NCAA Tournament invites handed out
TUCSON, Ariz., March 9 (UPI) -- The first five spots in the NCAA Tournament field were filled Saturday while Arizona, Kentucky and Texas came away with big wins.
Austin Peay, East Tennessee State, North Carolina-Asheville and Troy State all won their conference tourney title games to earn automatic bids into college basketball's big show and Pennsylvania claimed a spot by winning the Ivy League regular season championship.
Arizona, meanwhile, ensured it would finish the regular season as the No. 1 ranked team in the country by rallying past Oregon, 88-80.
Playing in his final game at the McKale Center, Jason Gardner scored 21 of his 27 points in the second half. It was Arizona's 10th straight win and virtually clinched a No. 1 ranking at the end of the regular season.
Oregon held a three-point edge at halftime and a 54-49 advantage after a layup by Matt Short with 13 minutes remaining. But the Wildcats countered with a 17-2 burst over the next 6 1/2 minutes. They took the lead for good at 58-56 on an alley-oop dunk by freshman Hassan Adams on a feed from Gardner with 9:17 to play.
Salim Stoudamire scored 19 points and Channing Frye added 13 for the Wildcats (25-2, 17-1 Pac-10), who also won 10 straight games from Dec. 28-Jan. 25 before a home loss to Stanford. Arizona has not lost since.
In Gainesville, Fla., Gerald Fitch scored 18 points as the second-ranked Kentucky Wildcats held off a late rally to run the nation's longest winning streak to 20 games with a thrilling 69-67 victory over No. 3 Florida.
Kentucky (26-3, 16-0 SEC East) established a 66-54 advantage on a three-pointer by Fitch with 6:48 remaining before Florida rallied. The Gators held the Wildcats without a basket the rest of the way and scored 11 straight points to get within 66-65 on Matt Bonner's tip-in with 1:40 left to play.
Florida (24-6, 12-4) had a chance to take the lead, but Danish freshman Christian Drejer was whistled for a questionable offensive foul when he collided with Marquis Estill with just under a minute left.
And in Norman, Okla., T.J. Ford made a free throw and a key jumper in the final 54 seconds as the fourth-ranked Texas Longhorns scored the final 11 points and snapped No. 5 Oklahoma's 37-game home winning streak with a 76-71 victory.
Texas (22-5, 13-3 Big 12) rallied from a 14-point deficit in the second half and grabbed the No. 2 seed in the Big 12 tournament. The loss by Oklahoma gave the top seed to Kansas, which can earn the outright conference title Sunday with a win at Missouri.
Hollis Price, considered the heart and soul of the Sooners, was looking to end his home career with a victory over his team's biggest rival. But Ford's heroics helped spoil it as the Longhorns held Oklahoma (21-6, 12-4) scoreless for the final 4:19.
Texas took a big step toward securing a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
In the conference finals Saturday, Troy State defeated Central Florida in the Atlantic Sun Conference, 80-69; N.C.-Asheville won over Radford in the Big South Conference, 83-71; Austin Peay beat Tennessee Tech in the Ohio Valley Conference, 63-57; and East Tennessee State outlasted Chattanooga in the Southern Conference, 97-90.
Dozen Villanova players suspended
VILLANOVA, Pa., March 9 (UPI) -- Villanova University announced Saturday that 12 members of the men's basketball team had been suspended.
The action came after an internal inquiry into telephone access code violations.
According to NCAA guidelines, the penalties will range from three to eight games depending on the dollar value of the benefit. The suspensions will also be staggered over a series of games so that the school may field a team for its upcoming games.
Among those serving suspensions include senior starters Gary Buchanan and Ricky Wright along with senior forward Andrew Sullivan, senior guard Lou Ruskey, junior forward Andreas Bloch, sophomore center Chris Charles and injured freshman center Jason Fraser.
The available players for Sunday's regular season finale against seventh-ranked Pittsburgh include freshmen guards Randy Foye and Allan Ray, who each average 10 points per game, sophomore guard Derrick Snowden and freshman forward Curtis Sumpter. But those players will eventually serve suspensions.
Villanova (15-13, 8-7 Big East) will participate in the Big East tournament next week, but likely ruined any chance it had of winning the tournament and earning an NCAA bid.
Mavericks near 50 victories
DALLAS, March 9 (UPI) -- Dirk Nowitzki scored 21 points Saturday night as the Dallas Mavericks used a dominating defensive performance to smash the Utah Jazz, 101-77.
The Mavericks inched closer to becoming the first team to 50 wins this season, improving to 48-14.
