Utah hires Utah State’s Craig Smith as basketball coach

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SALT LAKE CITY – Utah has hired Utah State’s Craig Smith as its men’s basketball coach.

The school announced Saturday that Smith will replace Larry Krystkowiak, who was fired this month.

Smith turned Utah State into one of the nation’s best mid-major programs in a short span, leading the Aggies to the NCAA Tournament twice in three years. Utah State won the Mountain West Conference Tournament title in 2020, but didn’t get a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Utah State won the MWC Tournament again this season and won 20 games before losing 65-53 to Texas Tech in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.

Smith has been an adept recruiter in Logan, bringing in players like Sam Merrill, now with the NBA’s Boston Celtics, and Portuguese big man Neemias Queta.

He previously coached four seasons at South Dakota before being hired by Utah State in 2018.

Utah State fired Krystkowiak on March 16 after he went 183-139 during 10 seasons in Salt Lake City.

Utah lets go of coach Larry Krystkowiak after 10 seasons

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Utes have let go of basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak after 10 seasons and a 183-139 record.

Utah director of athletics Mark Harlan announced the decision Tuesday, saying in a release that “ultimately, our program needs a new voice, a new vision and a new leader who can build upon Larry’s foundation and lead us to greater heights in the years ahead.”

Harlan said Utah will start searching for a new coach immediately. The Utes finished 12-13 this season.

Krystkowiak took over the program in 2011 and led Utah to two NCAA Tournament appearances. The Utes won 27 games in 2015-16 with a squad that included Jakob Poeltl and Kyle Kuzma.

“Larry has always been dedicated to our student-athletes, to our university and to the Salt Lake City community, and I am grateful for his decade of service to the University of Utah,” Harlan said.

Before Utah, Krystkowiak spent two seasons as the coach at Montana, where he went 42-20 and led the Grizzlies to the NCAA Tournament both seasons.

A standout player at Montana, Krystkowiak was taken in the second round of the 1986 NBA draft by Chicago. He played in the league for nine years with San Antonio, Milwaukee, Utah, Orlando, Chicago and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Duarte voted Pac-12 player of year, Mobley is the newcomer

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Oregon’s Chris Duarte is The Associated Press player of the year in the Pac-12 Conference and Southern California’s Evan Mobley is the newcomer of the year.

Southern California’s Andy Enfield was chosen as Pac-12 coach of the year by a panel of writers who cover the conference. Results of the voting were released Tuesday.

Duarte, a senior guard from the Dominican Republic, was the Pac-12’s third-leading scorer at 17.3 points per game while leading the Ducks to their second straight Pac-12 regular-season title. He also averaged 4.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.9 steals per game.

Mobley was a dominant force during his freshman year, averaging 16.1 points per game while leading the Pac-12 with 8.4 rebounds per game. The 7-footer also led the conference with 2.8 blocked shots per game and was third in shooting percentage at 58%.

Enfield’s team had been picked to finish sixth in the Pac-12 but he brought USC to within a half-game of its first regular-season title since 1985. Led by Mobley, the Trojans finished the regular season 21-6 and were 15-5 in Pac-12 play.

The 2021 AP All-Pac-12 team, with players listed alphabetically with name, school, height, weight, class and hometown (“u-” denotes unanimous selections):

FIRST TEAM

u-Chris Duarte, Oregon, 6-6, 190, Sr, Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic

u-Evan Mobley, USC, 7-0, 215, Fr, Murrieta, California

u-McKinley Wright IV, Colorado, 6-0, 196, Sr, North Robbinsdale, Minnesota

Remy Martin, Arizona State, 6-0, 175, Sr, Chatsworth, California

Oscar da Silva, Stanford, 6-9, 230, Sr, Munich, Germany

SECOND TEAM

James Akinjo, Arizona, 6-1, 185, Jr, Oakland, California

Timmy Allen, Utah, 6-6, 205, Jr, Mesa, Arizona

Ethan Thompson, Oregon State, 6-5, 195, Sr, Los Angeles

Eugene Omoruyi, Oregon, 6-6, 235, Sr, Rexdale, Ontario

Isaac Bonton, Washington State, 6-3, 190, Sr, Portland, Oregon

Coach of the year – Andy Enfield, Southern California

Player of the year – Chris Duarte, Oregon

Newcomer of the year – Evan Mobley, Southern California

Horne, Wright lead Colorado to 80-62 rout of No. 19 USC

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BOULDER, Colo. — Jeriah Horne hit a career-best six 3-pointers on his way to 24 points, McKinley Wright IV had a career-high 14 assists and Colorado routed No. 19 Southern California 80-62 on Thursday night to sweep the season series.

