HOUSTON – The Latest on preparations for the Final Four in Houston on Friday, where two NCAA Tournament semifinals are set for Saturday (all times local):
For Gonzaga, the timing could not have been worse.
Coach Mark Few tells The Associated Press the NCAA called to inform him officials blew the call on a 10-second violation that went against the Bulldogs late in Syracuse’s come-from-behind win in the Sweet 16.
The turnover came with 1:17 left and Gonzaga leading 60-59. Josh Perkins skipped a pass for Kyle Dranginis into the front court, and a Syracuse player deflected it back across the line.
Refs called a 10-second violation but the 10-second limit in the backcourt should have reset once a player touched the ball in the front court.
Syracuse scored the last four points as part of a 15-3 run to end the game for a 63-60 win.
The NCAA did not immediately respond to an email from AP seeking comment.
There was a lull toward the end of Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim’s scheduled 25 minutes alone on the interview podium.
With no one else raising their hands to ask more questions, Boeheim inquired: “Want me to tell some stories?”
Boeheim then suggested that he could conduct the clinic that he has done about 200 times on the 2-3 zone defense.
“Only the 2-3 zone,” he said.
So what’s the standard introduction he gets when doing such a clinic?
“This is Jim Boeheim, this is all he knows,” the coach said.
When he tried to talk about something other than the 2-3 zone one day, he said there were about 400 coaches in the room who started to get restless.
Ryan Spangler says Oklahoma has to forget that 78-55 win over Villanova back on Dec. 7.
“They’re playing their best ball right now,” Spangler said, describing the Wildcats an entirely different team than Oklahoma faced four months ago.
“We were experienced then, they were still trying to figure out their roles. It was early in the season,” he said. “They’re playing with a chip on their shoulder.”
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim calls senior guard Michael Gbinije the most improved player he has ever coached.
Gbinjie’s reaction with a smile: “I was probably really bad when I first started out.”
Gbinije said when he got to Duke as a freshman he didn’t have the necessary work ethic to succeed.
After he transferred to Syracuse, he learned to work harder, changed positions from wing to point guard turned into a key member of a Final Four team.
With the 76ers mired in another bottom-of-the-NBA season, Villanova coach Jay Wright feels Philadelphia is rallying around Wildcats basketball more than usual.
“Philly is a unique city. There’s six Division I basketball schools. It’s not like being in a state where you have two state schools. We’re all on top of each other. There’s a lot of mixed breeding. It’s an intense college basketball town. It’s hard for everybody to get behind one of the schools,” Wright said. “But it’s a pro town. So because of the recent last couple years, they’ve been saying it all year, everybody’s been putting pressure on us saying, ‘Hey you guys are Philly’s hope. Do you feel pressure.’”
The Sixers have won a total of 46 games the last three seasons.
“There’s buildings in Philadelphia that have the lights going across the top, ‘Nova Final Four. It’s pretty cool,” said Wright, who grew up just outside Philadelphia. “We would love to do it for Philly.”
Buddy Hield, who led Oklahoma to its first Final Four in 14 years, has won the Oscar Robertson Trophy, presented by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association to the nation’s top college player.
Hield received 144 votes in the nationwide balloting while Denzel Valentine of Michigan State was the runner-up with 108 votes.
Robertson, the Hall of Famer who won this award three straight years at the University of Cincinnati, presented Hield with the trophy on Friday at the Final Four.
The 6-foot-4 senior averaged 25.4 points and 5.7 rebounds this season while shooting 46.5 percent from 3-point range. He was selected the Big 12 player of the year for the second straight season.
Hield was a close second to Valentine on Thursday for The Associated Press Player of the Year Award.
Oklahoma hired coach Lon Kruger away from UNLV but it wasn’t easy pulling he and his wife out of Nevada.
He twice turned down Oklahoma Athletic Director Joe Castiglione’s request to meet in person.
Kruger said he and his wife, Barb, were entrenched in the community. After five previous stops as a head coach, including one in the NBA, Kruger was not looking for another change.
“We went (to UNLV) with the idea that was going to be our last stop,” Kruger said.
Now, Oklahoma is the 63-year-old Kruger’s last-stop job.
Daniel Ochefu, Villanova’s 6-foot-11 forward, isn’t worried about shooting in the big stadium.
“If I can’t hit a jump hook or a dunk because the fans are further away, it’s ridiculous,” he said. “All my shots are inside the paint. … I don’t think depth perception on the court will be a big deal for me.”
Ochefu has shot 62 percent from the field this season, and took only one 3-pointer. He missed it.
Villanova leading scorer Josh Hart (15.3 points per game), who has taken 150 3-pointers this season, said he’ll probably be driving more in the Final Four after a few air balls during shootaround at NRG Stadium.
Fans are lining up at NRG Stadium in Houston for a glimpse of each of the teams playing in the Final Four.
Yes, we’re talking about practice.
Villanova takes the floor first for the public practice Friday as its sharpshooters try to get used to the depth challenge posed by playing in a stadium used mainly for football. Oklahoma, Syracuse and North Carolina will follow, each team getting about 50 minutes on the floor.
Meanwhile, coaches and players will speak with reporters again with the semifinal games a day away.
“One Shining Moment” is getting a new Grammy-winning voice and some team-specific highlights at the end of the NCAA Final Four.
The song has been the backdrop for the highlight piece to wrap up NCAA Tournaments for three decades, and the version by the late Luther Vandross will continue to be used for the national broadcast on TBS.
For TNT and truTV, a rendition by three-time Grammy Award winner Ne-Yo will be used after the first-ever team-specific broadcasts of the national championship game.
Ne-Yo’s performance will accompany team-centric highlights of the schools being featured in the Team Stream presentations, following their quest leading up to and during the title game.
This Final Four is a big one for the Big East — its first since re-stablishing itself as one of the best basketball conferences in the country.
Villanova is the first Big East team to reach the Final Four since the conference essentially dropped major college football after the 2013 season.
Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman says it reinforces that the conference’s reputation is intact.
The big Big East breakup came during sweeping Division I conference realignment that started in 2010. With FBS schools such as Pittsburgh, Louisville and West Virginia jumping to other conferences, the Big East’s basketball-focused schools decided to go it alone and return the league to its hoops roots. The remaining FBS schools formed the American Athletic Conference.
The basketball schools, with old-school Big East powers such as Villanova, Georgetown and St. John’s, kept the name and the tournament at Madison Square Garden. The so-called Catholic Seven added Xavier, Creighton and Butler and nabbed a 12-year, $500 million television deal with Fox’s sports network, FS1.