Arizona Wildcats

Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona’s Akinjo immediately eligible after waiver

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TUCSON, Ariz. —  Arizona guard James Akinjo has been granted a waiver by the NCAA and will immediately be eligible after transferring from Georgetown.

The decision announced Tuesday gives Akinjo two years of eligibility left.

A 6-foot guard, Akinjo was the Big East freshman of the year in 2018-19 after averaging 13.4 points and 5.2 assists. Akinjo appeared in seven games for the Hoyas last season before opting to transfer.

The Oakland, California, native arrived in Tucson last spring and was able to practice with the Wildcats.

Akinjo could play a key role on a team that lost three freshmen who declared early for the NBA draft.

Lute Olson, Hall of Fame coach, Arizona icon, dies at 85

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Lute Olson, the Hall of Fame coach who turned Arizona into a college basketball powerhouse and led the program to its lone national title in 1997, has died. He was 85.

Olson’s family said he died Thursday evening. The cause of death wasn’t given.

“Coach Olson is the absolute best, one of the greatest coaches ever and one of the greatest human beings ever,” Georgia Tech coach and former Arizona player Josh Pastner tweeted. “My feelings of gratitude and appreciation cannot be put in words. I love him dearly. My heart hurts, but I know he is now in heaven. May god bless his family. (hash)RIP”

Olson spent 24 seasons at Arizona, revitalizing a fan base in the desert while transforming a program that had been to the NCAA Tournament just three times in 79 years before he was hired in 1983.

Olson first took the Wildcats to the NCAA Tournament during his second season in Tucson to start a string of 25 straight appearances. The streak would have been the third-longest in NCAA history, but the 1999 and 2008 appearances were later vacated by the NCAA for impermissible benefits to players and recruiting violations.

The Wildcats won a national championship under Olson in 1997 with a team led by Mike Bibby, Jason Terry and Miles Simon. Olson’s Arizona teams reached the Final Four four times and lost the 2001 national title game to Duke.

“It’s hard to put into words how much Lute Olson meant to me,” Warriors and former Olson player Steve Kerr tweeted. “He was an amazing coach & a wonderful man. Being part of the U of A basketball family changed my life forever. I will never forget Coach O, those awesome nights at McKale and all my teammates. Thank you Coach- I love you!”

Olson won a school-record 589 games at Arizona, 11 Pac-10 titles and was named the conference coach of the year seven times. He led Arizona to 20 straight 20-win seasons and is one of five coaches in NCAA history with 29 seasons of at least 20 wins.

Olson’s 327 conference victories are most in Pac-10/12 history and he was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2002. A statue of Olson holding the national title trophy was unveiled outside McKale Center in 2018.

“It’s rare that a man is a Hall of Famer and still under appreciated,” former Arizona and NBA player Richard Jefferson tweeted. “I’ll always feel like you never got the credit you deserved as a leader, family man, grandfather, coach and as a mentor. I love you Coach O.”

Olson had a series of health issues late in his coaching career, leading to his retirement in 2008.

Arizona announced minutes before the 2007-08 season opener that Olson would take an indefinite leave of absence. Associate head coach Kevin O’Neill coached the Wildcats on an interim basis the rest of the season.

Olson was set to return for the 2008-09 season, but the school announced his retirement after he missed practice and a function in Tucson. His doctor held a news conference five days later, saying Olson had an initially undiagnosed stroke earlier in the year, causing depression and impaired judgment. Olson also was hospitalized in 2019 after suffering a minor stroke.

Olson remained in Tucson and became a regular at McKale Center during his retirement, drawing cheers every time he appeared on the video board. The floor at McKale Center was named Lute & Bobbi Olson Court in 2001 in honor of Olson and his first wife, Bobbi.

Bobbi Olson died in 2001 due to complications from ovarian cancer. Olson remarried twice and is survived by his third wife, Kelly, and five children.

“I will miss seeing him at our home games and hearing our crowd yell, `Lute!”‘ current Arizona coach Sean Miller said in a statement “My family joins all of the current members of the Arizona Basketball program in sending our condolences and prayers to his wife, Kelly, and the entire Olson Family. I am forever grateful to be a part of the basketball program and community that he impacted so immensely. Coach O will certainly be missed, but always remembered by us.”

Born on a farm outside Mayville, North Dakota, on Sept. 22, 1934, Olson led his high school team to the 1952 state championship and was a three-sport athlete at Augsburg College in Minnesota from 1953 to 1956.

Olson started his career as a high school coach in Minnesota and Southern California before becoming the head coach at Long Beach City College, where he won the state junior college title in 1971.

He spent one season at Long Beach State before going on to coach nine seasons at Iowa. He led the Hawkeyes to the NCAA Tournament his final five seasons, including a trip to the 1980 Final Four.

Olson had a career record of 780-280 in 34 years as a Division I coach.

Arizona’s Nico Mannion declares for 2020 NBA Draft

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Nico Mannion is declaring for the 2020 NBA Draft after one season at Arizona.

The 6-foot-3 freshman guard is expected to be a first-round pick after a promising season for the Wildcats. Mannion lived up to his five-star reputation out of high school. The McDonald’s All-American put up 14.0 points, 5.3 assists and 2.5 rebounds per game.

Mannion proved himself to be a capable offensive threat and solid overall athlete this season. The second game of the season, Mannion scored 21 points and tallied nine assists against a talented Illinois team. It set the stage for a solid season overall for Mannion. He was one of the most consistently productive freshman guards in the country.

In the latest CBT 2020 NBA mock draft, Rob Dauster has Nico Mannion going No. 14 overall in the first round. Shooting is one area to watch with Mannion’s draft stock. Although Mannion was productive, he only shot 39 percent from the floor and 32 percent from three-point range this season. Mannion was also the lead guard when Arizona blew some close games during this season. But at only 19 years old, Mannion has plenty of time to correct those mistakes.

Nico Mannion also has experience playing for the Italian national team. During the 2019 FIBA World Cup, Mannion became the fourth-youngest player ever to suit up for Italy’s top national team. So he also has some experience training and playing against professional players heading into the draft process.

In a draft that doesn’t feature a lot of high-end talent, Mannion’s high floor could be his strongest attribute. While Mannion won’t blow any teams away with one particular skill, he’s steady at pretty much everything.

College athletes allegedly targeted with threats from bettor charged in federal court

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A bettor has been charged in federal court with threatening professional and collegiate athletes, including men’s basketball players, via social media over lost wagers.

Benjamin “Parlay Patz” Patz is facing a charge of transmitting threats in interstate or foreign commerce in Florida, according to court documents.

Patz is accused of using various social media social accounts to make violent threats against athletes who may have “played in games on which he had unsuccessfully wagered and lost money – or that he may have tried to influence the outcome of upcoming sporting events on which he wagered,” according to authorities.

In one instance, he sent Instagram direct messages to a Pepperdine player that stated, “Your throat will be severed open with a dull knife, “Your entire family will be beheaded and burned alive, “I will enter your home as you sleep and kill you” and “Watch your back, you’re a dead man walking,” according to authorities.

In late 2019, Patz, according to court documents, sent a message to a player at Arizona that said, “Your worthlessness costed me over 100,000$ tonight! Sad!!” The player responded, “Gambling is a dangerous habit. You’re addicted. Stop it. Get some help!”

Patz also sent threatening messages, including using racist language, to players and significant others of multiple MLB teams, court documents say. Patz also allegedly messaged threats to New England Patriots players after the Super Bowl in 2019. Patz is accused of threatening various other professional and collegiate athletes as well.

The 23-year-old college student has some notoriety in online betting circles as it had been reported that he had claimed to have won more than $1.1 million in bets over a few weeks in 2019, according to authorities. He faces up to five years in prison.

Thursday’s Things to Know: Arizona can’t finish at Oregon, Wichita State takes early American lead and Michigan wins in 2OT

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Thursday night start with significant news that Washington point guard Quade Green will be academically ineligible for at least the next two months, and then things really got interesting.  Here’s what you need to know from a night of overtimes and early jockeying for conference positioning.

1. Arizona misses huge chance in Eugene

Arizona blew a massive opportunity Thursday night.

The Wildcats had a chance to firmly establish themselves as the Pac-12’s premier team, put themselves in the league’s driver’s seat and land a major NCAA tournament resume win when they led No. 9 Oregon by six with less than 2 minutes left in the game at Knight Arena. For a team whose best win was at home against Illinois in the season’s first week, that’s an opportunity you can’t miss.

Which is exactly what Arizona did.

Oregon scored six-straight points over the final 1:38 of regulation, including a game-tying jumper by Payton Pritchard with 28 seconds remaining, and the Wildcats missed two shots and then turned it over in the final possession of overtime to fall to the Ducks, 74-73, in frustrating fashion.

Arizona got a tough whistle down the stretch Zeke Nnaji maybe getting fouled on a potential game-winner with 5 seconds left without drawing a call, and then when officials blowing a play dead when it appeared Pritchard threw the ball back toward an unguarded basket before landing out of bounds. That makes it tough, but it’s a conference road game against a top-10 opponent. It’s gonna be tough.

The loss is obviously not something that’s going to hurt Arizona – a lot of teams are going to lose in Eugene over the next two months – but a win could have been monumentally helpful. Before we get into the nuts and bolts, let’s just examine it from a public perception angle. The Wildcats were ranked 24th, and, given how AP voters typically behave, will probably fall outside the top-25, even if that’s silly considering they lost on the road to a top-10 team. Arizona may have showed itself to be the best team in the Pac-12 by taking Oregon to OT and nearly winning in Eugene, but there’s a pretty good chance Arizona is playing without a number next to its name next week.

To the things that really matter. Arizona has two “good” losses – at Baylor, vs. Gonzaga – and one whatever loss, St. John’s on a neutral, and that’s why the computers like them, but their resume is pretty thin with something pretty important: Good wins. It’s been two months since they beat a perfectly fine but not particularly remarkable Illini team in Tucson, and their best win since then depends on how you feel about New Mexico State, Arizona State and Wake Forest. And no one feels that great about that trio of teams.

A win at Oregon would have not only been a statement, but a serious NCAA tournament resume builder, something that isn’t exactly in strong supply across the Pac-12.  The league once again isn’t great, and that means needle-moving wins aren’t a plentiful resource. To outplay Oregon for most of the night Thursday on the Ducks’ floor only to return home with an L is a pretty tough pill to swallow if you’re Sean Miller or his players.

Arizona’s performance made me pretty confident that they’re the best team in the Pac-12, but my opinion is worth less than the Wildcats’ Nov. 24 win against Long Beach State (KenPom No. 305).

2. Shockers knock off Memphis

Even without James Wiseman, Memphis has a roster that can compete for an AAC championship. The Tigers ripped off a series of wins without the potential No. 1 NBA draft pick, both before and after he decided to hang up his sneakers for the season. Wins against N.C. State and Tennessee are enough to believe in Penny Hardaway’s team even without the stellar freshman. These Tigers still have a chance.

But they’re not the frontrunners.

Wichita State looks to have staked a claim to that status with their 76-67 win over the Tigers on Thursday night at Koch Arena.

The Shockers led by as many as 19 points despite shooting just 32.8 percent from the floor and 36.4 percent from the 3-point line. They did it thanks to 35 trips to the free-throw line and a defense that produced 18 turnovers and held the Tigers to 35.7 percent from the floor while going a ghastly 4 of 21 from 3-point range. Gregg Marshall’s team had six players score at least eight points while Jamarius Burton led the way with 16.

Wichita State is now 2-0 in the American with the best league win across the conference to date. They’re just a little more than a week away from butting heads with another – probably their chief – AAC  contender, Houston, in Wichita.

3. Michigan survives 2OT to beat Purdue

I don’t know if anyone was actually worried about Michigan after Cassius Winston and Michigan State pretty well thumped them Sunday, but getting big performances from Zavier Simpson, Franz Wagner and Jon Teske to overcome 36 points and 20 rebounds from Trevion Williams and beat Purdue 84-78 in double-overtime might help calm some nerves.

Simpson had 22 and nine assists,  Teske had 18 points and nine rebounds and Wagner had 15 points and five boards to help power the Wolverines, who are still without second-leading scorer and 50-percent 3-point shooter Isaiah Livers. The junior wing has now missed three-straight games since suffering a groin injury in the early minutes of Michigan’s win against Presbyterian on Dec. 21.

Livers is a huge piece of the Wolverines’ puzzle, and without him their offense shrinks considering the importance of his 3-point shooting.

That doesn’t, however, explain how badly Michigan has gotten beaten inside throughout Big Ten play, with Williams’ huge night the latest in a line of big nights, as noted by The Athletic’s Brendan Quinn:

Michigan might not be the slumbering giant they appeared to be after winning the Battle 4 Atlantis (both Iowa State and North Carolina – Michigan’s first two wins in the Bahamas – are in free fall), but if they can get Livers back soon and figure out a way to contain opposing big men, they’ve got a chance to hang around in a Big Ten race that Michigan State is currently in solid control of.

No. 15 Arizona routs Nebraska-Omaha 99-49

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TUCSON, Ariz.  — Josh Green and Chase Jeter had 15 points each, helping No. 15 Arizona bounce back from its first loss of the season with a 99-49 rout over Nebraska-Omaha on Wednesday night.

The Wildcats (10-1) returned to McKale Center for the first time in 17 days with a dominating performance, jumping on Omaha with a big opening run and keeping their foot on gas.

Arizona shot 58%, had 25 assists on 38 field goals and had a 44-20 advantage in the paint.

Arizona’s Nico Mannion had 13 points and 11 assists, and Dylan Smith scored all 14 of his points in the first half.

The Mavericks (5-7) continued to take their lumps in a road-heavy nonconference season that included games against Wichita State, No. .14 Dayton, Colorado State, Washington State and Saint Mary’s. They did manage to pull off an 85-77 win over Washington State, but lost 75-63 loss to Northern Arizona on Sunday.

Omaha was no match for the long, athletic Wildcats, digging a big hole early it never recovered from.

Omaha’s KJ Robinson had 15 points to lead the Mavericks, who shot 27%.

Arizona suffered its first loss on Saturday, fighting back from a shaky first half before losing 63-58 to No. 11 Baylor.

The Wildcats were not only looking for a bounce back but to tighten things up before a showdown with No. 6 Gonzaga Saturday night.

Arizona took care of both from the opening tip against Omaha.

The Wildcats opened with 15-4 run and led 43-23 at halftime after making 19 of 27 shots. Smith, who was 1 for 8 against Baylor, made four of 6 from 3-point range .

The Mavericks had trouble with Arizona’s length on offensive, hitting 10 of 33 shots, but Robinson did drain a long 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer.

Arizona opened the second half by making eight of its first 12 shots to build the lead to 63-31 and cruise from there.

BIG PICTURE

Omaha was no match for Arizona in one of college basketball’s toughest environments, but the experience should help the Mavericks once the Summit League season starts.

Arizona was able to wash away some of the taste from the letdown and get some momentum headed into Saturday’s game against the Zags.

UP NEXT

Omaha hosts Texas-Rio Grande Valley on Sunday.

Arizona hosts. No. 6 Gonzaga on Saturday.