Wright added 15 points for the Buffaloes (18-7, 12-6 Pac-12), who have won six straight against the Trojans (19-5, 13-4).

Already the school’s career leader in assists, Wright and his speed gave the Trojans fits all evening. His 14 assists tied for the second-most in program history. The record is 15 by Jose Winston against Coppin State on Jan. 2, 2001.

In an efficient performance, Colorado had 20 assists on 27 baskets.

The loss was a blow to USC, which fell a half-game behind rival UCLA (17-5, 13-3) for first place in the Pac-12 race. The Trojans are chasing their first regular-season conference title since 1984-85, when they shared the crown. Their last outright league championship was in 1960-61.

Talented USC freshman Evan Mobley had 13 points. He entered the game averaging 16.8.

Mobley’s brother, Isaiah, returned to the court after missing a game with a strained right calf. He had two points.

Behind the shooting of Horne, the Buffaloes opened a 17-point lead midway through the second half but saw the Trojans make one final run and cut it to 10. The Buffs weathered the storm and Wright helped wrap it up from the free throw line with a limited number of fans in attendance.

BIG PICTURE

USC: Could be the end of USC’s run in the Top 25. The team shot 38% from the floor.

Colorado: The Buffaloes have 21 wins over ranked opponents under coach Tad Boyle. His teams have accounted for 32% of the program’s wins over ranked foes (65) since 1949-50.

ON THE MARK

The Buffaloes are challenging single-season Pac-12 and national records with their stellar free throw shooting. After going 14 of 15 from the line Thursday, they’re shooting 83%. The conference record for a season is 78.6% by Arizona in 2003-04 and the NCAA Division I mark is 82.2% by Harvard in 1983-84.

Colorado’s best-ever mark stands at 77.8% in 2010-11.

TECHNICAL TALK

Wright was called for a technical late in the first half. Horne and Eli Parquet picked up technical fouls in the second.

UP NEXT

USC: At Utah on Saturday. The Trojans beat the Utes 64-46 on Jan. 2.

Colorado: Host UCLA on Saturday. The Buffaloes lost 65-62 at UCLA on Jan. 2.

Arizona beats No. 17 USC 81-72, ends Trojans’ win streak

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
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LOS ANGELES — In a season that’s coming to a quick close for Arizona, the Wildcats finally had reason to celebrate.

James Akinjo scored 20 points and Arizona was better on the boards, knocking off No. 17 Southern California 81-72 on Saturday and ending the Pac-12-leading Trojans’ seven-game winning streak.

“It showed we’re a good team and can beat anybody right now,” Akinjo said.

It was the Wildcats’ biggest win of the season. They won’t be playing into March, after the school imposed a postseason ban that will keep them out of the Pac-12 and NCAA Tournaments.

“We’re playing for each other. We’re playing for our program, the pride and the love for the game,” Wildcats coach Sean Miller said. “If we can beat some of these teams down the stretch, it gives us something to feel good about.”

Jordan Brown had 19 points and 13 rebounds. Azuolas Tubelis added 16 points and a career-high 15 rebounds for the Wildcats (15-8, 9-8 Pac-12), who gave Miller his 300th victory in program history while avoiding their first three-game skid of the season.

“We’ve been in some really tough games recently and just weren’t good enough to leave with a victory,” Miller said. “Tonight, we were able to go from start to finish. It says a lot about our group of guys that they continue to fight.”

The Wildcats controlled the boards, 43-36. They have been outrebounded just once this season. The Trojans haven’t won when they’ve been beaten on the boards.

“They’re just as big as us and another top rebounding team,” USC’s Evan Mobley said. “A lot of times we’d go up and tip around and other guys would come down with the rebound.”

Mobley scored 19 of his 23 points in the second half for the Trojans (18-4, 12-3), and Tahj Eaddy added 17 points before fouling out.

“I don’t think entirely we played soft, but in certain possessions we weren’t as tough as we could have been, especially to start the game,” Eaddy said. “They got too many offensive rebounds that gave them confidence and allowed the momentum to carry throughout the game.”

The Trojans played from behind most of the game, trailing by eight in the first half when Mobley had just four points and no rebounds. The standout freshman scored 10 straight points to open the second half, pulling USC into a tie at 41-all. Eaddy tied it again at 44-all on a 3-pointer.

Brown scored four in a row, and the Wildcats hit three consecutive 3-pointers – one from Terrell Brown Jr. and two by Dalen Terry – to go up 57-49.

