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.

Washington gets final CFP spot, will face Alabama in semifinal

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USATSI

Washington gets final CFP spot, will face Alabama in semifinal

Alabama will play Washington and Ohio State is set to face Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinals.

The selection committee stayed with the same top four as it had going into championship weekend, leaving out Penn State even though the Nittany Lions won the Big Ten title game and beat Ohio State earlier in the season.

The Buckeyes are the first team to reach the playoff in its three-year history without winning its conference.

The unbeaten Crimson Tide is in the playoff for the third straight season and is the top seed for the second time. They will play the fourth-ranked Huskies in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta on Dec. 31.

No. 2 Ohio State is making its second playoff appearance and No. 3 Clemson is in for the second consecutive season. The Buckeyes and Tigers will meet at the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona, on Dec. 31.

The one difference from last week's top four and the final one was Clemson and Ohio State switched spots. So the Tigers will wear the home jerseys in University of Phoenix stadium instead of the Buckeyes.

Selection committee chairman Kirby Hocutt said the decision came down not to Penn State and Ohio State but the Nittany Lions and Pac-12 champion Washington.

Penn State finished the season on a nine-game winning streak to make a strong closing statement.

"Had Washington had a stronger strength of schedule I do not think that conversation would have been as difficult," said Hocutt, who is also the Texas tech athletic director.

The selection protocol does not require the committee to pick conference champions or the winner of head-to-head matchups.

Alabama has played Washington four times previously, twice in bowls and not since 1986.

Ohio State and Clemson have played twice before, both in bowl games. The last time was 2014.

Rabb leads Cal with career-high 26 points in dominant win

Rabb leads Cal with career-high 26 points in dominant win

BOX SCORE

BERKELEY -- Ivan Rabb scored 18 of his career-high 26 points in the first half and California beat Alcorn State 83-59 on Saturday for its 25th consecutive home win.

Roger Moute a Bidias added 12 points and Kingsley Okoroh had seven points with nine rebounds to help the Golden Bears (6-1) to their fourth consecutive win.

Three days after setting his previous career best for scoring, Rabb shot 10 of 12 and had seven rebounds to lead a dominant effort down low by California. Rabb scored on a pair of putbacks in the first half, added a one-handed dunk off a lob pass from Charlie Moore then scored six points as part of an 11-2 run in the second half.

Moore, the Bears' leading scorer going into the game, had an off-game while filling in for point guard Grant Mullins. Moore missed his first six shots and finished with seven points and four assists.

Alcorn State (2-5) couldn't keep up and lost its third straight.

Reginal Johnson scored a season-high 17 points and had seven rebounds while Marquis Vance added 11 points for the Braves.

Cal went on runs of 9-0 and 7-0 during an eight-minute span to build a 44-25 halftime lead.

BIG PICTURE

Alcorn State: Three consecutive lopsided losses have second-year coach Montez Robinson's squad reeling. The problems are happening on both ends of the floor, though Johnson provided a lift offensively. The biggest issues are consistency and 3-point shooting. The Braves went 5 of 21 beyond the arc and are shooting under 30 percent for the season.

California: The Bears got on top early and never let the Braves get back into the game, a definite step up after California had troubles closing out games earlier this season. Getting Moute a Bidias going is another good sign as the team tries to find some complementary scoring to support Rabb. Moore started at point guard in place of Mullins, who flew to Canada following a death in his family. Mullins will rejoin the team in Hawaii.

UP NEXT

Alcorn State: The Braves continue their six-game road trip at Louisiana Tech on Monday night.

California: The Bears left immediately after the win to fly to Hawaii for a pair of games in the Pearl Harbor Invitational. California opens against Princeton on Tuesday night.