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

Hermanson scores 17, No. 22 Saint Mary's beats BYU 70-57

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Hermanson scores 17, No. 22 Saint Mary's beats BYU 70-57

PROVO, Utah — Saint Mary's knows all about the raucous atmosphere at BYU. The Gaels hadn't won in Provo since 2013 and had only come out on top in three of their previous 12 trips.

Make it four out of 13.

Calvin Hermanson scored 17 points and No. 22 Saint Mary's cruised to a 70-57 victory over BYU on Saturday night, snapping a three-game road losing streak to its West Coast Conference rival.

"It's definitely one of the tougher places to play for us," Hermanson said. "Coming in here we know it's a huge crowd and we know they can get riled up on any 3-point shot or any run they make. We wanted to try to limit their runs and their big plays.

"The second half was pretty unbelievable how quiet the crowd was. It felt great for us."

With two games remaining on the regular-season schedule, the Gaels (24-3, 14-2) clinched a second-place finish in the conference standings behind top-ranked and undefeated Gonzaga.

Saint Mary's controlled the game most of the night, riding its staunch defense on one end and running efficient offense on the other. The Gaels were able to get to the rim consistently, but also knocked down 10 3-pointers.

BYU (19-10, 10-6) shot 39.7 percent from the field and connected on four 3s.

Evan Fitzner had 15 points for Saint Mary's, including 11 in the second half.

"We didn't turn the ball over and we shot the ball well," Gaels coach Randy Bennett said, "and were able to get some separation and then it made it tough on them. We kind of just wore them out after that.

"We're a little different team with Fitzner out there. He spaces the floor," Bennett added. "We just play a little different with Fitzner out there versus Jock (Landale). It's nice to have a Plan A and Plan B."

Saint Mary's took a 41-30 lead into halftime thanks to Hermanson's hot shooting and plenty of that trademark defense. The Gaels began the day ranked second in the nation in scoring defense, then held the Cougars to 37.9 percent shooting from the field in the first 20 minutes.

Saint Mary's shot 57.1 percent at the other end, including a 3-for-4 effort from Hermanson from behind the arc.

"I feel like we're better than we showed tonight," BYU guard TJ Haws said. "That team made a lot of runs on us. Tough defensive and offensive team. Very poised and disciplined.

"I want our team to just fight. When they punch us in the face, I want us to punch them right back."

BYU kept Landale under control in the half — and in foul trouble throughout — but Saint Mary's scored 22 of its 41 first-half points in the paint.

Eric Mika had 18 points for BYU, and Yoeli Childs added 13.

"The key to the game was that they were comfortable the entire time in our gym," BYU coach Dave Rose said. "That's on us. We need to be ahead. We need to get them to speed up a little bit because they're a little bit uncomfortable.

"But the game went pretty much exactly how they wanted it to go and we couldn't flip it. We couldn't get on top."

BIG PICTURE

Saint Mary's: The Gaels will be the No. 2 seed in the WCC tournament. No. 1 Gonzaga secured the regular-season title Saturday with a win over Pacific. An early December defeat to UT-Arlington is the Gaels' only bad loss this season, with the other two coming against Gonzaga.

BYU: The Cougars likely needed a win against the No. 22 team in the country to make an argument for the NCAA Tournament off their regular-season credentials. BYU has lost all three games against ranked opponents by double digits, including to Saint Mary's twice, and doesn't have a signature win. The Cougars get one last chance against Gonzaga next Saturday.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

No. 22 Saint Mary's might find itself moving up a bit after No. 17 Florida State and No. 21 South Carolina lost on Saturday.

UP NEXT

Saint Mary's: Travel to face Pepperdine on Thursday.

BYU: Play at Portland on Thursday.

Pickens, Travis rally Stanford past rival Cal for upset win

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Pickens, Travis rally Stanford past rival Cal for upset win

BOX SCORE

STANFORD -- Dorian Pickens scored 23 points, Reid Travis had 19 with nine rebounds and Stanford held on to beat California 73-68 on Friday night.

Marcus Allen added 11 points for the Cardinal, who overcame an early 12-point deficit to beat their cross-bay rivals for the 21st time in the last 24 meetings between the two teams at Maples Pavilion.

Stanford (13-13, 5-9 Pac-12) won for only the second time in seven games and split the season series with California.

Pickens had nine points, including a pair of 3-pointers, as part of a 20-5 run in the second half when the Cardinal pulled away.

After California closed within 62-56 on Grant Mullins' 3-pointer with 4:54 remaining, Allen made two free throws and Pickens scored on a jumper from the free-throw line as he was falling backward onto the court.

Jabari Bird scored 23 points and set a career-high with seven 3s for the Golden Bears (18-8, 9-5). Ivan Rabb added 16 points and 13 rebounds after being slowed by foul trouble in the first half.