Saint Mary's drops two spots in latest AP Top 25 poll

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USATSI

Saint Mary's drops two spots in latest AP Top 25 poll

A decades-long Baylor fan got emotional with coach Scott Drew after the Bears won their last game to remain one of two undefeated teams in the country.

The fan told Drew, "I thought we could go to a Final Four, but I never thought I'd see the day when Baylor was ranked No. 1."

That day came Monday, when the Bears (15-0) moved up a spot to the top of The Associated Press men's basketball poll for the first time.

Baylor wasn't even getting votes in the Top 25 poll at the start of the season two months ago, when its football team was in the midst of a 7-6 season overshadowed by scandal. Coach Art Briles was fired last May after an investigation that determined the school mishandled assault claims for years, including several against football players.

Now Baylor is the 59th school to be ranked No. 1 since the AP men's basketball poll started in the 1948-49 season. And the two-time national champion Lady Bears remain No. 2 in the women's poll.

"It's great seeing the excitement for Baylor University, and seeing the people that care so much about the university be able to smile and be excited," said Drew, who took over a tattered program when he arrived on the Waco campus in 2003.

Even new football coach Matt Rhule , hired last month, was in the front row of the student section for Saturday night's win over Oklahoma State.

"I think we're on that trajectory upward," said Mack Rhoades, who took over as Baylor's athletic director in August. "We realize that there's a lot of work ahead of us."

Baylor got 55 of 65 first-place votes to replace Villanova on top after the defending national champion lost to Butler, leaving the Bears and No. 5 Gonzaga (15-0) as the only unbeaten teams. The Wildcats (15-1) got one first-place vote and dropped to third.

The Big 12 is 1-2 in the poll, with Kansas (14-1) moving from third to second with eight first-place votes. UCLA (16-1) stayed fourth with the other first-place vote.

Kentucky, Duke, Creighton, Florida State and West Virginia rounded out the top 10, followed by North Carolina, Butler, Oregon, Louisville, Xavier, Arizona, Purdue, Wisconsin, Virginia and Notre Dame. The last ranked teams are Saint Mary's, Cincinnati, Florida and Minnesota, with Kansas State and Southern California tied for 25th.

Minnesota's first ranking in four seasons provides a Top 25 father-son duo with Kentucky coach Rick Pitino and the younger Richard Pitino with the Gophers. Kansas State was last ranked in 2013-14. Virginia Tech and Indiana, earlier as high as No. 3, dropped out of the poll.

When Drew got to Baylor in 2003, the program was ravaged by the murder of a player by a teammate and scandalized by the former coach who had tried to cover up NCAA violations in the aftermath. There were significant scholarship and recruiting restrictions, and even a season when the Bears were only allowed to play only their Big 12 Conference games.

They overcame all that, going to six NCAA Tournaments in the last nine seasons and twice getting to regional finals before losing to the eventual national champion.

"Everyone has goals and dreams, but few have the reality to see them achieved," Drew said. "When we were scouring the campus to fill out half the team with walk-ons, we dreamed of one day having a chance to be ranked No. 1, to win a national championship, go to a Final Four. ... Every step that we've achieved has laid the foundation for the next step."

Baylor went into this season having to replace three senior starters - 12th overall NBA draft pick Taurean Prince, plus the school's career rebounding leader and a two-year starting point guard. They also faced a difficult early schedule.

But the Bears beat then-No. 4 Oregon the first week, and won the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament beating No. 24 Michigan State and No. 10 Louisville - they trailed the Cardinals by 18 at halftime. By the first Saturday in December, when they beat seventh-ranked Xavier at home, they already had three wins over top 10 teams in the same season for the first time.

"Getting to the future part of it, we know no one remembers who's ranked No. 1 in January, it's who finished ranked No. 1, and in the Big 12 how tough a grind that is. That's the sobering moment," Drew said, with a laugh. "Your reward of being ranked No. 1 is to go to West Virginia and play."

The Bears' first game as the No. 1 team is Tuesday night at the 10th-ranked Mountaineers, who a year ago this week upset Kansas 74-63 in the same week the Jayhawks had moved into the top spot.

Former Napa star Josh Jackson leaving Kansas, entering NBA Draft

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Former Napa star Josh Jackson leaving Kansas, entering NBA Draft

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Josh Jackson declared for the NBA draft on Monday after one of the best freshman seasons in Kansas history, one marked by plenty of highlights on the floor and a few distractions off it.

The 6-foot-8 swingman, who is considered a certain lottery pick, was the Big 12 newcomer of the year after averaging 16.3 points and 7.4 rebounds. He helped the Jayhawks to a 31-5 record and its 13th straight regular season Big 12 title before losing to Oregon in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

Jackson signed with former NBA player B.J. Armstrong of Wasserman Media Group.

"After thoroughly consulting with my family, I have decided to enter the 2017 NBA draft and pursue my dream of playing professional basketball," Jackson said in a statement Monday.

"I am very thankful for all of the support I have received from my coaches and teammates at Kansas," he said, "and I look forward to starting my career in the NBA."

Jackson was the nation's No. 1 recruit when he signed with the Jayhawks out of Prolific Prep Academy in California. He immediately earned a spot in the starting lineup, teaming with national player of the year Frank Mason III and Devonte Graham to form one of the nation's top backcourts.

With natural athleticism and ability to slash to the basket - not to mention defensive chops that are rare among freshmen - Jackson quickly established himself as one of the nation's top draft prospects.

His importance was never more evident than in the Big 12 Tournament, when he was suspended by coach Bill Self following a series of off-the-court issues. The top-seeded Jayhawks stumbled in a quarterfinal loss to TCU, ending their run at the conference tournament before it really began.

