NCAA

Stanford, Washington back in NY for NIT Final 4

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Stanford, Washington back in NY for NIT Final 4

NEW YORK -- After flying all the way across the country for the second time this season, Washington wants to make this trip to Madison Square Garden much more successful than the first one.

The way the Huskies figure it, if they win the NIT championship it will show they truly belonged in the NCAA tournament.

The only No. 1 seed left in the 75th edition of the NIT, Washington faces coach Tubby Smith and his rejuvenated Minnesota team Tuesday night in the second game of a semifinal doubleheader. Stanford plays Massachusetts, driven by Brooklyn-bred point guard Chaz Williams, in the Final Four opener.

Washington (24-10) spent a week in New York during December, taking in two Broadway musicals and taking it on the chin against Marquette and Duke.

RELATED: NCAA scoreboard

Now the Pac-12 regular-season champs are back - with a renewed purpose and a chip on their shoulders.

"It's a lot more of a business trip. We're out here playing for a championship. We're out here on a mission, so it is less fun and more work," said sophomore guard Terrence Ross, a potential NBA prospect averaging 26.3 points in the NIT. "I think coming back is just, it's more of an opportunity to prove to everybody that we should have been in the NCAA tournament."

When the Huskies took Manhattan three months ago, they visited the 9-11 Memorial and scored theater seats for "The Lion King." They also saw "Memphis" and met the cast backstage, with players then writing papers on the shows as part of a two-credit course arranged through a joint project between the school's athletic administration and drama department.

They ate at the famous Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Harlem, and actor Jim Caviezel, a Washington alum whose father played hoops at UCLA for John Wooden, hosted the Huskies on the set of his CBS television show "Person of Interest."

But when it came time to hit the court, Washington came up empty in two key games at Madison Square Garden. The Huskies lost to then-No. 11 Marquette 79-77 and four days later to then-No. 7 Duke, 86-80.

A victory in either game might have impressed the NCAA tournament selection committee. Instead, the Huskies were left out when the 68-team field was announced March 11, making them the first team to win a regular-season title in a so-called power conference and still miss the NCAAs.

"When the reality set in, we were rock-bottom mentally. So it's difficult. But they've done a good job of bouncing back," coach Lorenzo Romar said Monday. "I think the experience from being here last time should help us this time. I thought we had a little pregame jitters when we were here the first time. I don't think we'll have that. ... I think we're here now really focused on this tournament."

Washington will play No. 6 seed Minnesota (22-14), which sputtered through an injury-plagued season filled with close losses in the rough-and-tumble Big Ten.

The Golden Gophers lost star forward Trevor Mbakwe to a season-ending knee injury in their seventh game, and senior center Ralph Sampson III has missed the last five with a sprained right knee. Backup forward Oto Osenieks is still bothered by concussion symptoms, too.

Other than that, though, Smith said the Gophers are healthier than they had been and that's made all the difference. They've reeled off three straight road wins in the NIT, by an average margin of 11 points, against La Salle, Miami and Middle Tennessee - the latter before a raucous crowd of 10,521.

"I think it benefited us because you leave an environment where you're kind of depressed because you didn't make the Big Dance," said Smith, who coached Kentucky to the 1998 national championship. "We had to deal with the vibrating floor at La Salle, then we had to deal with the atmosphere in Miami which was kind of sedate, then you deal with the environment at Middle Tennessee, which was like, the biggest happening it looked like they'd had in forever. I mean, everybody came out there, so it was a packed environment."

Massachusetts, seeded fifth in its corner of the bracket, also won three road games in a row to reach the semifinals. Including the Minutemen and Golden Gophers, only five teams have turned that trick in the NIT.

UMass (25-11) beat Mississippi State in double-overtime and overcame a 17-point second-half deficit in Drexel's steamy gym, snapping the Dragons' 18-game home winning streak.

That earned a trip to the Big Apple and a homecoming for Williams, the 5-foot-9 dynamo who is averaging 22.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists in the NIT.

