Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Gonzaga: 2014-15 West Coast Conference Men's Basketball Champions


LAS VEGAS -- Gonzaga's players were like blurs up the floor, whipping passes, filling lanes, dropping in 3-pointers as their fans roared with each highlight.
These Zags are fun to watch -- and hard to catch once they get out front.
Kyle Wiltjer had 18 points and 10 rebounds, and No. 7 Gonzaga shot its way past Brigham Young 91-75 Tuesday night for the Zags' third straight West Coast Conference tournament title.
"We want to play the fast and can score with the best of them," said Wiltjer, the tournament MVP. "We wanted to just push the pace and did that."
Gonzaga (32-2), the regular-season champion, clinched its 14th WCC tournament by putting on an offensive show in an entertaining rematch of last year's title game.
The nation's best- shooting team during the regular season, the Bulldogs hit 53 percent inside Orleans Arena and made 8 of 12 from 3-point range.
Kevin Pangos had 16 points and five assists while orchestrating an efficient Gonzaga offense that had 15 assists and six turnovers.
Domantas Sabonis and Gary Bell Jr. added 15 points each for the Zags, who are expecting a high seed when the NCAA Tournament selections are announced on Sunday.
"They love each other and just want to keep playing with each other, that's been the base for this team all year," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "They want to keep winning so they can keep playing with each other."
BYU (25-9) tried to match the Zags shot for shot behind Kyle Collinsworth, but never quite caught them after Gonzaga went on an early second-half run to build a 12-point lead.
Collinsworth finished with 28 points, eight rebounds and five assists after posting a triple-double in the semifinals.
Tyler Haws added 15 points for the Cougars, who have to endure an agonizing wait until Selection Sunday for the second straight season.
"There's a committee that makes that decision and If they watched us play, I think they'd feel pretty good about putting us in their tournament," BYU coach Dave Rose said.
The Zags have become a staple in the WCC title game, making their 18th straight appearance, the last 15 under Few
Gonzaga won the regular-season title for the 14th time in 15 years and is guaranteed to make its 17th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.
BYU was still hovering around the NCAA Tournament bubble, though its 14-point win over Portland in the WCC semifinal finals boosted its bid.
The Cougars were one of two teams to beat Gonzaga during the regular season, ending the Zags' 41-game home winning streak with a 73-70 victory less than two weeks ago.
Gonzaga shot poorly in the second half of that game -- 1 for 8 from 3-point range -- and started slow in the title game, missing eight of its first 10 shots.
Once they got going, the Bulldogs seemed to take turns scoring.
Wiltjer, who has been bothered by a sore hip and had tape on his left shoulder, did the early damage, powering his way to the rim and hitting a pair of 3-pointers while scoring 12 first-half points.
Sabonis was next, scoring 11 points by bulling his way inside. Bell closed out the first half with a mix of 3-pointers and midrange shots, scoring 12 points to help the Zags to a 48-42 lead.
"When we're in attack mode, there's no doubt what's when we're at our best," Few said.
Collinsworth, BYU's crafty point guard, did his best to keep the Cougars in it by himself, getting into the lane to score and draw fouls. He had 17 points by halftime, hitting 9 of 11 free throws.
Gonzaga turned to Przemek Karnowski down low to start the second half. Getting deep post position, the big man scored on three hook shots and Wiltjer added a 3-pointer to help put the Zags up 71-59.
Gonzaga kept making shots -- 13 of 21 in the second half -- and BYU was unable to chip away at the lead.
"When you get down against Gonzaga they have such a good point guard in Pangos that they know how to control the game, so it's good to get a lead," Collinsworth said. "But it's a game of runs, and we'd make our run but unfortunately weren't able to hold it and get that lead."
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TIP INS
BYU: The Cougars played without Anson Winder, their third-leading scorer and best perimeter defender, because of a knee injury. ... Rose was called for a technical foul midway through the second half for arguing a call. ... BYU has not won conference title since 2001
Gonzaga: Wiltjer made 7 of 12 shots and all three of his attempts from 3-pont range. ... Karnowski finished with 12 points.
UP NEXT
BYU: NCAA Tournament or NIT.
Gonzaga: NCAA Tournament.

