‘Cali-swag’ shaped Virginia’s season, but will it let them overcome doubters?

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NEW YORK — They won the ACC regular season title. They won the ACC tournament title. They got the No. 1 seed in the East Region.

And it doesn’t matter.

Everyone is still overlooking Virginia, even President Barack Obama, who, like the overwhelming majority of people living outside the Commonwealth of Virginia, picked the Spartans. And if you ask Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia’s leading scorer, that’s not only something that the team has embraced, it’s something that he actually enjoys. Bring on the critics and the doubters. The more the merrier.

“When people doubt us, it’s fuel to the fire,” he said. “We use it as motivation to keep pushing forward and doing good things.”

There are a couple of reasons why the team that beat out Duke, North Carolina and Syracuse for a dual-ACC title gets overlooked. Their performance during the non-conference portion of their schedule wasn’t exactly dominant, and while they ran through ACC play with just a pair of blemishes — their road trips to Durham and College Park — the Cavs also got lucky. They only played Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse, N.C. State and Pitt once each, and the fact that all five of those teams bowed out during the first weekend of the NCAA tournament certainly hasn’t helped the league’s reputation as a powerhouse.

That’s not the way Brogdon sees it, however.

He believes that people are impressed with plays that make Sportscenter, the highlights. Virginia’s talented and they have much more athleticism than they’ll get credit for, but this isn’t a team that will ever be confused with the Showtime Lakers. They aren’t going to be throwing lobs in transition or finding themselves making the NBA-caliber moves in isolation. They’re a team built on offensive execution and staunch defense.

It’s not glitzy, but it sure is effective.

“We’re not a flashy team,” Brogdon said. “We’re not going for homerun plays. We’re very steady, very consistent in every play. We pride ourselves on defense, which is one big thing that people don’t admire about us. It’s not about putting points on the board it’s about stopping people.”

No one on the Virginia roster exemplifies that temperament more than freshman point guard London Perrantes, whose calm demeanor and laid-back style of play initially had teammates concerned about whether or not he would be able to find success at this level.

“I didn’t see it at all,” sophomore forward Justin Anderson said of Perrantes, a native Californian who didn’t get much high-major attention on the recruiting trail, when he first saw the freshman play over the summer. “The way he plays is so relaxed. He never gets sped up. In practice, he’s just chilling and running the play.”

Perrantes has started 32 games this season, and while his numbers are rather pedestrian — 5.4 points, 3.8 assists, 44.0% 3PT, 1.1 turnovers — it’s his demeanor at the point position that sets the tone for everything the ‘Hoos do. He’s the “Tony Bennett point guard”, as Anderson calls it. He doesn’t turn the ball over, he gets the team into their sets offensively and he’ll get into opposing ball-handlers as soon as they cross half court.

“I remember Akil telling him in the summer, ‘C’mon, you’ve gotta pick it up, give me something,'” Anderson said. “We used to tell him, ‘Get rid of the Cali-swag, talk, move faster,’ and he never did. He still has his same swag and I think it’s allowed him to be very successful.”

“No one tries to touch that Cali-swag anymore.”

Perrantes says that he didn’t expect to start as a freshman, but that his confidence has steadily grown as the season as progressed. “I’ve got almost a year underneath my belt right now,” he said, which is part of the reason that he hasn’t been blinded by the moment.

That shouldn’t change playing under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden, but what could change is a nation’s perception of the Cavaliers. They’ll have a chance to knock off the nation’s trendy title pick, a team with a trip of potential first round picks and a head coach that is reportedly being courted by NBA teams.

Is that what it will take for Virginia to be considered a legitimate title threat?

“I think we will prove some people wrong, if and when we win tomorrow, but I think we have to keep winning,” Brogdon said with a smile.

“I think a national championship will get people to be quiet for sure.”

Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Elite Eight schedule, tip times, and announcer pairings

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Regional Finals – Sunday, March 26

2:20 p.m.,CBS, New York
No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 4 Florida (Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce)

5:05 p.m., CBS, Memphis
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 2 Kentucky (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)

Steve Alford: ‘I’m very happy at UCLA’

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UCLA head coach Steve Alford was still processing an 86-75 season-ending loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on Friday night when he had to answer questions about another blueblood program.

Sine the dismal of Tom Crean at Indiana, Alford has been one of the names rumored to be in the mix for the coaching vacancy. A reporter in the press conference in Memphis didn’t even get a chance to finish his question before Alford cut him off and a publicly state that he was happy in Westwood.

