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Minnesota tops SMU to take NIT title

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NEW YORK — Make it two straight college basketball championships for a Pitino.

Coach Richard Pitino guided the Minnesota Golden Gophers to a 65-63 win over Southern Methodist in the NIT title game Thursday, a year after his dad, Rick, led Louisville to the NCAA Championship.

The 32-year-old Richard Pitino capped his first season at Minnesota (25-13) by establishing a school record for wins while delivering the second NIT title to the Golden Gophers. Minnesota claimed NIT titles in 1993 and 1998, though the latter championship was vacated due to NCAA violations.

The Golden Gophers received 19 points from forward Austin Hollins, the Most Outstanding Player of the Tournament. Guard Andre Hollins (no relation) scored 14, and guard DeAndre Mathieu added 13 for Minnesota.

SMU (27-10) was playing for its first NIT title. The Mustangs were led by guard Nic Moore, who scored 17 points. SMU guard Nick Russell finished with 15 points.

“Any time you win a title, especially in year one at Minnesota, you’re excited about it.”

With his father, mother and a host of relatives among the 5,268 fans at Madison Square Garden, Richard Pitino matched strategy with SMU’s 73-year-old coach Larry Brown.

“He (Brown) is a hall of famer and an unbelievable coach,” said Richard Pitino about the only coach to win an NBA title and an NCAA championship. “His passion for the game … he doesn’t coach like he’s 73. Every time we switched defenses, he sniffed it right out.”

The score was tied three times in the last 2:16 of the game until Austin Hollins’ 3-pointer from the right elbow with 46 seconds to play provided Minnesota with a 62-59 lead. Hollins scored all six of his team’s points in the final minute, including two clutch free throws with four seconds to go that gave Minnesota a 65-62 cushion.

SMU went the last 1:40 without scoring from the floor. Moore’s two free throws tied the game at 59 with 57 seconds to play.

Mathieu’s two free throws put Minnesota ahead 55-54 with 2:16 to go. That was followed by a layup from Austin Hollins at the 1:51 mark, but Russell drained a 3-pointer 10 seconds later for a 57-57 tie.

With the score tied at 45 and 9:36 left in the game, SMU went on an 8-1 run, the longest streak by either team on the night, grabbing a 53-46 edge with 5:53 to play.

The Golden Gophers scored the next seven points in just one minute to knot the score at 53.

“We didn’t handle prosperity very well,” admitted Brown. “They (Minnesota) got down seven and I thought he (Pitino) got their kids to dig in a little. We had some terrible turnovers in the guts of the game and I think it turned the game around.”

Richard Pitino was quick to point out that his Golden Gophers defense is not nearly as stifling as his dad’s Cardinals, who are in the same American Athletic Conference as SMU.

“We have totally different teams,” said Pitino. “They (Louisville) played them (SMU) twice obviously and we certainly did speak about it, but we don’t play that similar to them (Louisville).

Minnesota scored 21 points off of 14 SMU turnovers. The Mustangs recorded five turnovers in the first 10 minutes of the half

The game was tied seven times in the first half, and there were nine lead changes as neither team put together any kind of substantial run.

The Golden Gophers created some separation late in the half, breaking a 22-22 tie with 5:11 left by scoring six straight points en route to a 30-27 halftime lead.

Austin Hollins was the only player in double figures at halftime, scoring 10 points.

After going 15-17 in Brown’s first season at SMU, the Mustangs’ 27 wins this season were the second-most in school history. Brown restored the program to respectability. SMU’s third-place conference finish was the best output since finishing third in the 2002-03 Western Athletic Conference standings.

“You don’t realize where this program was and how appreciative we are of the people that have come and supported us,” said Brown. “I just want to make them proud of us.”

NOTES: Minnesota coach Richard Pitino’s father, Louisville coach Rick Pitino, faced SMU

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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NCAA News Wire

Wisconsin earns top seed after conference tournament win

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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

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NCAA News Wire

SMU outmuscles Connecticut to take AAC title

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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

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Alabama fires head coach Grant

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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.”

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