NCAA

Gaels now a legit mid-major team

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Gaels now a legit mid-major team

An odd thing happened as Mondays Saint Marys-Gonzaga was parrying itself back and forth before a captivated national audience, a thing Randy Bennett has wished for since he came to Moraga.The Gaels started to look, sound and be perceived as one of those mid-majors. You know, like the team they were playing, and Xavier, and Dayton, and Butler. The kind that gets the benefit of the doubt when the conversation turns to who seems NCAA Tournament-worthy as opposed to who does not.Not this team, mind you. This Gaels team was in unless it was blown out by the Zags and caused committee members to review their late-season stumbles. This team had played its way off the bubble, and only a horrific performance could move them back on it.RELATED: Gaels dancing after 78-74 OT win over Zags in WCC championship
And in past years, that would have been enough to send them packing to the NIT. It has happened to the Gaels before, with better teams than this one.But the Gaels and Zags put on a grand performance Monday, showing themselves to be each others equals in talent, heart and smarts in a 7874 overtime win by Saint Marys, and suddenly Bennetts dream, the one that had hit him square in the beezer on at least two other occasions because he and his program werent in enough, seemed to be realized.You see, while NCAA committees are lectured again and again about taking each year as its own entity, it does not. It cannot. Each year brings with it its own assumptions, and its own presumptions, and until this game, there were doubts about Saint Marys worthiness to be included not among this seasons 68, but among the four or five mid-majors who have to play their way out, rather than into, the tournament each year.And though it seems daft to put that kind of load on a game in which both teams really had little to lose tournament-wise, the Gaels had stumbled down the stretch, losing at Gonzaga (always a hard hand to make), at home to Loyola Marymount, and then handled in a Bracket Buster game at Murray State that lots of people across the country watched.Those were three of the Gaels five losses, but because they came in a tightly-packed bunch in February when people who dont typically stay up until 2 a.m. wanted to see their collective mettle tested, the good works of the first two-and-a-half months seemed in jeopardy. One more presumptuous mid-major that couldnt bring the mount home.Instead, they won their last three games, and then faced off with their doppelgangers for what seemed like the 35th time in five years, and in a game that did both schools credit, endured.So theyll probably be a six-seed, maybe even a five. The SI.com projection of them as a seven playing Cal in Omaha in the first round seems far-fetched now. The Gaels are safe and dry, and hoping for the committees next favor, a matchup that will enhance their strengths and wont expose their weaknesses.But more importantly, after eight years of building from soot and taking more than a few shots in the nethers on Selection Sunday, Bennett finally has the program where he always dreamed it could go the elite mid-major level Gonzaga helped trailblaze.This revelation will doubtless make him more expensive for athletic director Mark Orr to keep, and more attractive to schools who havent figured out their own basketball legacies and are perfectly happy to buy one instead. Bennett has more than met his burden of loyalty in Moraga, and nobody would begrudge his leaving.But if he does, the Gaels lose the national traction he helped gain for them, and they are back needing, rather than owning, that benefit of the doubt. He paid for that prize over the years, dearly. Now the question becomes whether he prizes it so much that he is loath to let it go for a career move he has actually deserved for several years now.After all, Monday was a pretty heady night for the program he built, and he can now enter the next phase of his career. Deciding whether to enjoy what hes done after all the years of seeing it dangle beyond his reach, or try and do it all over again somewhere else.Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com

Louisville has 'effectively fired' head coach Rick Pitino

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AP

Louisville has 'effectively fired' head coach Rick Pitino

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Louisville has placed coach Rick Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich on administrative leave amid a federal bribery investigation.

Jurich is on paid leave, while Pitino is on unpaid leave. The coach’s attorney, Steve Spence, told the Courier-Journal Wednesday that Louisville has “effectively fired” Pitino.

Pitino’s exit comes after the school acknowledged on Tuesday that the men’s program is part of a federal investigation into alleged bribery of recruits. The 65-year-old coach was not named in the indictment that resulted in the arrest of 10 people including four assistant coaches at other schools and an Adidas executive.

It is the latest black eye for the Cardinals program. Pitino and Louisville are in the middle of appealing NCAA sanctions following an embarrassing sex scandal.

Jurich has supported Pitino through his transgressions during the athletic director’s nearly 20-year tenure at the university.

Cal fights USC into fourth quarter, can't complete the upset

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AP

Cal fights USC into fourth quarter, can't complete the upset

BOX SCORE

BERKELEY -- Stephen Carr ran for a fourth-quarter touchdown two plays after Southern California's defense forced one of its six turnovers and the fifth-ranked Trojans won their 13th straight game, 30-20 over California on Saturday.

USC (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) has dominated the series with its in-state rival by winning 14 straight against the Golden Bears (3-1, 0-1), but this was one of the tightest matchups in years as the game was tied early in the fourth quarter.

Sam Darnold threw for 223 yards and two touchdowns for the Trojans but also had an interception and was under pressure for much of the day.

It was the defense that stepped up for USC, intercepting a pass from Ross Bowers in the first quarter to set up a field goal and then delivering the big play early in the fourth quarter after Chase McGrath gave the Trojans a 16-13 lead with his third field goal of the game.

Josh Fatu knocked the ball out of Bowers' hand and Uchenna Nwosu recovered the fumble at the 3. Carr ran it in two plays later from the 2 to make it 23-13.

Ykili Ross then intercepted Bowers' pass on the next possession, setting up Darnold's 4-yard TD pass to Deontay Burnett that put away the game.

Bowers finished 22 for 50 for 303 yards with one touchdown, four interceptions and two lost fumbles.

THE TAKEAWAY

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: The Trojans struggled for much of the game without starting RB Ronald Jones (ankle) and WR Steven Mitchell (groin) but managed to pull away late in their first road game of the season.

CALIFORNIA: The Bears used an improved defense to start 3-0 under first-year coach Justin Wilcox but this was supposed to be the test of how far they had come. Cal showed plenty by sticking with a national title contender for three quarters. A sequence on the opening drive of the second will haunt the Bears. Patrick Laird dropped a potential TD in the end zone and Matt Anderson then missed a 29-yard field goal that kept the game tied at 13.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

A win against an unranked team should do little to alter USC's poll position.

UP NEXT

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: Visits No. 18 Washington State on Friday.

CALIFORNIA: Visits No. 24 Oregon on Saturday.