LAHAINA, Hawaii — In a defensive battle between two undefeated college basketball powers, tournament-tested Arizona survived the challenge.
The third-ranked Wildcats claimed the EA Sports Maui Invitational championship with a gutsy 61-59 win over 15th-ranked San Diego State on Wednesday evening at the Lahaina Civic Center.
Arizona (6-0) employed consistent defensive pressure and held the Aztecs to just four field goals and 14 points through the game’s final 10 minutes — including two late, desperation 3-pointers — en route to claiming the program’s second Maui title.
San Diego State (5-1) could not overcome its opponent’s defensive effort and lost for the first time in the past 17 occurrences when it had 24 hours or less to prepare for a foe.
With the victory, Arizona claimed its third early-season “exempt” tournament in as many seasons. The Wildcats captured the 2012 Diamond Head Classic crown on Oahu and followed that triumph up by winning the 2013 NIT Season Tip-Off title.
The Wildcats limited their opponent to 75 points or fewer for the 51st consecutive game.
“Sometimes when you’re a very good defensive team, and I believe we are, it becomes harder and harder to score against you, if you do what you do well,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “To win the championship here at the Maui Invitational, you need great players, and you need players who rise up to the challenge. …
“I feel my team took the next step, grew up, improved, and that’s what happens when you play this type of competition.”
Arizona freshman forward Stanley Johnson scored six of his game-high 18 points on free throws down the stretch. He wound up making nine of 10 foul shots. The Wooden Award Preseason Top 50 prospect also pulled down a game-high nine rebounds.
Johnson was selected the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
“He’ll make a pretty good NBA player in about six months,” San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said. “He’s a terrific talent that competes like crazy and helps his team win. He’s a very good player. They’ve got a lot of good players.”
The Wildcats moved ahead on the game’s 13th and final lead change as T.J. McConnell (11 points) drained a 3-pointer with 7:39 remaining, snapping a two-minute scoreless streak. The fiery point guard let his emotions fly all game, gesturing both playfully and in mocking nature at spectators and barking at teammates who committed lapses in judgment.
Sophomore sensation Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (14 points) made San Diego State pay for its 13th turnover of the game by taking the loose ball all the way for a high-flying dunk that put Arizona ahead 53-49 with 4:45 left.
“They have elite athletes at multiple spots, and they make it hard for you to score,” Fisher said. “So do we. I think a 61-59 game is indicative of that. … They hit us in the chops, and we didn’t respond like we needed to. We did respond, but that was a critical little stretch there.”
Aztecs guard Trey Kell answered with a jumper to end his team’s nearly six-minute long field goal drought, pulling San Diego State within two points of Arizona. However, the Wildcats maintained the lead throughout the game’s waning moments.
Kell and forward Winston Shepard each scored 14 points to pace the Aztecs.
“We just gotta continue to get better, continue to be aggressive,” Shepard said. “Arizona’s a good team, gotta give them a lot of credit.”
Forward Dwayne Polee II (11 points) helped San Diego State build an early lead by converting each of his first six shots — three field goals and three free throws — and racking up 10 quick points. The Aztecs also attacked the Arizona defense early and often, leading to seven team fouls and a bonus situation prior to the opening half’s 10-minute mark.
San Diego State took advantage of the free-throw opportunities, making nine of 15 attempts from the charity stripe in the opening frame. The squads combined to commit 19 personal fouls in the game’s first 17 minutes, and the Wildcats also benefitted by sinking eight free throws in nine tries during that span.
Arizona finished with 20 converted free throws in 24 attempts, while San Diego State went 13 of 24 at the line.
Behind nine first-half points
Wisconsin earns top seed after conference tournament win
CHICAGO — The Wisconsin Badgers earned a historic NCAA top seed Sunday, but their approach going forward will be strictly business as usual.
Wisconsin (31-3) beat Michigan State 80-69 in overtime in Sunday’s Big Ten tournament title game to complete a championship sweep and were rewarded with the first No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed in program history.
