NCAA states that 96-team field will be best expansion option


Marcus Johnson scored 20 points and Dayton captured the title at the National Invitation Tournament for the first time since 1968 with a 79-68 triumph over North Carolina. Paul Williams scored 16, while Chris Wright and Chris Johnson each had 14 points and nine rebounds for the Flyers (25-12), who won the event for a third time, also lifting the trophy in 1962. Will Graves had 25 points to lead the Tar Heels (20-17), who were trying to become the first team to win NCAA and NIT crowns in consecutive seasons. Deon Thompson tallied 13 points and 10 boards, while Larry Drew II added 12 points in defeat.

The NCAA floated the possibility of expanding its annual men's basketball tourney, currently comprised of 65 teams, to 96 should a related move take place. A three-panel committee outlined the plan at a press conference Thursday in Indianapolis, home to the Final Four this year. The staggering expansion would presumably wipe out the entire NIT field of 32 teams and provide first-round byes for the first 32 into the Tournament. The last time there was an expansion to the tournament was in 2001, when it added one team to the 64-team field that was originally established in 1985. The plan would need to be approved by the NCAA Men's Basketball Committee and the board of directors.

The University of Houston has named James Dickey its new men's basketball coach. Dickey hasn't been a head coach since posting a record of 166-124 at Texas Tech from 1991-2001. He led the Red Raiders to the NCAA Tournament twice, including a Sweet 16 appearance in 1996, but a run of four straight losing seasons in the wake of a 1997 academic scandal that cost the program scholarships ended his tenure in Lubbock. Dickey, who had been an assistant under Eddie Sutton at Arkansas and Kentucky before taking the Tech job, rejoined Sutton with Oklahoma State in 2002 and remained an assistant with the Cowboys until 2008. Houston needed a replacement for Tom Penders, who resigned days after the Cougars lost to Maryland in the first round of this year's NCAA Tournament.

Wake Forest forward Al-Farouq Aminu has decided to enter the NBA Draft. The 6- foot-9 sophomore will also hire an agent, foregoing his final two years of collegiate eligibility. Aminu averaged 15.8 points and an ACC-best 10.7 rebounds this past season, becoming the first Wake Forest player to lead the conference in rebounding since Tim Duncan in 1997. In 62 games with Wake Forest, including 60 starts, Aminu averaged 14.4 points and 9.4 rebounds.


Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Joe Blanton will start the season on the 15-day disabled list because of a mild left oblique strain. He was hurt during a bullpen session on Wednesday and could be sidelined for three to six weeks. The right-hander, who signed a three-year contract extension in January, had never before had a stint on the disabled list. In 31 starts for the Phillies in 2009, Blanton compiled a 12-8 record with a 4.05 earned run average and a career-high 163 strikeouts.

The Baltimore Orioles have acquired infielder Julio Lugo from the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for a player to be named later or cash considerations. Baltimore had been hoping to add some insurance up the middle since second baseman Brian Roberts' back problems flared up early in spring training. The 34-year-old Lugo, who was in the final season of a four-year, $36 million deal, appeared in 37 games for the Boston Red Sox last season before he was designated for assignment and traded to St. Louis. He played in 51 games for the Cards after the July 22 deal and hit .277.


The Chicago Bears have released defensive end Alex Brown, who spent the past eight seasons with the club. Brown appeared in 127 games, including 107 starts, for the Bears, who selected him with a fourth-round pick in the 2002 NFL Draft. The 30-year-old Florida product recorded 483 tackles and 43 1/2 sacks with five interceptions, 16 forced fumbles and 11 fumble recoveries for Chicago.

The Philadelphia Eagles extended the contact of team president Joe Banner on Thursday. The Eagles did not release terms of the contract, which is believed to be for three years. The club also elevated Don Smolenski to chief operating officer. Banner, considered to be one of the league's best salary cap managers, was originally named team president in August of 2001 and has handled the Eagles' day-to-day operations since joining the franchise in 1995. Philadelphia has made the playoffs 10 times under Banner's guidance. Only Indianapolis (12) has made more playoff appearances than the Eagles over the same 15-year period.

