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UCLA's best defense against Gonzaga's shooters could be the stadium

Before Gonzaga arrived at NRG Stadium, forward Kyle Wiltjer, who had played games in big stadiums while at Kentucky, told his teammates what it would be like.

“I was trying to describe what the arena looks like and how big it is,” Wiltjer said.

UCLA is tasked with slowing down Gonzaga’s high-octane offense in the NCAA basketball tournament round of 16 on Friday. The Bruins know they can’t allow the Bulldogs to get hot. Gonzaga is third in the nation in three-point shooting percentage and second in two-point percentage.

The Bruins may be helped out by the stadium, built to house the Houston Texans, whose wide open spaces some say can throw off a shooter’s vision.

“The depth perception can alter your shot at times,” sophomore guard Isaac Hamilton said. “So that’s why we got a lot of shots in. But it’s nothing too crazy. We’ve played in big arenas.”

Evidence for the effect is spotty, mostly because the sample size is too small. Research by the Wall Street Journal in 2011 that compared...

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Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant to have season-ending foot surgery

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant will undergo bone graft surgery on his right foot, ending a disappointing season in which he played just 27 games.

Durant, 26, will have the procedure done next week and is expected to return to basketball activities in four to six months, General Manager Sam Presti said Friday in a statement.

The 2013-14 NBA most valuable player suffered a broken foot before the start of the season, causing him to miss 17 games. He later missed time because of injuries to his ankle and big toe.

On Feb. 23, Durant had surgery on his right foot because of lingering pain.

Durant averaged 25.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists this season.

The Thunder hold a three-game lead over Phoenix for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference with 10 games remaining, a stretch that includes a matchup Sunday against the Suns.

Follow Matt Wilhalme on Twitter @mattwilhalme

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Steve Lavin out as St. John's basketball coach

Steve Lavin's coaching days at St. John's are over.

The former UCLA men's basketball coach has mutually parted ways with St. John's after five seasons with the Queens, N.Y.-based school, the university announced Friday.

Lavin posted an 81-55 record and made the NCAA tournament twice with the Red Storm. St. John's lost to San Diego State, 76-64, in the second round of the NCAA South Regional on March 20. Lavin went 21-12 in his final season.

"Coach Lavin returned high expectations to our men's basketball program and represented St. John's in a positive way," St.  John's Athletic Director Chris Monasch said in a statement. "We appreciate his commitment to the program and to our student-athletes over the past five years."

Lavin, 50, achieved three, 20-win seasons with St. John's after working as a broadcaster at ESPN for seven years. Lavin coached UCLA from 1996 to 2003 and guided the Bruins to five Sweet 16 appearances in the NCAA tournament.

"In life change is inevitable, so I take the...

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Archie Manning taking leave from College Football Playoff committee

And then there were 12.

College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock announced Monday that Archie Manning will take a leave of absence from the 13-person selection committee to deal with a health issue.

He is expected to return later this year.

Manning, the former All-American quarterback at Mississippi, needs more surgery to relieve discomfort related to recent knee replacement surgery.

He said he was unable to travel to the weekly selection committee meetings in Dallas, which begin next weekend.

"It is an honor to serve on this committee, and I enjoy the group and was looking forward to the opportunity ahead, " Manning said in a statement. "My health had to be my primary concern and I intend to be up and about as soon as possible."

Manning might not miss much this year with his alma mater so highly rated in the polls. He would have been required to leave the room whenever the Rebels were discussed for a playoff spot.

The committee will move forward with 12 members this...

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Against Gonzaga, UCLA is enjoying its role as plucky underdog

UCLA has 18 Final Four appearances. Gonzaga has none. UCLA plays in a power conference. Gonzaga does not.

So, naturally, when UCLA plays Gonzaga on Friday the pressure is on … Gonzaga?

It doesn’t happen often, but in the Bruins’ South Region semifinal game, they have few expectations to deal with. Few expected them to even make the tournament; fewer expected two wins.

Gonzaga, on the other hand, has made 17 straight NCAA tournament appearances but has yet to reach the Final Four. With, perhaps, their most talented roster in years, the Bulldogs are under pressure to capitalize.

"The pressure isn’t on us," sophomore guard Isaac Hamilton said. "We're on an 11 seed."

Hamilton acknowledged that the thought of UCLA as a plucky underdog is “really weird.” Freshman forward Kevon Looney said he’s not sure UCLA can ever be considered an underdog.

Gonzaga Coach Mark Few played down the importance of reaching the Final Four for the first time. He said that too much emphasis is often placed on...

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Metta World Peace finishes in China, joins Italian team

Metta World Peace is catching on all over the globe.

After a short stint with China's Sichuan Blue Whales as "The Panda's Friend," the former NBA champion has signed with the Italian team Pallacanestro Cantu for the final 17 games of their Lega A season.

"Metta will bring a wave of enthusiasm to the whole of Italian basketball and not just to Cantu," Cantu President Anna Cremascoli told the Associated Press.

World Peace, 35, averaged 19 points and six rebounds in 15 games for the Sichuan Blue Whales. Now, after hopping a plane and changing continents, World Peace says he won't stop playing professionals until he's 40.

"I didn't come here because I'm old and I don't want to play anymore,'' World Peace said. ''No, it's the perfect time for me, to come now, have a chance to play hard, meet my teammates, and then see if I can play another season here."

World Peace last played in the NBA for the New York Knicks in 2013-14. He won the NBA title with the Lakers in 2010 but was waived by...

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