USC made just 4 of 8 free throws during a stretch in which Arizona’s 7-foot-1 Christian Koloko got called for a technical after he shoved Chevez Goodwin on the baseline. That drew the Trojans within five, but Arizona ran off seven in a row to lead 67-55.

The Wildcats made 14 of 16 free throws over the final 5 1/2 minutes, when they didn’t have a field goal. USC was just 13 of 22 from the line, with Mobley hitting 8 of 12.

The Wildcats led by eight in the first half, which ended with them ahead 37-31. Arizona had a 21-16 advantage on the boards, with Tubelis equaling his career high of 12 by the break.

BIG PICTURE

Arizona: The Wildcats have two scheduled home games remaining until their season ends next weekend. The roster heavy with freshmen and sophomores, and two little-used seniors, has had few highlight moments during the pandemic-effected season.

USC: The Trojans lost for the first time in a month. They have five games remaining until the Pac-12 Tournament, including Utah and UCLA, teams they’ve already beaten.

UP NEXT

Arizona: Hosts Washington State on Thursday.

USC: Hosts Oregon on Monday.

Elite programs stuck on the NCAA Tournament bubble

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The NCAA Tournament bubble is typically populated with teams from small conferences and middle-of-the-pack big conference schools.

A pandemic that has wreaked havoc on the college basketball season is also reshaping the curve.

Perennial power Duke is currently bubbling. So is North Carolina. Kentucky is so far down it can’t even see the bubble.

“The season hasn’t gone how we wanted it, but we just try to keep our head down and keep working,” Duke sophomore forward Matthew Hurt said. “Every day, don’t take a day off, not try to listen to the outside, the social media, what everyone else says but us.”

Duke entered the season with loaded expectations, as it always does. The Blue Devils had key holdovers from last year’s team and coach Mike Krzyzewski brought in another stellar recruiting class.

Duke’s season has mostly been a dud so far.

The Blue Devils are 8-8 and 6-6 in the ACC after beating North Carolina State on Saturday, a win that ended a three-game losing streak. Duke is No. 66 in the latest NET rankings – up 11 from the previous rankings – and needs a strong finish to the season to avoid missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1995.

“You’ve just got to stay with it,” Krzyzewski said. “That’s what our program’s done and see what happens. Just see what happens if you do that.”

North Carolina fell flat with a chance at a resume-building win on Saturday, scoring 48 points in a loss to No. 9 Virginia. The Tar Heels failed to have a double-figure scorer for the first time since 1966, are 12-7 overall and No. 56 in the NET after going 1-6 in Quadrant 1 games.

Kentucky, at 6-13 and No. 76 in the NET, will likely need to win the SEC Tournament to join the field of 68.

ON THE RISE

Kansas (15-7, 9-5 Big 12). Once a blueblood appearing to be in trouble, the Jayhawks have reeled off three straight wins. Kansas has some big potential resume builders after facing rival Kansas State, with games against No. 7 Texas Tech, No. 13 Texas and No. 2 Baylor to close out the regular season.

UConn (9-5, 6-5 Big East). The Huskies picked up a critical win by beating Xavier 80-72 on Saturday without James Bouknight. UConn is a superb defensive team and if Bouknight is fully healthy, the Huskies could make a run to the field of 68.

Rutgers (12-7, 8-7 Big Ten). The Scarlet Knights were poised to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1991 before the tourney was canceled last season. Rutgers may still have work to do to end the streak this season, but it has won five of six after beating Northwestern on Saturday.

Oregon (12-4, 7-3 Pac-12). The Ducks were among the favorites to win the Pac-12, but they labored through injuries and two COVID-19 pauses. Oregon finally had its top five scorers on the floor together in a victory over Arizona State last week and has won three straight after beating Arizona in Tucson.

FADING HOPES

Maryland (10-10, 4-9 Big Ten). The Terps have wins over Illinois and Wisconsin but have been inconsistent most of the season. Maryland has lost three of four and could use a strong finish to get off the bubble.

Drake (19-2, 10-2, Missouri Valley). Less than two weeks ago, the Bulldogs joined No. 1 Gonzaga and Baylor as Division I’s only undefeated teams. Drake then lost at Valparaiso and was blown out by No. 22 Loyola Chicago. A win over the Ramblers in the rematch on Sunday was huge.

Toledo (16-6, 11-3 MAC). A team on the NCAA Tournament bubble can’t really afford consecutive losses late in the season. The Rockets did just that against Ball State and Bowling Green in their last two games.

Stanford (13-8, 9-6). The Cardinal have wins over Alabama and UCLA on their resume, but also have losses to Arizona State and Utah. They still have chances to pick up marquee wins with No. 20 Southern California and Oregon remaining.