behind the arc.

“We shot the ball well tonight, but look at who was shooting them,” Sampson said. “Armoni Brooks is an outstanding shooter. Corey is an outstanding shooter. I thought Corey and Armoni and (Galen Robinson Jr.’s) defense and attention to detail tonight was outstanding.”

The Cougars entered the game second in the nation in field goal percentage defense, third in 3-point field goal percentage defense and eighth in scoring defense. They held the Pirates to 32 percent shooting and 2 of 22 on 3-pointers.

“We are a good defensive team,” Sampson said.

Nate Hinton had 13 points, Cedrick Alley scored 12 and Fabian White Jr. had 11.

Houston, which won its fourth straight, shot 52 percent from the field while extending its home winning streak to 30 games.

“We are all extremely confident in one another,” Brooks said.

Seth Leday had 12 points and Isaac Fleming added 11 for ECU (8-10, 1-5). Jayden Gardner, who came into the game leading the American in scoring with 19.8 points per game, finished with eight points for the Pirates. ECU has lost four straight.

“They’re hard to beat when they don’t shoot the ball well, and when they shoot it like that, it’s just a double-edged sword,” ECU coach Joe Dooley said.

After Fleming’s layup with 8 1/2 minutes left cut Houston’s lead to 21-15, the Cougars went on a 26-9 run over the next eight minutes to take a 47-24 lead on Robinson’s 3-pointer with 1 1/2 minutes left in the half. Houston made six straight 3-pointers during the run.

The Cougars led 49-26 at the half.

BIG PICTURE

East Carolina: The Pirates struggled to find scoring as Houston did well defending Gardner. The Pirates took care of the ball, committing 10 turnovers and held a 24-18 advantage in points in the paint. “I thought they did a good job (guarding Gardner),” Dooley said. “I thought they pressured us, and they also gapped us. It shortens the court when you don’t make any shots, and we didn’t make any three-point shots.”

Houston: The Cougars never trailed. They opened 2 of 9 from the field before catching fire and finishing the first half 15 of 22. Houston played well on both ends and was able to keep ECU off the glass, holding a 47-25 advantage. The Cougars continued to pass the ball well, finishing with 21 assists on 29 made field goals.

CLIMBING THE CHARTS

Robinson surpassed 500 assists for his career at Houston, becoming the sixth Cougar to accomplish the feat. Robinson finished with eight.

OLAJUWON IN ATTENDANCE

NBA Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon, who played a key role in Houston’s run of three straight NCAA Final Four appearances from 1982-84, sat courtside.

TIMEOUT PLEASE

ECU called three timeouts in the first 13 minutes.. ECU used its final timeout two minutes into the second half.

UP NEXT

East Carolina: Hosts South Florida on Saturday.

Houston: Travels to Tulsa on Sunday.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25