NCAA

Cal keeping NCAA Tournament hopes alive after falling in Pac-12 semis

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AP

Cal keeping NCAA Tournament hopes alive after falling in Pac-12 semis

BOX SCORE

LAS VEGAS -- Oregon guard Dillon Brooks headed to the bench two minutes into the second half due to foul trouble. Most teams would take a step back without their leading scorer.

The deep, talented Ducks flew forward instead.

Tyler Dorsey had 23 points, Dylan Ennis scored on a key three-point play with 22 seconds left, and No. 5 Oregon outlasted California 73-65 Friday night in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals.

"Everybody has to pick it up and pick up their role," Dorsey said. "That's what we did tonight. We can't control how the refs are going to call it and they called a couple on Dillon early, and everybody had to pick up."

Top-seeded Oregon (29-4) played most of the second half without Brooks due to foul trouble, but increased its lead behind a rash of blocked shots and transition baskets.

Jordan Bell controlled the inside, finishing with 15 rebounds and five of Oregon's seven blocked shots. Dorsey and Ennis (16 points) picked up the scoring slack.

Now the Ducks are headed to the Pac-12 title game for the third straight year, facing the winner between No. 3 UCLA and No. 7 Arizona on Saturday night.

"We would like to win the conference tournament," Oregon coach Dana Altman said. "Whatever implications those have on our seeding, I don't know."

California (21-12) lost leading scorer Jabari Bird 64 seconds into the game to a head injury after a hard fall, yet held its own with the Ducks.

The fifth-seeded Bears pulled within two in the final minute, but Ennis scored on a hard drive and hit the free throw to put the Ducks up 70-65.

Grant Mullins led Cal with 23 points and Charlie Moore added 15. Bird was at the hospital being evaluated.

"I thought they did a great job competing, but that's what we're supposed to do," Cal coach Cuonzo Martin said. "That's part of our program, so that part should be understood."

Cal took a couple of steps toward earning an at-large NCAA Tournament bid by beating Oregon State and Utah to open the Pac-12 Tournament after closing the regular season with five losses in six games.

Beating a top-five team would have been a huge boost, but it faced long odds coming into the night after losing twice to Oregon during the regular season.

Cal got a tough break barely a minute into Saturday's game, when Bird went down hard. He had to be helped to the locker room while holding a towel to the right side of his head.

But the injury and a quiet start by forward Ivan Raab did little to slow the Bears. They attacked the Ducks at both ends, leading for a good portion of the first half behind Moore and Mullins, who combined for 21 points.

"I didn't know what was going on," Raab said of Bird's injury. "We didn't really have time to really think about it. Guys stepped up and they played hard, and it is what it is."

Oregon turned up the defensive pressure late in the half, holding Cal without a field goal over the final 4:38 to build a 36-33 halftime lead.

Oregon opened the second half by getting into quick foul trouble. The Ducks had six in the opening 2 1/2 minutes - five on one possession - and Brooks had to go to the bench after picking up his fourth.

Despite the fouls, Oregon increased its lead, going up 49-37 after a 9-0 run.

Cal clawed back, whittling the lead down to 64-61 with 3 1/2 minutes left behind a little defense of its own, but couldn't finish it off.

BIG PICTURE

California kept battling after Bird went down and has given itself at least shot at getting an NCAA Tournament nod on selection Sunday.

"I think we're an NCAA Tournament team," Martin said. "Now it's for them to decide."

Oregon did not exactly play pretty, but found a way, earning a trip to the Pac-12 title game for third straight season.

BLOCKING DUCKS

Oregon reached 223 blocked shots for the season, breaking the school record for the fourth time in the past five seasons. The Ducks are one short of the Pac-12 record set by Washington last season.

UP NEXT

California must await word on its postseason fate.

Oregon will play the winner between No. 3 UCLA and No. 7 Arizona in Saturday's championship game.

Quinnen Williams, possible Raiders draft target, misses mark in Alabama's loss

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USATSI

Quinnen Williams, possible Raiders draft target, misses mark in Alabama's loss

SANTA CLARA -- Quinnen Williams proved Monday night that he can talk a big game, even if he doesn’t play one.