The New York Giants made a couple of moves Thursday, signing veteran free agent safety Deon Grant and also bringing back punter Jeff Feagles. The durable Grant is a veteran of 10 NFL seasons and has started every game over the last nine for the fifth-longest streak among active players. His 144 consecutive starts covers seven postseason games and dates back to the 2001 season with Carolina. Grant spent the last three seasons with the Seahawks. The 2010 season will be the 23rd for the 44-year-old Feagles, a two-time Pro Bowl selection who punted 64 times last season for a 40.7 yard average. He also placed 23 punts inside the 20. A Super Bowl champion with the Giants in 2008, Feagles is best known for using the "coffin corner" punt. The 2010 season will be his eighth season with New York.


Kim Clijsters needed more than 2 1/2 hours to beat Justine Henin in a thrilling all-Belgian semifinal Thursday night at the $4.5 million Sony Ericsson Open. The 14th-seeded Clijsters posted a 6-2, 6-7 (3-7), 7-6 (8-6) victory and will next face three-time champion Venus Williams in Saturday's title match. The third-seeded former world No. 1 Williams handled 13th-seeded Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli, 6-3, 6-4 on the hardcourts earlier in the day at Crandon Park. Clijsters, who overcame 10 double faults, pulled even in 24 lifetime meetings against Henin. That includes a Clijsters win in three sets in the final of an event in Brisbane this year. Now it's onto a championship match encounter with Williams, who holds a 6-5 edge on Clijsters. The two met in the fourth round at last year's U.S. Open, when Clijsters posted a three- set win on the way to capturing the title in her first major championship since returning to the tour.

On the men's side, big Czech Tomas Berdych and fifth-seeded Robin Soderling were each quarterfinal winners Thursday. The 16th-seeded Berdych came from behind to beat 10th-seeded Spanish lefthander Fernando Verdasco 4-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4 on the hardcourts at Crandon Park. The capable Berdych stunned world No. 1 superstar Roger Federer in the fourth round on Tuesday night. The 24-year-old Berdych will now appear in his fifth career Masters semifinal (1-3). He won a Masters title in Paris in 2005. The 6-foot-5 Berdych will meet Soderling of Sweden in the semifinals on Friday. Soderling handled 13th-seeded Russian Mikhail Youzhny 6-1, 6-4 in 1 hour, 12 minutes.


Kevin Stadler and Cameron Percy both carded five-under 67s Thursday to share the lead after the opening round of the Houston Open. Neither of the two leaders owns a PGA Tour title. Anthony Kim was tied for the lead on the 18th tee, but found water off his first shot. He missed the green with his approach, but made a remarkable up- and-down bogey to shoot four-under 68. He was joined in a share of third place by Kevin Sutherland, James Driscoll and Vaughn Taylor, who played alongside Stadler. Three-time major champions Phil Mickelson and Padraig Harrington headline a group one stroke further back at minus-three. There are seven more players that shot three-under 69 on the Tournament Course at Redstone Golf Club.

Suzann Pettersen carded a five-under 67 Thursday to take a one-stroke lead over Lorena Ochoa after the first round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the first major of the season on the LPGA Tour. Pettersen, a six-time winner on the LPGA Tour, owns one major championship title. That came at the 2007 McDonald's LPGA Championship, which was one of five wins that season for Pettersen. Ochoa, the women's world No. 1, posted a four-under 68 and is alone in second place. She collected the second of her two major championships at this event in 2008. Karrie Webb, a two-time champion, shot three-under 69 and was joined in a share of third place with 2004 Women's British Open champion Karen Stupples, Becky Brewerton, 2008 McDonald's LPGA Champion Yani Tseng, Vicky Hurst, Na On Min and Song-Hee Kim. Defending champion Brittany Lincicome is tied for 10th at minus-two.