STANFORD, Calif. — No. 1 Arizona is still unbeaten, but if it had not been for the clutch play of guard Nick Johnson and strong team defense down the stretch, the Wildcats would have a loss on their record.
Johnson scored his team’s final seven points, including a go-ahead 3-pointer with 49 seconds to go, as the Wildcats overcame a seven-point, second-half deficit to beat Stanford 60-57 on Wednesday at Maples Pavilion.
“I kept on looking over at the coach and he gave me the freedom to call my play a few times in a row,” Johnson said. “I just tried to make plays for my team. It was really not our offense that was struggling, it was our defense at first. But down the stretch, we really capitalized on defense.”
Johnson finished with a modest scoring total of 16 points, but his importance to the Wildcats (21-0, 8-0 in the Pac-12) was not lost on Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins.
“I watched film on him and he’s done that all year,” Dawkins said. “He produced in the clutch and was the difference in the game in a variety of ways.”
The other hero for Arizona was center Kaleb Tarczewski for one specific play. He had just five points and four rebounds, but his offensive board with less than a minute left led to Johnson’s wide-open 3-pointer that gave Arizona the lead for good.
“It comes down to that one play,” said Stanford forward Josh Huestis, who finished with 13 points.
Stanford (13-7, 4-4) was one of those teams that figured to have a shot at knocking off the Wildcats. Spurred on by their first home sellout crowd of the season, the Cardinal was in position for the upset.
“For 38 minutes, I thought we were right there,” Dawkins said.
But the Wildcats used some tough defense along with Johnson’s clutch play to pull out the victory.
Stanford guard Chasson Randle, the team’s leading scorer at 19.1 points per game, wound up with 12 points, but was just 3-for-15 from the field.
Stanford as a team made just one field goal in the final 10 minutes, as the Wildcats rallied from a 51-44 deficit with 12:34 to go.
“Defense was why we won,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “If you look at the game within the game, our ability to defend at a very high level, to get defensive stop after defensive stop when the other team really needed a score, that’s what we’ve done from Day 1. Tonight if you say, ‘Why did we win?’ Well, that was it.”
The Wildcats eventually tied the game 53-53 on forward Brandon Ashley’s jumper with 6:30 remaining.
Neither team did much offensively from there until Johnson hit an eight-foot floater in the lane to put Arizona ahead 55-53 with 2:36 left.
Stanford forward Dwight Powell, who had 13 points, tied it with a reverse layup with 1:20 left, but the pivotal sequence followed.
After Ashley missed a jumper with 55 seconds left, Tarczewski grabbed the offensive rebound in traffic, and fired it out to Johnson, who was awaiting at the top of the key.
Johnson made the open 3-point shot, giving the Wildcats a 58-55 lead with 49 seconds left.
“We were all converging for the rebound,” said Dawkins. “That’s one of the toughest plays to cover.”
Arizona’s missed free throws kept Stanford alive.
Johnson missed the front end of a one-and-one situation with 33.7 seconds, but Huestis missed a 3-point attempt with 13 seconds left.
Arizona forward Aaron Gordon missed the front end of a one-and-one with 11.6 seconds left, and Randle hit a pair of free throws with 7.0 seconds left to make it a 58-57 game.
However, Johnson then hit both his free throws with 5.8 seconds left, and Randle missed a long 3-point attempt with two seconds remaining.
“We were right there for 38 minutes,” Dawkins said.
Stanford held a 31-30 lead at halftime as Cardinal guard Anthony Brown hit a five-foot shot in traffic with three seconds left.
Stanford took an early 9-2 lead as Arizona missed eight of its first nine shots from the field. Arizona then scored eight straight points to
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.”