He returned for the NCAA Tournament and played well in wins over UC Davis, Michigan State and Purdue, but was hamstrung by foul trouble and managed just 10 points in a season-ending loss to the Ducks.

Jackson's suspension came following an incident outside a Lawrence bar in December, when a member of the Kansas women's basketball team got into an altercation with Jackson's teammate, Lagerald Vick.

Jackson followed the woman to the parking lot and the woman said he kicked her car and caused hundreds of dollars in damage. He pleaded not guilty last week in Douglas County District Court to one misdemeanor count of criminal damage to property and a trial is scheduled for May 24.

His attorney, Hatem Chahine, said he was planning to file for diversion.

Jackson also was ticketed in February after he struck a parked car and fled the scene, and that drew Self's ire when he didn't tell his coach about the incident until several weeks later.

His decision to declare for the draft came a week after teammate Svi Mykhailiuk announced he would skip his senior season. But unlike Jackson, the 6-8 sharpshooter has not hired an agent and could withdraw his name by May 24 and return to the Jayhawks.

Redemption: Year after heartbreak, UNC outlasts Gonzaga to win title

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AP

Redemption: Year after heartbreak, UNC outlasts Gonzaga to win title

BOX SCORE

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It's OK, Carolina, you can open your eyes.

An unwatchable game turned into a beautiful night for the Tar Heels, who turned a free-throw contest into a championship they've been waiting an entire year to celebrate.

Justin Jackson delivered the go-ahead 3-point play with 1:40 left Monday and North Carolina pulled away for a 71-65 win over Gonzaga that washed away a year's worth of heartache.

It was, in North Carolina's words, a redemption tour - filled with extra time on the practice court and the weight room, all fueled by a devastating loss in last year's title game on Kris Jenkins' 3-point dagger at the buzzer for Villanova.

"Just unreal that we get a second chance at this," junior Theo Pinson said, recounting a pre-game conversation with teammate Joel Berry II. "Not a lot of people can say they can do that. I told him, `We're about to take this thing. I'm about to give everything I got.' I knew he would, too, We just didn't want to come up short again."

But to say everything went right for Roy Williams' team at this Final Four would be less than the truth.

The Tar Heels (33-7) followed a terrible-shooting night in the semifinal with an equally ice-cold performance in the final - going 4 for 27 from 3-point land and 26 for 73 overall.

Gonzaga, helped by 8 straight points from Nigel Williams-Goss, took a 2-point lead with 1:52 left, but the next possession was the game-changer.

Jackson took a zinger of a pass under the basket from Pinson and converted the shot, then the ensuing free throw to take the lead for good. Moments later, Williams-Goss twisted an ankle and could not elevate for a jumper that would've given the Bulldogs the lead.

Isaiah Hicks made a basket to push the lead to 3, then Kennedy Meeks, in foul trouble all night (who wasn't?), blocked Williams-Goss' shot and Jackson got a slam on the other end to put some icing on title No. 6 for the Tar Heels.

Williams got his third championship, putting him one ahead of his mentor, Dean Smith, and now behind only John Wooden, Mike Krzyzewski and Adolph Rupp.

"I think of Coach Smith, there's no question," Williams said. "I don't think I should be mentioned in the same sentence with him. But we got three because I've got these guys with me and that's all I care about right now - my guys."

Berry recovered from ankle injuries to lead the Tar Heels, but needed 19 shots for his 22 points. Jackson had 16 but went 0 for 9 from 3. Overall, the Tar Heels actually shot a percentage point worse than they did in Saturday night's win over Oregon.

Thank goodness for free throws.

They went 15 for 26 from the line and, in many corners, this game will be remembered for these three men: Michael Stephens, Verne Harris and Mike Eades, the referees who called 27 fouls in the second half, completely busted up the flow of the game and sent Meeks, Gonzaga's 7-footers Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins, and a host of others to the bench in foul trouble.

The game "featured" 52 free throws. Both teams were in the bonus with 13 minutes left. Somehow, Collins was the only player to foul out.

Most bizarre sequence: With 8:02 left, Berry got called for a foul for (maybe) making contact with Karnowski and stripping the ball from the big man's hands. But as Karnowski was flailing after the ball, he inadvertently grabbed Berry around the neck. After a long delay, the refs called Karnowski for a flagrant foul of his own.

"I'm not going to talk about refs," Karnowski said. "It was just a physical game."

Zags coach Mark Few handled it with class, calling the refs "three of the best officials in the entire country," and insisting they did a fine job.

He might have wanted further review on the scrum with 50 seconds left. The refs were taking heat on social media for calling a held ball, which gave possession to the Tar Heels, on a pile-up underneath the Carolina basket. It set up the Hicks layup to put Carolina ahead by 3. One problem: Meeks' right hand looks to be very much touching out of bounds while he's trying to rip away the ball.

"That was probably on me," Few said. "From my angle, it didn't look like an out of bounds situation or I would have called a review. That's tough to hear."

The Bulldogs (37-2), the Cinderella-turned-Godzilla team from the small school in the West Coast Conference, tried to keep the big picture in mind. Twenty years ago, this sort of run at that sort of place looked virtually impossible. With less than 2 minutes left, they had the lead in the national title game.

"We broke the glass ceiling everyone said we couldn't break," junior forward Johnathan Williams said.

And North Carolina got over a hump that, at times this season, felt like a mountain.

"They wanted redemption," Williams said. "I put it on the locker room up on the board - one of the things we had to be tonight was tough enough. I think this group was tough enough tonight."