North Dakota State: 2014-15 Summit League Men's Basketball Champions


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- North Dakota State appeared to take control of the game with a big run midway through the second half. However, the Bison had to fend off South Dakota State's surge down the stretch to earn a return trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Lawrence Alexander scored 16 of his 25 points in the second half to help North Dakota State hold on for a 57-56 win Tuesday night to take the Summit League tournament title and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
After cutting a nine-point deficit to one in the final minute, the Jackrabbits fouled Alexander with 8 seconds remaining and he missed the front end of a 1-and-1, giving South Dakota State a final shot. However, George Marshall's 3-point attempt was wide left.
"We maybe got a little impatient offensively, but they're a great team," North Dakota State coach David Richman said. "It's a game of runs, and that's going to happen."
A.J. Jacobson added 12 points and eight rebounds for the Bison (23-9), who advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in school history. Last year, they beat Oklahoma in their first game.
Cody Larson scored 19 points to lead the Jackrabbits (23-10), and Deondre Parks added 13 points and six rebounds.
The Bison had a 17-4 run in the second half and led by nine with just over 6 minutes remaining. However, the Jackrabbits rallied to pull within one in the final minute. South Dakota State had a chance to take its first lead since the 11:11 mark, but George Marshall's shot was blocked out of bounds with 8 seconds remaining.
The call on the court originally went to the South Dakota State, but after an official review, possession was given to North Dakota State. The Jackrabbits were forced to put Alexander -- an 81-percent free-throw shooter -- on the line.
"We wanted this stage," Richman said. "We knew our backs were going to be against the wall in a hostile environment with a pro-South Dakota State crowd. But they've (North Dakota State players) handled so many things down the stretch this year."
Despite the missed free throw, Alexander was named the tournament's MVP.
South Dakota State took its biggest lead of the game at 35-31 when Larson scored on his second of back-to-back dunks with 12:35 to play. Larson's dunks capped a 12-3 run after the Bison built a five point lead early in the second half.
But Alexander responded to South Dakota State's surge, hitting two deep 3-pointers in less than a minute, quieting the crowd of 9,033. After North Dakota State built the lead to nine, South Dakota State used a timeout and responded accordingly, setting up the frenzied finish.
The Jackrabbits shot a season-worst 32 percent. They were just 24 percent from the floor in the first half, but were still tied at 23-23 at the break.
"They're a great defensive team, but the only reason we were in the game is because we played good defensively," South Dakota State coach Scott Nagy said. "When you have open shots, you need to be able to knock those things down."
Nagy was proud of the way his team fought back after nearly falling behind by double digits.
Asked what he told his players after the game, Nagy said: "I think most people don't try, and they live in the middle. They don't put their hearts out there and they try and protect themselves. When you do this and you put your heart out there in front of all these people, sometimes it's exhilarating and sometimes it's incredibly painful. But that's what living feels like.
"I hope they live the rest of their lives that way and they don't protect themselves. It's hurtful sometimes. Very hurtful."
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TIP INS
North Dakota State: The Bison outrebounded South Dakota State 43-36. They finished with their second-highest total, two shy of the 45 against Alcorn State on Dec. 22.
South Dakota State: The Jackrabbits entered the game averaging 73.5 points per game and matched their lowest total of the season, set against Bakersfield on Dec. 19.
UP NEXT
North Dakota State: NCAA Tournament.

Valparaiso: 2014-15 Horizon League Men's Basketball Champions


VALPARAISO, Ind. -- Valparaiso fought off key injuries all season, so the adversity the Crusaders faced Monday didn't faze them.
Trailing 39-31 with 11:43 left in the Horizon League tournament championship, they picked up their defensive intensity to spark a 15-0 run and beat Green Bay 54-44 and earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
"It's been quite a ride this season," said Alec Peters, who scored nine points and was named tournament MVP. "Being conference champs, tournament champs and now going to the NCAA Tournament . we just had to bear down, play some defense and get some stops because we wanted this more than anything."
Peters had an off game with 3-of-13 shooting, including 1 for 8 from the 3-point line. David Skara led the Crusaders (28-5) with 12 points and E. Victor Nickerson added 11 as Valparaiso, which earned the conference's regular season championship and won its second conference tournament title in the past three years.
Keifer Sykes, the two-time Horizon League Player of the Year, led Green Bay (24-8) with 14 points on 5-of-15 shooting. He came in averaging 29 points in the Phoenix's past three games, all wins.
The Crusaders made his night difficult by double teaming him through most of the second half and denying him good looks at the basket. Valparaiso scored 17 points off Green Bay turnovers, outscored the Phoenix 26-18 in the paint and held a commanding 25-3 advantage in bench scoring.
"They were just doing a good job of taking some things away," Sykes said. "I knew especially when I gave the ball up, it was hard to get it back. And then by the time we'd get it back, we weren't in position to get a good shot or get a good score. They're a good defensive team."
Green Bay led 25-19 at the half and led most of the game until the Crusader's big run in the last 12 minutes of the second half. The Phoenix pulled to 46-44 with 3:24 left on a 3-pointer byAlfonzo McKinnie and two free-throws by Sykes, but Valparaiso scored the final eight points of the game.
McKinnie's 3 was the only field goal the Phoenix got in the final 12:23.
A 3-pointer by Keith Carter with 8:40 remaining gave Valparaiso a 40-39 lead, which was its first time in front since early in the first half. Daeshon Francis had a chance to reclaim the lead for Green by at the free-throw line with 7:19 left, but missed both.
The Phoenix weren't able to get closer the rest of the way.
"We went cold and the story of the game was turnovers," Green Bay coach Brian Wardle said. "You look at turnovers and missed free throws. There was a segment (in the second half) where we got to the foul line with the lead. We had an opportunity to stretch it. When you're on the road, playing in that type of environment, you knock those down you build a little cushion."
Valparaiso earned the league's automatic NCAA bid for the second time in coach Bryce Drew's first four seasons. The victory extended the Crusaders' own school record for wins in a season and improved their record to 15-1 at home this season.
"I thought our players in that second half really embraced what our school's core values stand for," Drew said. "They're a special group and I feel blessed to be able to coach them."
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TIP-INS
Valparaiso: This was Valparaiso's third time playing for the Horizon League Championship in the past four years.
Green Bay: This was the 21st appearance in the Horizon League championship game for the Phoenix, but first since 1998. Green Bay won its lone tournament title in 1995, its first season in the conference.
UP NEXT
Valparaiso: NCAA Tournament.
Green Bay: To be determined.

