University of Minnesota basketball coach Jim Dutcher resigned yesterday -- one day after three of his players were arrested in an alleged sexual assault case and as school officials said they were considering canceling the rest of the team's season.

University President Kenneth Keller said at a news conference that he accepted the resignation "with regret." Dutcher, 52, said he was resigning because he felt the basketball program would prosper better under new direction.

"You can always look at where you are and where you want to be and where you're heading, and I'm not pleased with the direction we're heading," Dutcher said. He has a 190-112 record since becoming Minnesota coach in 1975.

Keller said Minnesota will forfeit its scheduled Big Ten game with Northwestern today because of the seriousness of the allegations.

"Sexual assault -- rape -- is not only a crime, but in fact it's an offense against all of us as human beings," he said. " . . . In fact, I suspect that in recent years the increase of its occurrence in our society and its increase as a problem are resulted in part from our tendency in the past to try to explain it, or excuse it or ignore it. None of those things are things that the university can do and feel true to its own values."

Mitch Lee, Kevin Smith and George Williams were being held in Dane County Jail in Madison, Wis., after an 18-year-old woman told police she was raped in the Concourse Hotel, where the team was staying after playing Wisconsin Thursday. Lee, a sophomore forward, was acquitted earlier this month of a sexual assault charge stemming from an incident last year.

The three will be arraigned Monday and formally charged. A police spokesman, Richard Walden, said there is a possibility further charges could be filed. The maximum penalty for second-degree sexual assault is 10 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000.