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

Seton Hall slips past Cal basketball at Pearl Harbor Invitational

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AP

Seton Hall slips past Cal basketball at Pearl Harbor Invitational

HONOLULU Jabari Bird nearly notched his first collegiate double-double with 22 points and a career-high nine rebounds, but just as his effort fell short, so did California men's basketball's efforts against Seton Hall. The Pirates slipped past the Golden Bears, 60-57, at the Pearl Harbor Invitational to hand Cal its second loss of the season. The Bears are now 7-2.

Seton Hall's Angel Delgado scored 16 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.

Delgado, a 6-foot-10, 240-pound forward, made 6 of 9 shots from the field in a game-high 36 minutes played.

Desi Rodriguez scored 15 points and Khadeen Carrington had 14 points with four assists for the Pirates (7-2).

Carrington tied it at 45 with just under 12 minutes to play on a 3-pointer from the right wing, which ignited a 7-0 Seton Hall run. California never regained the lead.

Ivan Rabb's putback pulled the Golden Bears (7-2) within 58-57 with 31.1 seconds remaining, but Carrington and Delgado each hit a free throw to extend the Pirates' lead to 60-57 with 2.7 seconds left.

Bird had a chance to sent it into overtime, but his 3-pointer from about 25 feet as time expired was no good.

California closed out the first half with an 11-4 run to turn a four-point deficit into a 34-31 lead.

It was just the second meeting between the teams with California winning 81-76 on Dec. 8, 1973.

BIG PICTURE

California: Rabb, a 6-11 sophomore, struggled for the second consecutive game. He made just 3 of his 8 shots from the field and finished with eight points after being held to a season-low six points against Princeton Tuesday. Rabb, who has been playing with a left wrist injury, entered Wednesday's game averaging 17.5 points per game.

Seton Hall: The Pirates reeled off their third straight win despite making just 9 of their 20 attempts (45 percent) from the free-throw line. They shot just 46.6 percent (21 of 45) on free throws for the two-day tournament.

UP NEXT

California will host UC Davis Saturday, its seventh home game in 10 contests this season.

Oregon hires former Harbaugh assistant as new head coach

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AP

Oregon hires former Harbaugh assistant as new head coach

Oregon has hired Willie Taggart, who spent the last four seasons as head coach at South Florida, to take over the Ducks following the dismissal of Mark Helfrich.

Oregon formally announced Taggart's appointment Wednesday.

Taggart has led USF to an 18-7 record over the last two seasons, including a 10-2 mark this year. He also spent three seasons as coach of Western Kentucky, his alma mater, and was an assistant coach at Stanford under Jim Harbaugh.

Oregon fired Helfrich last week after the Ducks went 4-8. A news conference to formally introduce Taggart was set for Thursday.

"Oregon has a strong national presence and a proud recent history of playing among the nation's elite, and I look forward to the challenge of upholding the excellence," Taggart said in a statement. "I can't wait to get started."

Taggart, 40, is the first coach Oregon has hired from outside the program since 1976. The Ducks' previous three coaches, Mike Bellotti, Chip Kelly and Helfrich, were all assistants who were promoted.

Taggart will be the first black head football coach at Oregon. The length and terms of his contract with the Ducks were not immediately released.

Taggart was 16-20 at Western Kentucky, taking over when it was first transitioning to FBS. He went 7-5 in his last two seasons with the Hilltoppers and then moved to USF, not far from where he grew up in Bradenton, Florida.

It took two seasons and a change in offensive philosophy from more pro-style, West Coast schemes to a spread, but he now has the 25th-ranked Bulls rolling. They finished second in the American Athletic Conference East Division to Temple and will play South Carolina on Dec. 29 in the Birmingham Bowl.

Wednesday was the second straight day the AAC has lost one of its best coaches, and the third the conference has lost since Thanksgiving weekend. Temple's Matt Rhule was hired by Baylor on Monday and Tom Herman left Houston for Texas on Nov. 26.

Taggart had support from former NFL player and broadcaster Tony Dungy, whose son Eric played at USF in 2014 after transferring from Oregon.

Taggart served as running backs coach for Harbaugh at Stanford from 2007-09 and is credited with helping to recruit Andrew Luck. Harbaugh had recruited Taggart, a quarterback, to play at Western Kentucky under father Jack Harbaugh from 1995-98.

After taking over when Kelly left in 2013, Helfrich went 37-16 in his four seasons as head coach of the Ducks. He signed a contract extension in early 2015, and had an $11.6 million buyout.

Just two seasons ago, Oregon went to the first College Football Playoff championship game, led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota.

But the Ducks struggled this season with a five-game losing streak - the program's longest since 1996 - and finished at the bottom of the Pac-12 North with just two conference wins.

In a statement after his dismissal, Helfrich thanked his own family, the campus community, the fans, and his coaches and their families.

"Finally, to the players - thank you, and I love you," he said. "The future is bright for this young, talented team, and we will be supporting them and their new leadership."

Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens also reportedly interviewed Boise State's Bryan Harsin and Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano before settling on Taggart. Kelly, now with the San Francisco 49ers, had said he was not interested in the job, as did former offensive coordinator Scott Frost, now at Central Florida.

For the immediate future, Taggart will need to reach out to Oregon's recruits. Defensive back Deommodore Lenoir and defensive end Langi Tuifua both previously withdrew verbal commitments. Offensive lineman John Vaka said he was no longer committed via Twitter on Tuesday.