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Zanna grabs 21 rebounds in Pitt victory

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GREENSBORO, N.C. — While senior forward Talib Zanna snatched rebound after rebound, Pittsburgh kept building its lead.

It was a great combination for the Panthers in Friday afternoon’s Atlantic Coast Conference tournament quarterfinal.

Zanna’s 19 points and career-high 21 rebounds boosted Pittsburgh to an 80-75 victory over No. 15-ranked North Carolina, which was unable to complete a late-game comeback at the Greensboro Coliseum.

“He grabbed like every rebound,” Pittsburgh forward Lamar Patterson said of Zanna. “That’s what got us that lead. He got his bounce back.”

Guard James Robinson, a sophomore, added a career-best 19 points, Patterson had 12 points and guard Cameron Wright supplied 11 points for the Panthers, who now own a shiny victory to go on their NCAA tournament portfolio.

“We’re playing our best basketball now and it showed,” Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon said. “You’ve got to make some free throws, obviously. We did what we needed to do and it’s a good win.”

Fifth-seeded Pittsburgh (25-8) meets top-seeded Virginia, a 64-51 victor against Florida State in the day’s first quarterfinal, in Saturday’s semifinal round.

North Carolina guard Marcus Paige scored 27 points – including 20 in the last 15 minutes – before fouling out with 25 seconds left.

Still, North Carolina guard Nate Britt had a chance to cut the gap to two points but missed a shot in the lane at the 18-second mark. After a Pittsburgh free throw, Britt’s jumper made it 78-75 with 11.4 seconds left.

Zanna fouled out with 1:03 remaining as North Carolina staged a comeback from a 20-point, second-half hole to get within 75-71.

“I really thought we were going to come back and win the game, I really did,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “I thought this was going to be one of those great finishes.”

Zanna had 17 rebounds with more than 12 minutes to play. North Carolina had 16 rebounds at the time.

“Just his activity level,” Tar Heels forward James Michael McAdoo said of Zanna. “We didn’t do a good job checking him.”

Dixon said: “He has a knack for it. He has always been good at it. He utilized his quickness.”

Forward Brice Johnson had 16 points and McAdoo supplied 15 points for fourth-seeded North Carolina.

Pittsburgh’s 21-of-41 free-throw shooting nearly cost the Panthers. Robinson’s offense, though, was a bonus.

“A lot of defenses are going to focus on Lamar or Talib and they did a good job finding me,” Robinson said.

Paige ignited a rally with two 3-pointers to help close the deficit to 61-49 with less than seven minutes to play.

The Tar Heels were within 74-65 with two minutes to go.

Earlier in the second half, Paige was ailing with an apparent knee injury that forced him out of the game. He left the court area before returning with 15:46 remaining and the Tar Heels trailing 41-31.

The Panthers used a series of offensive rebounds and Patterson’s 3-point basket to stretch a second-half lead to 48-31 with less than 14 minutes left.

“We were in too much of a rush at the offensive end of the floor,” Williams said. “That’s how it got to be that margin. I thought (Pittsburgh) played extremely well the first 30, 32 minutes of the game. … We had some chances. Kids tried exceptionally hard.”

The Tar Heels (23-9), who won 12 games in a row until falling in last Saturday’s regular-season finale at Duke, lost consecutive games for the first time since early January.

North Carolina reached the ACC tournament final last year.

Pittsburgh led by as much as 27-9 early in the game, but the Tar Heels closed to within 36-26 by halftime.

North Carolina scored on its last seven possessions of the first half to help withstand Pittsburgh’s 54.2-percent (13-for-24) first-half shooting.

With Pittsburgh holding a 20-8 edge, North Carolina took a timeout at the 8:52 mark of the half. The Panthers were up 25-8 before the Tar Heels ended nearly a four-minute scoring drought with a free throw.

North Carolina missed its first seven shots from the field.

Pittsburgh had field goals from four different players for its first eight points, with Patterson the lone starter without a point during that opening stretch. Patterson drained

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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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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NCAA News Wire

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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