Western Kentucky makes Harper's promotion permanent
Western Kentucky is keeping Ray Harper as head coach.
Athletics Director Ross Bjork announced the move Sunday after Harper was named interim coach following the firing of Ken McDonald earlier this season. Harper will be introduced to fans at a pep rally at E.A. Diddle Arena on Monday night.
Never miss a local story.
"We have total confidence in his ability to return our program to prominence," Bjork said in a statement. "We put him in a very challenging situation by naming him our interim coach on Jan. 6, but he has performed admirably in these unique circumstances while bringing much-needed energy and excitement to our program."
Harper has a 4-7 record since taking over for McDonald. The Hilltoppers (9-18, 5-9 Sun Belt Conference) are on their way to their first losing season in 12 years, but attendance numbers have risen over the last four home games, a key benchmark Bjork looked at when he decided to let McDonald go.
"He has a comprehensive plan for improvement for every aspect of our basketball program, and he is the right man to lead our historic program into the future. We are confident he will have us back on the path for success in short order," said Bjork, who did not hire a search firm to help him.
The 50-year-old Harper was honored as Division II Coach of the Year at Kentucky Wesleyan four times in nine seasons and won two national championships as well as four runner-up finishes, though his team's 2003 second-place finish was later vacated by the NCAA because of rules violations (Harper was not held responsible).
Harper also earned NAIA Coach of the Year honors at Oklahoma City in 2007-08, the second of two straight national championships on that level. Harper joined Western Kentucky the following year as an assistant.
"We are not winning as consistently as I expect us to, but this basketball team has made a lot of progress and grown up a lot which is rewarding," Harper said. "This is a destination job for me, and there is no place in the country I would rather be."
Jenkins leads Vanderbilt past Georgia
John Jenkins scored 28 points, Jeffery Taylor added 13 and Vanderbilt overcame a sluggish first half to win its second straight game, 61-52 over Georgia on Sunday in Athens, Ga. Vanderbilt (19-8, 8-4 Southeastern Conference) stayed one game behind second-place Florida in the league standings.
Georgia's leading scorer, freshman guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, did not take a shot in the first half after picking up his second foul just 4 minutes into the game. He finished with just six points on 3-of-13 shooting.
■ Iowa senior Matt Gatens scored a career-high 30 points and the host Hawkeyes beat No. 18 Indiana 78-66, snapping the Hoosiers' three-game winning streak.
Iowa jumped out to an 11-point halftime lead and pushed it to 52-33 midway through the second half. Indiana closed to 10, but Gatens responded with four crucial three-pointers.
■ C.J. Fair scored a career-high 21 points and Scoop Jardine added 17, including a dagger three-pointer with 1:11 to play, as No. 2 Syracuse escaped another close one with a 74-64 victory over Rutgers in Piscataway, N.J.
■ Draymond Green had 20 points and 10 rebounds, and Austin Thornton had a career-high 17 points to lead No. 7 Michigan State past Purdue 76-62 in West Lafayette, Ind. Robbie Hummel finished with 24 points to lead the Boilermakers.
■ Seth Curry scored 18 points and Duke used its smothering defense to cruise past host Boston College 75-50. The win was Duke's fourth straight since a 78-74 loss in overtime to Miami.
■ Josh Gasser scored 15 points and No. 15 Wisconsin held off Penn State 65-55 to win for the eighth time in 10 games.
UK softball loses in extra innings
Bree Hanafin's ninth-inning sacrifice fly gave Maryland a 2-1 victory against No. 21 Kentucky in the Wildcats' final game of the Florida Atlantic Kickoff Classic in Boca Raton, Fla. Junior Kara Dill extended her hitting streak to six games for Kentucky (4-5). Senior Chanda Bell held Maryland to four hits in 81⁄3 innings pitched.
■ Heavy rains postponed the Kentucky baseball team's game against host South Carolina Upstate until 2 p.m. Monday. Sophomore left-hander Corey Littrell is scheduled to start for UK (2-0).
Report: Bills 'far apart' with Johnson
Former University of Kentucky standout Stevie Johnson and the Buffalo Bills are still "far apart" in contract talks. And the receiver doesn't expect the team to use its franchise tag to retain him, a source told The Associated Press.
Johnson has led the Bills in receiving in each of the past two seasons and is eligible to become a free agent next month.
Johnson has not discussed how much he's seeking, except to say he's not asked the team to pay him $9 million or $10 million a season, which would put him in the upper echelon of NFL receivers.
Johnson finished with 76 catches for 1,004 yards and seven touchdowns last year in becoming the team's first receiver to have consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.
Reds sign Tomko to minor-league deal
Right-hander Brett Tomko is back with the team that launched his career, signing a minor-league deal with the Cincinnati Reds as they opened camp on Sunday in Goodyear, Ariz. Tomko, who turns 39 on April 7, is a footnote to Reds history — part of the four-player package traded to Seattle for Ken Griffey Jr. on Feb. 10, 2000. Tomko was 0-1 with a 4.58 ERA in eight games for the Texas Rangers last season, most of which he spent in the minors.
■ The 15th-ranked Louisville baseball team closed the Big Ten/Big East Challenge with a 7-6 victory over Michigan State on Sunday in St. Petersburg, Fla. Zak Wasserman hit a two-run home run and Jeff Gardner, a Whitefield Academy graduate, had a two-run triple for the Cardinals (2-1).
Federer wins title in Netherlands
Roger Federer defeated Juan Martin del Potro 6-1, 6-4 Sunday to win the ABN Amro World Tennis in Rotterdam, Netherlands, for his first title of the year. The top-seeded Federer jumped to a 5-0 lead in the first set, with Del Potro making uncharacteristic errors. Del Potro, who beat Federer in the 2009 U.S. Open finals, took a 2-1 lead in the second set before Federer won five of the next seven games to close the match.
■ Top-ranked Victoria Azarenka of Belarus shook off a lingering ankle injury to win the Qatar Open, routing Sam Stosur of Australia 6-1, 6-2. Azarenka earned her 17th straight victory and first title since replacing Caroline Wozniacki atop the rankings after winning the Australian Open. It was her third title overall in 2012.
The last word
Kentuckian Kenny Perry, a 14-time winner on the PGA Tour who won his second Champions Tour event Sunday, was asked if playing so well over the weekend tempted him to play more PGA events:
"Well, if I can make 20 birdies in two rounds, I definitely want to go try that out on the other tour, too. I'm not going to be picky here. If I can win on both tours, not many people have won on both tours. And that's kind of a small goal of mine, to be able to win on both. I've got this side done. I just need to figure out a way to win over there (again) now."