The Alabama defensive tackle, whom many project to be a top-five pick if he leaves school for the 2019 NFL draft, didn’t exactly show out in the College Football Playoff National Championship at Levi’s Stadium. The redshirt sophomore finished with just four total tackles (three solo, one assist) and 1.5 for loss.

Williams went relatively unnoticed in Clemson’s 44-16 rout, except for this first-quarter stop that showcased his power.

Williams, who entered the game tied for second on the Crimson Tide with eight sacks this season, didn’t register any noticeable pass rush -- to be fair, no one on Alabama did -- as the Tigers handily won the title.

Still, Williams wasn’t that impressed by what he saw from the now-national champions.

“They really didn’t do anything that caught us off guard,” Williams said. “We knew everything that was coming. They ran zone. They ran go routes, 50-50 balls.

“[Clemson QB] Trevor Lawrence threw the ball, and it looked like he put it on the money. He didn’t drop dimes, none of that. He threw it up, and the receivers made plays. All the respect to the receivers.”

While Williams later called Lawrence “good,” his comments were reminiscent of his pre-Orange Bowl words on Kyler Murray, when he smartly stopped himself from criticizing Oklahoma’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback. Williams showed no such restraint this time, and while you could chalk it up to the hurt of losing a national title game, NFL teams surely will ask him in pre-draft interviews about how he'll handle such situations.

As for his NFL draft status, Williams didn’t want to say much, claiming he really hadn’t thought about the possibility of turning pro after the season.

“I don’t know yet, man,” he said. “I got to go home, watch this film first, get with my teammates and let them know, man, everything.”

New Raiders general manager Mike Mayock, whose team has been linked to Williams with the No. 4 overall pick in numerous mock drafts, saw the defensive tackle in person Monday. Whether he liked what he saw or heard remains to be seen over the next three months.

DeAndre Hopkins explains how Clemson keeps producing NFL-level talent

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AP

DeAndre Hopkins explains how Clemson keeps producing NFL-level talent

SANTA CLARA -- The Clemson Tigers came into Monday night's College Football Playoff National Championship with a shorter list of 2019 NFL Draft talents than their counterparts, the Alabama Crimson Tide. But not if you ask some notable alumni.

To Houston Texans All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, the next wave of NFL stars are Tigers.

“The way they prepare here at Clemson, the strength and condition program, Joey Batson and Larry Greenlee do a good job of getting those guys ready for the next level," Hopkins told NBC Sports Bay Area after Clemson's stunning 44-16 blowout win in the title game at Levi's Stadium. "I think they’re definitely ready for the next level."

Clemson has produced 29 picks in the last five NFL drafts. The last time the program didn't have one of its players called come April was all the way back in 2002.

Watching with former Clemson stars Deshaun Watson, Vic Beasley Jr., Mike Williams, and Tajh Boyd, Hopkins witnessed one of the greatest teams in college football history. The 2018 Tigers accomplished a feat 121 years in the making, becoming the first FBS football team to go 15-0 or 16-0 since Penn in 1897.

“To me, it means a lot. I’m from Clemson, S.C., so to see this team do what they did … I think they are (the greatest ever)," Hopkins said. "I think they can be one of the best teams ever. Do it again next year, for sure.”

The last statement is what means the most to Hopkins and everyone else who once wore a Clemson Tigers jersey. Coach Dabo Swinney took to the podium immediately after the win and said he'll soak it all up now, but he'll get back to film Friday and start preparing for next season.

“I think this is the next dynasty," Hopkins said. "Deshaun Watson started it by winning a national championship here. I think those guys are going to continue it.

"I think they’re gonna be here next year and the year after.”

That's not hard to imagine, either.

Freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence wowed with his precision passing, throwing for 347 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. His top target, Justyn Ross, made one-handed catches as a recently turned 19-year-old and finished the night with six catches for 148 yards and two TDs.

Clemson made its fourth playoff clash with Alabama look easy. The biggest names in the NFL know, too, that these could be the next stars of not only Saturdays but Sundays before we know it.