Robert Morris: 2014-15 Northeast Men's Basketball Champions


NEW YORK -- Three times in his previous four seasons coach Andy Toole took Robert Morris to the Northeastern Conference tournament finals, and three times the Colonials had to watch their opponents cut down the nets and celebrate an NCAA tournament bid.
In front of a raucous crowd, packed tightly into the one of the smallest gyms in Division I, Toole and his team never wilted. No more waiting until next year for the Colonials.
Rodney Pryor sparked a second-half surge and Robert Morris denied St. Francis, Brooklyn, its first NCAA Tournament bid, beating the Terriers 66-63 for Northeast Conference championship on Tuesday night.
"A lot of my friends have been calling me Marv Levy because we haven't won the big one," the 34-year-old Toole said, referring to the former Buffalo Bills' coach who lost four straight Super Bowls. "It's nice that I can call them back and tell them we finally won one."
The top-seeded Terriers (23-11) had a chance to tie with 2.4 seconds left when Tyreek Jewell, who scored 19 points and was their best player on this night, went to the line after being fouled shooting a desperation 3-pointer.
Jewell missed the first, back-ending the shot and then the second. He intentionally missed the last one, but Robert Morris got the ball back and was quickly fouled. Lucky Jones missed a free throw that would have sealed it and Lowell Ulmer's heave from beyond half-court hit the back of the rim, took a high bounce and then missed again.
It was Robert Morris and their fans celebrating as the SFC crowd lamented the Terriers' third NEC title game loss, but first since 2003. St. Francis is one of just five original Division I teams, dating back to 1948, that has never made the NCAA Tournament.
As NEC regular season champions the Terriers get an NIT bid, their first postseason appearance since they went to the NIT in 1963.
"They can look back at a regular-season title. A lot of personal accolades. And postseason in the NIT for the first time in 52 years," St. Francis coach Glenn Braica said. "I think that's pretty good. I think a lot of guys in this country would like to have that."
Second-seeded Robert Morris (19-15) is going back to the tournament for the first time since 2010.
"It breaks your heart sometimes as a coach that we've had teams that have been so close and not been able to get over the hump," Toole said. "And that's why we push, and we push and we push, all the time. To be able to perform and play in this kind of atmosphere and this kind of stage."
The Colonials and Terriers split two close games during the regular season, with each winning on the road.
"When we got the win in the regular season we knew that we can win coming into this building," Pryor, who capped a 16-3 second-half with a baseline jumper and a 3 to put Robert Morris up 57-47 with 6:53 left.
Pryor finished with 17 points and earned tournament MVP honors.
The Colonials, their enthusiastic fans and their band made themselves comfortable in the cramped quarters of Division I's fourth-smallest gym. The Pope PE Center, capacity is listed at 1,200 but who really knows, was crowded and loud. Robert Morris was unfazed.
Using a confounding zone, Robert Morris limited the touches for NEC player of the year Jalen Cannon and held him to 10 points. Point guard Brent Jones (seven points and four turnovers) also struggled before fouling out.
"I wasn't myself," Jones said. "Just thinking about not turning the ball over."
Glenn Sanabria of St. Francis made a long 3 from straight on with 16.2 seconds left to cut Robert Morris' lead to 64-63 and put the Pope Center on the brink of bursting with chants of" S-F-C!!"
Jones went to the line and swished both free throws with 13.8 remaining to make it a three-point game for Robert Morris.
Yunus Hopkinson missed a corner 3 for St. Francis with time winding down, but Jewell tracked down the rebound and spun and fired from the wing. Elijah Minnie slammed into Jewell to put the junior at the line, but the 65-percent foul shooter couldn't make the shots.
Toole said he's not worried about seeding, but it's a good possibility the Colonials will end up in Daytona, Ohio, playing another potential 16 seed in the First Four. He's just looking forward to watching the selections on Sunday with his team.
"It's one of the best feelings in sports," Toole said. "I'm glad they get to experience it."