“I’m sure it will sink in,” Badgers coach Bo Ryan said. “What we need right now is to get these guys back (home). We have class tomorrow, some of these guys have tests, they’ve got midterms this week. So it will be business as usual for our student-athletes.”
But players like forward Frank Kaminsky, the Big Ten tournament most outstanding player, are pretty pumped up.
“It’s awesome,” Kaminsky said. “First No. 1 seed in program history. That’s an accomplishment in and of itself, but we have a lot of goals and aspirations in the NCAA Tournament. So we’re going to prepare for our first game and be ready we tip the ball up.”
No. 6 ranked Wisconsin, the league’s regular-season champion, claimed the Big Ten’s automatic NCAA berth with the overtime win at the United Center and meets No. 16 Coastal Carolina (24-9) in Friday’s West Region opener in Omaha, Neb.
The overtime outcome was the first in Big Ten tournament history.
Michigan State (23-11) is also tourney bound with a No. 7 seed in the East Region. The Spartans will face Georgia, which is the 10th seed, on Friday in Charlotte, N.C.
Ryan was initially at a loss for words after the Badgers’ dramatic come-from-behind win.
“I’m speechless and that’s hard to do,” he said. “It was the fight in this group, and to do what they did when it seemed like Michigan State couldn’t do anything wrong. I just hope we have something left in us come NCAA Tournament time.”
The Badgers rallied from an 11-point second-half deficit and back into contention late in the game. They then scored 11 unanswered points in overtime behind seven points form forward Nigel Hayes.
Hayes closed with a game-high 25 points and was 12-for-12 from the free throw line. Kaminsky had 19, guard Bronson Koenig finished with 18 while reserve forward Duje Dukan added 11.
Michigan State, making its third title game appearance in four years, was led by forward Branden Dawson and guard Denzel Valentine with 16 apiece while reserve guard Bryn Forbes had 10.
“I thought we played one of the greatest games we’ve ever played for 32, 32 and one-half minutes or 35, 36 minutes,” Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. “And then we made a couple of mistakes and they made a couple of great shots and that’s the way the game goes.”
Wisconsin trailed 57-46 in the second half when Koenig launched a comeback with a 3-pointer and added another with 4:19 left to give the Badgers a temporary 60-59 lead.
“We were down eleven and they thought they had it in the bag,” Koenig said. “But I kept reminding my teammates that we were never going to give up.”
Guard Lourawls Nairn’s 3-pointer then put Michigan State up 62-60 as the teams exchanged leads three times and tied four times. The last in regulation came on Koenig’s two free throws for a 69-69 deadlock.
A potential game-winning shot by Dawson rolled in and out as regulation time expired.
In the first half, Michigan State outscored Wisconsin 10-5 in the final 3:25 for a 32-31 halftime lead after a half that saw with seven lead changes and five ties. The Spartans opened a 32-28 lead after a turnover by Koenig and a rebound put back by forward Marvin Clark with 25 seconds showing. But Wisconsin narrowed the deficit to 32-31 as Kaminsky hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
It was the Badger’s fifth successful shot from beyond the arc in the half. Wisconsin ended 13-of-26 (50 percent) on 3-point shooting for the game.
NOTES: Sunday’s game was tied 13 times and had 14 lead changes. … The Badgers claimed a 68-61 win in March in the long regular season meeting behind F Frank Kaminsky’s season-high 31 points. … The Badgers’ two previous Big Ten tournament titles came in wins over Illinois in 2004 and 2008. … Wisconsin’s 31 wins match an all-time
SMU outmuscles Connecticut to take AAC title
HARTFORD, Conn. — After a crushing omission from the NCAA Tournament last season, the 20th-ranked Southern Methodist Mustangs didn’t have any worries during this year’s Selection Show. They are dancing for the first time since 1993.
SMU’s deep and talented frontcourt frustrated the Connecticut Huskies on both ends of the floor, paving the way for the team’s first conference title in 27 years with a 62-54 win in the American Athletic Conference championship game on Sunday.