Offense has been instrumental in the Mavs' success over the last two seasons, but their defense has been the most improved in the league from the 2001-02 campaign. After allowing 101 points per game in 2001-02, Dallas came in giving up 93.6 per contest.
The Mavericks won their fourth straight and improved to 10-4 since the All-Star break by holding an opponent under 80 points for the ninth time this season. They have kept 42 of 62 foes under 100 points.
Dallas took advantage of a Jazz team that lost in overtime to Sacramento on Friday night and was opening a five-game road trip. The Mavs held Utah to 43 percent shooting and had a 43-38 rebounding edge.
Other NBA results: Toronto 107, Atlanta 98; Memphis 115, Cleveland 89; Denver 98, Miami 91; Los Angeles Clippers 103, Chicago 97; Houston 83, New Jersey 71; Milwaukee 138, Golden State 133 in overtime.
Senators clinch playoff berth
PITTSBURGH, March 9 (UPI) -- The Ottawa Senators became the first team in the NHL to clinch a playoff berth Saturday night with a 5-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Magnus Arvedson scored twice as Ottawa handed Pittsburgh its eighth straight loss.
Todd White and Daniel Alfredsson combined for two goals and five assists for the Senators, who maintained a three-point lead over New Jersey for first place in the Eastern Conference and stretched their Northeast Division cushion to 12 points.
Arvedson scored the decisive goal 6:52 into the second period, making it 2-0. He also increased the lead to 4-1 at 8:03 of the third and set up Alfredsson with 5:18 to play for the final margin.
Mario Lemieux scored the lone goal for the Penguins, who had not dropped as many as eight in a row since the 1984-85 season.
Other NHL results: Boston 5, Washington 4 in overtime; New Jersey 4, New York Islanders 2; Vancouver 3, Toronto 3; Calgary 3, Columbus 2 in overtime; Buffalo 4, Florida 0; Colorado 2, Philadelphia 1 in overtime; Phoenix 6, San Jose 4.
Hoch shares lead with Tway
MIAMI, March 9 (UPI) -- Scott Hoch finished with a rush Saturday to join Bob Tway atop the leaderboard after the third round of the Ford Championship.
Hoch was five shots behind after nine holes, but he had five birdies on the back nine en route to a 6-under-par 66 in calm conditions on the Doral Resort's Blue Monster.
Tway, the 36-hole leader, parred the final eight holes for a 69 to match Hoch at 14-under 202. They were one stroke ahead of Jim Furyk (69) and Paraguay's Carlos Franco (68) with Canadian Mike Weir (67), the tour's leading money winner, two shots off the pace.
Ten players were bunched within four shots.
Weir jumped onto the leaderboard with an eagle at the par-4 17th, where he holed out from 113 yards.
Gambill halts Kendrick's run
DELRAY BEACH, Fla., March 9 (UPI) -- Jan-Michael Gambill stopped Robert Kendrick's dream run at the International Tennis Championship Saturday.
Gambill advanced to the final at the hardcourt event for the second time in three years with a 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (7-5) win.
Mardy Fish made it an all-American championship match when he cruised past third-seeded Marcelo Rios of Chile, 6-3, 6-4, on Saturday night to reach his first career ATP final.
Gambill improved to 12-2 all time in Delray Beach. His only loss in the last three years at this event was a semifinal setback to eventual champion Davide Sanguinetti last season.
Kendrick gained a break in the third set but struggled with his serve at 4-2, double-faulting twice to drop the game. He broke again for a 5-4 lead, but the set went to a tiebreak.
Gambill went ahead, 3-1, before Kendrick evened it at 4-4. Kendrick double-faulted at 5-4 and Gambill hit a backhand passing shot past his diving opponent to set up match point, which the Washington native won with his 11th ace.
Kendrick had not won an ATP match before this week but was disappointed to see his run end in the semifinals.
Grant Hill goes on the shelf again
ORLANDO, Fla., March 9 (UPI) -- Grant Hill, the oft-injured veteran guard of the Orlando Magic who is out again with an ankle injury, says he is through for the season.
The Orlando Sentinel reported Saturday that, within earshot of star forward Tracy McGrady during a practice session Friday morning, Hill threw in the towel for the 2002-03 campaign.
"I feel confident in the direction I'm going," Hill said, "but it's safe to say I'm out for the year and the playoffs."
The paper said he vows to return next season, even if a fourth surgery on his ailing left ankle is required.
"I'm not done," said Hill, who wears a walking boot. "I'm not throwing it in (forever)."
Hill had said recently that he thought another surgery was in the cards. He made the admission to Florida Today on Feb. 19.
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