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Wilbekin carries Florida to Sweet 16

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ORLANDO, Fla. — Scottie Wilbekin is still looking for some respect nationally and if he continues to carry the top-seeded Florida Gators through the NCAA Tournament, he’s going to get it.

Wilbekin scored 13 of his 21 points in the last eight minutes to help the Gators put away a 61-45 victory over No. 9-seeded Pittsburgh in the third round of the NCAA Tournament at Amway Arena.

The Gators move on to the Sweet 16 for the fourth straight season.

“We knew it was going to be a challenging, physical game and it was,” Florida Coach Billy Donovan said. “Scottie made some great things happen for us at the end of the game.”

Added Wilbekin’s teammate Dorian Finney-Smith: “It’s great to see the rest of the country get exposed to the kind of talent and player Scottie is.

“That run he had in the second half was the kind of leader he’s been for us all season. Scottie just kept making big plays that kept the momentum on our side.”

That included a running 3-pointer that beat the buzzer at the end of the first half and gave the Gators more than the 27-22 advantage the scoreboard showed.

“You could see their heads drop after Scottie hit that one,” Gators center Patric Young said. “I’ve been on the other end of that and know there is a little letdown when you’ve battled the whole way and some guy hits one at the buzzer. I know it really gave us a lift.”

Young and forward Will Yeguete were also big factors in the second half when Florida put some distance between themselves and Pitt.

Young was shut out in the first half, but finished with seven points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots. Yegete had eight points and four rebounds, but was a constant presence anytime Pitt tried to get the ball in the paint.

“Will is the epitome of a guy that it’s hard to have an appreciation for what he does when all you do is look at the stat sheet,” Donovan said.

“What he does won’t make headlines, but he really impacts the game for us in a positive way.”

Pitt couldn’t get much offense inside or out.

Forward Talib Zanna led Pittsburgh with 10 points, but was the only Panther (25-6) to reach double figures against a dominating defensive effort by the Gators, who limited Pitt to 37.3 percent shooting for the game.

The Panthers’ starting guards, Cameron Wright and James Robinson, were a combined 3-for-15 from the field and totaled eight points.

Pitt also gave up 14 offensive rebounds, allowing Florida to extend a lot of possessions, particularly in the second half.

“Simply put, I was extremely disappointed in how we played,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “Florida is the most physical team we played all season and we didn’t execute offensively.

“Our defense wasn’t good enough. We were getting beat on the glass from the first play of the game and to me that was the biggest issue. The game just got away from us.”

Wilbekin started his game-ending run with a 3-pointer, the only shot the Gators made shot from outside the paint in the second half, to give Florida a 45-31 lead.

The Gators’ senior point guard then concentrated on drives to the basket, including four straight layups, most with the shot clock about to expire, to keep Pitt from gaining any momentum.

“The numbers don’t lie, they outplayed us,” Zanna said. “They got to the loose balls and we just didn’t get it done.”

Zanna got the first basket of the second half for Pitt, but the Gators responded with a 7-0 run to go ahead, 34-24.

Young, who was 0-for-5 in the first half, had five of those points, including a thunderous dunk off a feed from forward Casey Prather that made it 34-24 with 16:01 left in the game.

The Gator defense took Pitt’s starting backcourt of James Robinson and Cameron Wright completely out of the game for the first 30 minutes. They were a combined 0-for-11 with four turnovers and four assists before Robinson finally got on the board with a free throw with 10:50

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

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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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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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