NCAA

Stanford sets sights on Minnesota, NIT Championship

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Stanford sets sights on Minnesota, NIT Championship

NEW YORK -- Minnesota coach Tubby Smith and Stanford's Johnny Dawkins ran into each other a few times recruiting Andre Hollins.The point guard from Memphis, Tenn., chose the Golden Gophers, and he's playing his best basketball deep into his freshman season, leading an injury-riddled team to the title game of the NIT - against the Cardinal. The schools face off Thursday night at Madison Square Garden."We want the ball in his hands because he's making very good decisions with it," Smith said Wednesday.

For third-seeded Stanford, there will be plenty of familiarity Thursday, too. The Cardinal played in the Garden in November, reaching the final of the NIT Season Tip-Off. They led Syracuse, which would go on to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, by six points with about 4 12 minutes left.But the Orange turned up the pressure, ending the game on a 15-3 run to win 69-63. Stanford saw convincing evidence in Tuesday's semifinal that it's come a long way since then, when the Cardinal wasted a big lead against Massachusetts but rallied to win."The same run was made, and we didn't respond the way we needed to," Dawkins said of the Syracuse game. "To see our growth in our young players that we were able to respond."
If their history in the Garden isn't enough motivation, the Cardinal received a pep talk from unexpected -- and feared -- guest. NFL linebacker Ray Lewis infused Stanford's locker room with energy when he told them, "If you aren't pissed off for greatness, that means you okay with being mediocre."
RELATED: Ray Lewis supporting Stanford in NIT
Sixth-seeded Minnesota's young players, Hollins included, have had to grow up in a hurry because of injuries to two key seniors: Trevor Mbakwe and Ralph Sampson III. The Golden Gophers started three freshmen, a sophomore and a junior in Tuesday's semifinal against Washington.And yet Smith can credit good health for Minnesota's recent strong performances. Players such as Hollins, who was bothered by a sprained right ankle earlier in the season, are no longer nagged by various ailments, leading to more continuity at practice. Others are settling into new roles. Rodney Williams moved from small forward to power forward when Mbakwe was hurt early in the season, and he's averaging 20.8 points in his last five games compared with 10.9 for the first 32."Roles change daily for us with so many missed practices, missed games, and it's been tough," Smith said. "As a coach you want to know, and as players you want to know, their roles and their responsibilities, and they're not that clearly defined because of other extenuating circumstances."Stanford is young in that most important of places: the backcourt. Leading scorer Chasson Randle is a freshman, and sophomore Aaron Bright is the primary ball-handler.Winning the NIT last year was certainly a springboard to success for Wichita State - the Shockers earned a No. 5 seed in this season's NCAA tournament."Whenever you're invited to play in postseason, you get a chance to continue to develop your team, through practices, through just the ability to play in these one-and-done situations," Dawkins said. "I think there's something about that - it hardens you. It makes you a better team; it makes you a tighter unit."
The Associated Press contributed to this report

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.