"We all wanted to get Chaz home," coach Derek Kellogg said. "I think the guys on the team from the seniors on down wanted to give him the opportunity to get back to New York City and play in Madison Square Garden."

Fran Fraschilla, the ESPN analyst and former Division I coach who hosted Monday's news conference, said Williams is "worth the price of admission." The sophomore point guard, a transfer from Hofstra, expects nearly 100 friends and family members to be in attendance Tuesday night.

"More excited than nervous. Can't get nervous about the game you love," he said.

Kellogg learned his craft as a Massachusetts player and Memphis assistant under coach John Calipari, who has led Kentucky to its second straight Final Four in the NCAA tournament. Kellogg expects a large UMass contingent to make the 3-hour drive from Amherst, Mass., for the semifinal against third-seeded Stanford.

"They look the part of a BCS team, a Pac-12 team, and I'm impressed with how well they're playing right now," he said.

The Cardinal (24-11) also played at Madison Square Garden earlier this season, beating Oklahoma State before losing a tight game to then-No. 5 Syracuse in the championship of the NIT Season Tip-Off.

"I think the benefit is we're used to the atmosphere because a lot of the things that we're experiencing now are very similar to what we experienced in the preseason NIT. Of course, you're playing totally different teams," Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said. "I think it could be a huge springboard for our group. It's how we handle it."

Stanford and Washington both advanced to New York by winning three home games.

Minnesota won the NIT in 1993 and 1998, while Stanford took the 1991 title. Washington and UMass are both looking for their first championship.

From feeding homeless to doing the splits, Stanford's Phillips a rare find

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From feeding homeless to doing the splits, Stanford's Phillips a rare find

Stanford has a penchant for recruiting the overachieving student-athlete. Even among those standards, Harrison Phillips is a rare find. The senior defensive tackle helps feed the homeless every Friday morning at a local shelter. He often visits the kids in the oncology ward at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. He was named to the Pac-12 All Academic First Team and will graduate in December with a double major and a minor. He is a team captain and heir apparent to Solomon Thomas, the 49ers third overall pick in this year’s NFL draft.

“One thing you love about Harrison is, every day he’s going to get something done,” head coach David Shaw told NBC Sports Bay Area. “On the field, off the field, in the community, he’s always got a million things going on. But nothing ever suffers.

"He does everything at a high level.”

At 6-foot-4, 290 pounds, Phillips is a mountain of a man. His skill set is different than that of Thomas, but he can be just as disruptive. He plays over the center. He plays over the guards. His self-proclaimed job is to eat as many blocks as possible to keep the linebackers free.

“He’s such that hard point for us. He’s that guy up front that’s getting knock back, that force in the run game that you gotta have,” defensive coordinator Lance Anderson explained. “You have to have that strong solid point in the middle of your defense, and he provides that.”

Phillips had a game-high 11 tackles, five of them solo, in the Cardinal’s loss to USC. No other defensive lineman on the field had more than three.

“He’s outstanding against the run. He’s a very good pass rusher,” Shaw added. “He’s got a lot of tools that can work inside.”

Phillips main instruments of domination are strength, knowledge of leverage and abnormal flexibility for a man of his size.

“He can do the splits on command,” Thomas said laughing from in front of his locker after a recent 49ers practice. “He loves showing it off. We get on him for it. But he loves doing it.

And, according to Thomas, his former Stanford teammate loves to bench. So it comes as no surprise that Phillips’ upper body strength stands out.

“He’ll be really low in a position that you think he’d get knocked over in,” Thomas explained. “Because of how flexible he is, it’s not a problem for him to get in that position and stay there and move on from there. It definitely shows up on his film.”

No doubt, Phillips says, that ability comes from his wrestling experience. His high school curriculum vitae includes, “Nebraska State Wrestling Champion, Heavy Weight Division, Sophomore, Junior and Senior years.”

Phillips first year on The Farm, he vividly remembers his Stanford coaches testing him. Just a mere 245 pounds at the time, they put him up against Joshua Garnett and Andrus Peat, two offensive linemen now in the NFL and each well over 300 pounds.