“I said it last week, and I’ll reiterate it again even more so, I guess, that I love Los Angeles,” Alford said. “To begin with, it’s a beautiful place, and our family has fallen in love with it. I’ve got two sons now, Kory first and now Bryce, that have graduated. Bryce is done, so he’s graduating from UCLA, so I’ve got two sons that are graduates from there, a daughter that loves the school she’s going to in Thousand Oaks. I’m very happy. I’m at UCLA. I don’t know of a lot of people that are out there wanting to leave UCLA.

“This is a pretty special place. We’ve worked awfully hard. Our staff has worked hard. We’ve got the No. 2 recruiting class coming in next year. We’re opening a brand-new, state-of-the-art, 60-plus million practice facility, Mo Ostin Center, that is going to be spectacular that we’ve worked awfully hard to be a part of that, and I want to see that through, and we’ve got some special kids that are coming to join us.

“I’m very, very happy where I’m at, and hopefully, that’ll continue.”

Alford won a national championship with the Hoosiers in 1987, scoring more than 2,400 points in his career under head coach Bob Knight. He has been with UCLA since 2013, reaching the Sweet 16 in three of his four seasons with the Bruins.

Crean was fired on March 16 after nine season in Bloomington.

Lonzo Ball has officially declared for the 2017 NBA Draft

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Following a season-ending loss in the Sweet 16 of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, UCLA freshman point guard unsurprisingly announced that he will enter the NBA Draft.

“That was my final game for UCLA. I appreciate the fans,” Ball told reporters.

The 6-foot-6 point guard has a strong case to be the No. 1 overall pick. It could be almost too enticing for the Los Angeles Lakers to pass on a Southern Cal product if the ping pong balls fall in their favor. New Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka were in Memphis for Friday night’s Sweet 16 matchup with Kentucky.

Ball, in an All-American freshman season with the Bruins, averaged 14.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and a nation’s best 7.6 assists per game, while shooting 56 percent from the field and 42 percent from three.

He ended his college career with an 86-75 loss to the Wildcats, scoring 10 points, off 4-of-10 shooting, with eight assists.

VIDEO: Florida’s Chris Chiozza beats Wisconsin at the buzzer

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NEW YORK — So you didn’t think the NCAA Tournament had enough excitement this year?

Wisconsin and Florida solved that problem for you.

The Badgers started things, as they erased a 12-point deficit in the final 4:15 to force overtime, a stretch that included an 8-0 run at the end of regulation that was capped by a Zak Showalter running three with 2.5 seconds left on the clock to tie the game at 72.

Wisconsin jumped out to a lead in overtime, but the combination of an inability to make free throws and and this epic chasedown block from Canyon Barry left the door open for the Gators, who eventually won the game on this running three from Chris Chiozza:

What.

A.

Game.

If we get a better one than this, I just hope I’m courtside for it.

KeVaughn Allen led the way for the Gators with 35 points, and no one else on the Gators scored more than eight points, but it didn’t matter. The Gators are still headed to the Elite 8, and Mike White will have a chance to play for the right to go to the Final Four in his first NCAA Tournaments.

Replacing a legend like Billy Donovan was never going to be easy, but White is doing an admirable job.

The other subplot here: With the win, Florida becomes the third member of the SEC in the Elite 8, and with a regional final against South Carolina on Sunday afternoon, it guarantees that there will be at least one SEC team in the Final Four.

While there were celebrations in the Florida locker room, Wisconsin’s was one of devastation.

The Badgers started four seniors, including tournament stalwarts Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes, who played in their 17th career NCAA Tournament games.

Hayes had 22 points, but he’s going to be haunted by the free throws he missed. He was 7-for-14 from the line on the night, including four missed freebies in overtime. The end was similarly heart-breaking for Koenig, as he was a non-factor in overtime due to an injury he suffered on the possession before Showalter’s game-tying three.

Both of them are going to spend years thinking ‘What if?’ That’s how the NCAA Tournament works.

Everyone leaves in tears, either because they’re cutting down the nets at the Final Four or because their season — their career — just came to an end.

Hayes and Koenig were no different.

VIDEO: Canyon Barry saves Florida with epic chase down block

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Florida’s Canyon Berry had the best chase down block since LeBron James in the 2016 NBA Finals.

It kept Wisconsin’s lead at two points and gave the Gators a chance to tie and, eventually, win the game.

Look at this: