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No. 21 Houston bounces back with win over Memphis

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HOUSTON — Fabian White Jr. had 18 points and 14 rebounds, Quentin Grimes added 17 points and No. 21 Houston defeated Memphis 64-57 on Sunday.

Grimes had 15 second-half points, which led a big run for the Cougars (23-8, 13-5 American Athletic Conference). Nate Hinton had 13 points for Houston, which shot 34%, including 48% in the second half.

The Cougars forced 17 turnovers by Memphis, which they turned into 18 points. Houston also had a 45-41 advantage in rebounding and a 17-8 advantage in second-chance points.

Houston will finish at least in a tie for second in the AAC.

Precious Achiuwa had 25 points and 15 rebounds and Lester Quinones added 10 points for Memphis (21-10, 10-8). The Tigers shot 36%, including 6 of 24 on 3-pointers.

Trailing 41-39 midway through the second half, Grimes ignited Houston to a 17-2 run to give the Cougars a 53-43 lead on a layup with 3:15 remaining.

Memphis led 30-26 at the half behind 16 points from Achiuwa.

BIG PICTURE

Memphis: The Tigers missed a chance to help their NCAA Tournament resume and fell to 2-3 this season against ranked opponents. … Excluding Achiuwa and Quinones, Memphis shot 5 for 19 from the field. … The Tigers were 5-6 on the road this season.

Houston: The Cougars had another poor shooting first half, hitting 22%, including missing their last nine field goals over the final 5:13 of the half. … Houston finished the season 14-2 at home and won its last 10 straight at home. … Houston was 8-0 following a loss this season.

UP NEXT

The American Athletic Conference Tournament in Fort Worth. Houston earned a bye into the quarterfinals and will play on Friday, while Memphis will play on Thursday in the first round.

Thursday’s Things to Know: Illinois’ B1G title hopes hurt, San Diego State survives scare and Tulsa wins without playing

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Even with conference tournament season upon us, some of the most interesting things of the day happened off the court. Kansas responded to the NCAA’s notice of allegations. John Beilein hung out at the Crisler Center. As for actual basketball Thursday, here’s what you need to know:

Illinois’ B1G title hopes fade

It’s been a really solid, resurgent season for Illinois. A needed one given the two sub-.500 years to start Brad Underwood’s tenure in Champaign.

It won’t likely end with a Big Ten title, though.

Illinois’ hopes of claiming a piece of the regular-season B1G championship took a critical hit with a 71-63 loss to Ohio State in Columbus. The Illini are now a game back of Michigan State, Maryland and Wisconsin in the Big Ten standings and would need all three – none of whom play each other – to lose in their B1G finales this weekend and then the Illini would need to beat Iowa as well.

So, probably not happening. But with the NCAA tournament looming ahead, Illinois has a welcome consolation prize in its future.

Illinois led by as many as 11 in the first half, but saw that lead slip away with the Buckeyes taking an 11-point advantage themselves after halftime. Ayo Dosunmu was electric for the Illini, scoring 21 points on 9 of 14 shooting to go along with five boards and five assists, but the rest of the roster didn’t provide much in the way of offensive support. Andres Feliz was the only other Illini to lodge double figures with 11 points, but he was 4 of 14 from the floor. Illinois was 6 of 22 (27.3 percent) from 3-point range.

Ohio State, meanwhile, got a 17 points and 11 rebounds off the bench from E.J. Liddell while Kaleb Wesson had 19 points. CJ Walker had 15 points, six boards and five assists. The Buckeyes are heading into the postseason on something of a roll after their turn-of-the-year struggles (in which they lost six of seven games). They’ve ripped off four straight that includes victories against Maryland, Michigan and the Illini. Michigan State is up next Sunday in the finale in yet another resume-boosting opportunity in the Big Ten.

San Diego State moves on after scare

There was a little space of time Thursday afternoon where teams like Dayton, Florida State and Seton Hall saw an opening. Air Force, the No. 9 seed in the Mountain West, led San Diego State, a presumptive No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, nearing the midway point of the second half. For a moment or two there, it look as though a top seed might open up.

Then the Aztecs got back to being the dominant force they are in that league, holding Air Force without a bucket for nearly the final four minutes and closing out the last 94 seconds on a 7-0 run.

It was a 13-point win, but still one in which they trailed for a big chunk of the game. Not great evidence to refute the idea that San Diego State has gone wobbly lately. First they lost at home to UNLV (who lost its MWC tourney opener Thursday) and then beat Colorado State and Nevada by just single digits. Easily could just be a team that’s been mostly unbeatable all season long getting a little bored with the stakes lowered a little bit. Or it could be something more.

We might find out in a couple weeks.