“They’d double team me, almost 700 pounds on you, and I would somehow find leverage and be able to sit on some of those double teams,” Phillips said. “I think the violence that wrestling brings, and balance and being comfortable in weird positions, wrestling has a ton of scrambling, as it's called, you just know your body and know what you can do. I have tremendous flexibility, and I use everything to my advantage.”

One thing Phillips is not allowed to do is use his explosiveness away from the football field. At one time, Phillips could do a back flip off the wall, but he no longer attempts it.

“I’m not a big fan of the back hand springs,” Shaw said. “I’d like for him to stay on his feet.”

Phillips doesn’t argue. He lost his entire sophomore year to a knee injury, and doesn’t want to risk another. He has NFL aspirations and put himself in position to graduate in three-and-a-half years should he choose to enter the 2018 draft. But just as he has done at Stanford, he is looking to be more than just a name on a jersey should he play on a professional level.

“I want to build something that is really lasting,” Phillips said of his life goal, “and put my name on something to touch people’s lives and change people’s lives, pay it forward as much as I can.”

No. 6 USC routs No. 14 Stanford for 11th straight win

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USASTI

No. 6 USC routs No. 14 Stanford for 11th straight win

LOS ANGELES  — Steven Mitchell and Deontay Burnett caught two touchdown passes apiece from Sam Darnold, and No. 6 Southern California extended its winning streak to 11 games with a bruising 42-24 victory over No. 14 Stanford on Saturday night.

Darnold went 21 of 26 with 316 yards passing for the Trojans (2-0, 1-0 Pac-12), who snapped their three-game losing streak in this California private-school rivalry. USC racked up 623 total yards and won the first Pac-12 game of the new season by beating the hard-nosed Cardinal (1-1, 0-1) at their own physical game.

Ronald Jones II rushed for 116 yards and scored a touchdown in his ninth consecutive game as USC excelled at Stanford's traditional strengths, running the ball for 307 yards and controlling both lines of scrimmage. Turnovers and penalties by the Trojans kept it fairly close, but freshman Stephen Carr added 119 yards rushing, and Jones cartwheeled into the end zone with a clinching 23-yard TD run with 4:15 to play.

Keller Chryst passed for 172 yards and two touchdowns, while Bryce Love had a 75-yard TD run among his 160 yards rushing for the Cardinal, who hadn't played since their season-opening win over Rice in Australia last month.

After a scoreless third quarter, USC made a 90-yard scoring drive capped by Mitchell's second TD on a feathery 11-yard TD pass by Darnold with 9:42 to play. Stanford stayed close with J.J. Arcega-Whiteside's TD catch with 6:41 to play, but Jones' incredible second TD run capped a smooth 75-yard drive in USC's 11th consecutive win at the Coliseum.

Stanford had won eight of its last 11 meetings with USC in a dominant stretch that began with its historic 2007 upset victory at the Coliseum.

After USC scored 49 points in its season opener, Darnold's offense again was in fine form from the start. USC scored four touchdowns on five lengthy drives in the first half, with Darnold hitting Burnett for two of his three TD passes.

USC moved 74 yards on two plays late in the half to take a 28-17 lead on Burnett's leaping 25-yard TD grab.

THE TAKEAWAY

Stanford: That 62-point performance in the season opener Down Under was impossible to replicate against a top Pac-12 defense, and the Cardinal's offense will know it must add versatility to the attack. Stanford's defense also had big problems at the line of scrimmage, and that isn't a problem with which the Cardinal have much experience.

USC: This talent-laden offense has appeared to have the makings of a juggernaut so far. Darnold returned to 2016 form with a smooth, poised performance against a vaunted conference opponent, while the Trojans' receivers appear to be much more reliable than coach Clay Helton feared. USC's defense also stepped up after halftime and shut down one of the Pac-12's best.

UP NEXT

Stanford: The Cardinal's three-game stretch away from home to open the season concludes at San Diego State.

USC: The Trojans welcome Texas to the Coliseum for a meeting of two powerhouse programs.