SMU earned a No. 6 seed and will face No. 11 UCLA in the South Region of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday in Charlotte, N.C.
“This is big for all of us,” said senior guard Ryan Manuel, “not just the seniors but it’s as big for SMU as a school, as a basketball program. When coach (Larry) Brown got here, he wanted us to put it back on the map, and I think we made great strides in that.”
UConn (20-14), the defending national champion, came into the AAC tournament needing four wins in four days just to return to the NCAA Tournament. After falling just short of their goal, the Huskies are headed to the National Invitation Tournament.
“It’s postseason play,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. “If it’s NIT or NCAA, they’re going to learn from it and they’re going to come back better from it. I’m still coaching them the way I coach them, they’re still going to play the way they’re going to play.”
SMU (27-6) was expected to receive an at-large bid if it lost Sunday, but the victory guaranteed it a spot in the NCAA Tournament field after being one of the final teams left out last season.
“Last year at this time was about as disappointing as it could get,” Brown said. “Fortunately we’ve got another opportunity, and didn’t have to get anybody to decide whether we’re worthy or not.”
As it had all weekend long, it was SMU’s frontcourt that anchored the win.
The conference’s Sixth Man of the Year, Markus Kennedy, capped off a strong weekend by leading his team with 14 points, one of four Mustangs players in double figures. He earned the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player for his efforts. The 6-foot-10 junior and his fellow forwards helped SMU to a 43-30 advantage on the glass, with sophomore Sterling Brown pulling in 12 rebounds to lead the team.
Sophomore guard Rodney Purvis had 29 points and was the only UConn player in double figures in scoring.
“I was trying to be aggressive and take what the defense gave me,” he said.
For a while, it appeared this game would not be close. The SMU zone defense that Connecticut had carved up for 81 points just two weeks prior locked things down this time around, and the Mustangs took a 33-19 advantage into halftime by holding UConn to 5-of-24 shooting (20.8 percent) from the floor over the opening 20 minutes.
The Huskies, who made more than 53 percent from the floor and knocked down nine 3-pointers in that win, were just 2 of 13 from beyond the arc in that first half.
Usual leading scorer Ryan Boatright would manage just seven points on 1-of-12 shooting for the game.
“I’m just disappointed in my play,” he said. “I missed a lot of shots that should be easy knock-down shots for me. I didn’t show up and be the player I know I can be, I can be better than that. But my teammates fought, they played a tremendous game.”
UConn made it a game in the second half by doing similar things on the defensive end, thanks in large part to the presence of sophomore Amida Brimah. The 7-foot center, limited to just four first-half minutes because of foul trouble, played the entire second half, blocking seven shots during that time and altering numerous others.
The Huskies were able to get within five points with just over three minutes to play, but the Mustangs would hold on.
“He’s a shot blocker, so it made it a little difficult,” Manuel said about the difference Brimah made in the second half. “UConn, they have a tradition of coming back, and we knew they weren’t going to go down with a fight, so for us to stand there as a team and get the
Alabama fires head coach Grant
Alabama fired head basketball coach Anthony Grant on Sunday after six seasons.
The Crimson Tide struggled over the final two months of the season, finishing 18-14 and tied for eighth in the Southeastern Conference.
Grant, 48, won at least 20 games three times and made an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2012. His Alabama teams went 117-85, including two NIT appearances (2011 and 2013). He came to Alabama from Virginia Commonwealth University, where he went 76-25 and made two NCAA Tournament appearances.
“This has been a very difficult decision, as I have the highest respect for Anthony as a coach, as a molder of young men, and as a person,” Alabama athletic director Bill Battle said in a statement. “Anthony is a man of impeccable character who has been an excellent representative of our program. He has made tremendous contributions to our program and we always will be grateful for his efforts. Anthony, his wife Chris, and their children have been tremendous assets to our University and our community.
“In this business we are ultimately judged by wins and losses on the court and, for a variety of reasons, we haven’t made satisfactory progress in that area.”