Tulsa wins a piece of the American

It wasn’t unreasonable to think heading into this season Frank Haith might be feeling the heat at Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane made the First Four in his second season there and spent the subsequent three seasons missing the NCAA tournament. His peers in the American picked his team to finish 10th in the 12-team league in the preseason poll. All that doesn’t scream job security.

Winning the conference does, though.

Tulsa clinched at least a share of the American on Thursday when UConn knocked off Houston, 77-71, in Storrs. The Hurricane can wrap up the title to themselves if they’re able to beat Wichita State on the road Sunday.

Houston lands Kansas transfer Quentin Grimes

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With a brand-new, high-dollar arena, back-to-back strong years and a big-money contract extension, it’s clear Kelvin Sampson is on his way to building something of an AAC behemoth at Houston.

He just landed a former five-star recruit to help him do it.

Quentin Grimes, who left Kansas after an underwhelming freshman campaign, has committed to Sampson and the Cougars, Grimes announced Thursday.

“For the city,” he tweeted with an illustration of himself in a Houston uniform.

Grimes is from Woodlands, Texas, which sits just 30 miles north of Houston.

The 6-foot-5 guard was one of the highest-rated prospects in the 2018 class and a one-done-done candidate, but announced his decision to return to school albeit not with the Jayhawks the night of the NBA Draft early entry deadline. He averaged 8.4 points and 2 rebounds per game.

Grimes never seemed to find his groove alongside fellow five-star freshman Devon Dotson in the Jayhawk backcourt, and a transfer looked like a likelier and likelier possibility as the season went on and Grimes’ draft status sunk further. Still, his freshman season was far from a debacle – just short of expectations for a Kansas team with huge expectations that weren’t even really tempered despite injuries and departures. That put even a bigger burden on its freshmen, which couldn’t deliver at a high enough level to extend Kansas’ Big 12 title streak to 15 as Texas Tech and Kansas State shared conference championship honors.

A change of scenery and a year away from the spotlight with the NCAA-mandated redshirt transfer season could be of significant use for Grimes, who has heaps of talent and now probably a chip on his shoulder.

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.

Kentucky’s PJ Washington’s status for Sweet 16 still uncertain

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PJ Washington is moving toward getting back on the floor, but if it’ll be in Kentucky’s Sweet 16 game against Houston remains to be seen.

“The doctor said pretty much some good things. So I’m happy where I’m at, and I’m just trying to get better,” Washington, who is dealing with a foot injury, told reporters Thursday in Kansas City, the site of the No. 2 Wildcats’ Friday matchup with the No. 3 Cougars. “I haven’t been practicing. I haven’t put any pressure on it yet. I’ll go out there (in practice) and see what I can do.”

Kentucky had its media availability before its practice Thursday, so Washington’s participation ahead of tomorrow night remains a bit mysterious.

“I kind of stay out of these decisions. Unless the doctor tells me he can hurt himself, then he wouldn’t have a decision to make,” Kentucky coach John Calipari Said. “If this one — you ask me how will I make a decision? Probably be him. If he goes in and he’s 80 percent, then I won’t play him. If he goes in, he plays well and he says “sub me,” I’ll sub him. I’m ready to go. I’ll put him back in.”

Washington, who played in the SEC tournament but has missed both of Kentucky’s NCAA tournament games with the injury, is likely looking at a simple pain-management issue against Houston.

“Greatest thing for him is the doc said that you can’t hurt yourself. And if that were the case, I wouldn’t let him play,” Calipari said. “Doc said, ‘You’re going to be in pain after the game if you do play, but you know how much pain can you deal with.’
“He wants to play. Now, it’s can he play? We don’t know. If anybody is guessing, you know, we just don’t know yet.”

Washington is averaging 14.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per game while shooting 51.5 percent from the floor.

“Because he hadn’t played for a couple weeks, people may forget how good he is,” Calipari said. “He’s an All American.”

Mike Anderson out at Arkansas

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Three NCAA tournaments in the last five years was not enough to keep Mike Anderson at Arkansas.

The former Nolan Richardson assistant who has helmed the Razorbacks for the last eight years is out as head coach, a source confirmed to NBC Sports.

Richardson had guided Arkansas to back-to-back NCAA tournaments in 2016-17 and 2017-18, while also getting there in 2015, but failed to reach the Big Dance this season as the Hogs slumped to 18-16. Overall, Richardson went 169-102.

Prior to returning to Fayetteville, Richardson led Missouri for five seasons, taking them to the NCAA tournament in his final three seasons there with an Elite Eight trip in 2009. He also coached at UAB for four seasons.

Despite a solid run of success, Richardson wasn’t able to get out of the NCAA tournament’s first weekend, topping out at the second round in both 2015 and 2017.

Arkansas will be sure to gauge the interest of Chris Beard, who led Arkansas-Little Rock to an NCAA tournament victory in his one season there in 2016, and perhaps Houston’s Kelvin Sampson, who has led the Cougars to national prominence since taking over in 2014.