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Notre Dame, UConn advance to women’s title game

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No. 1 UConn and No. 1 Notre Dame have been the two best teams in women’s college basketball all season long, with both teams rolling through the season without a single blemish on their respective resumes. That remained the case in Sunday’s national semifinals, and as a result the former conference rivals will meet on the game’s biggest stage Tuesday night.

And that will be the first time in the history of women’s college basketball that the title game matches undefeated teams.

The question for Notre Dame was a simple one: would they be able to account for the loss of leading rebounder Natalie Achonwa, with the senior forward suffering a torn ACL in the South Bend regional final. Thanks to the scoring of Kayla McBride and a group effort on the boards the Fighting Irish were able to do so against No. 4 Maryland, beating the Terrapins 87-61 in the first semifinal.

McBride finished the game with 28 points to go along with seven rebounds, making 12 of her 21 attempts from the field. As a team Muffet McGraw’s squad shot 50.8% from the field, but the story for Notre Dame was their rebounding. Notre Dame managed to rebound 52.8% of its missed shots, scoring 20 second-chance points. Jewell Loyd (five offensive rebounds) and Markisha Wright (four) accounted for nine of Notre Dame’s 19 offensive boards with the latter combining with Taya Reimer to help the Fighting Irish account for the loss of Achonwa inside.

Brionna Jones scored 16 points and Alyssa Thomas added 14 for the Terrapins, with the latter shooting 5-for-13 from the field in her college finale. Thomas ends here collegiate career as the school’s all-time leading scorer.

As for UConn, the Huskies got off to a slow start from the field as they made just five of their first 20 field goal attempts. Geno Auriemma’s team would get going late in the first half, turning a six-point deficit into a four-point lead at the intermission in what would eventually become a 75-56 win over No. 2 Stanford.

UConn has just a six-player rotation but all six contribute, with five starters finishing Sunday’s win in double figures and reserve Kiah Stokes adding nine points off the bench. Breanna Stewart paced the Huskies with 18 points while also grabbing seven rebounds, and UConn’s front court length factored into Stanford’s Chiney Ogwumike scoring 15 points on 5-for-12 shooting. As a team Stanford shot 38.2% from the field after making seven of their first 12 shots, and the 6-for-25 night from beyond the arc didn’t help matters either.

Normally a game between Notre Dame and UConn at this stage in the season would represent the third or fourth time they’ve met, meaning that there would essentially be no secrets. But thanks to conference realignment, with the Fighting Irish in the ACC and the Huskies in the American, that isn’t the case.

What hasn’t changed is the fact that these two elite programs have continued to rack up wins, and as a result they’ll be playing for a spot in the history books Tuesday night.

Indiana lands four-star Class of 2017 wing Justin Smith

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Indiana landed an athletic wing commitment on Monday night as four-star small forward Justin Smith pledged to the Hoosiers on Twitter.

The 6-foot-6 Smith is a native of Lincolnshire, Illinois and comes from Stevenson High School as he’s regarded as the No. 105 overall prospect in the Rivals national Class of 2017 rankings.

A high-flying wing who is great in the open floor, Smith should fit the Hoosiers’ uptempo system perfectly and if he’s able to get a more consistent perimeter jumper then he has a chance to be a really nice piece for Indiana.

Smith joins three-star guard Al Durham in Indiana’s recruiting Class of 2017.

Michigan State addingTom Izzo Hall of History wing in remodeled Breslin Center

CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 22:  Head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans reacts against the Virginia Cavaliers during the third round of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Time Warner Cable Arena on March 22, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo has already been inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this fall and the longtime Spartans head coach is receiving another unique honor in the remodeled Breslin Center.

The school announced over the weekend that the Tom Izzo Hall of History will be added to the Breslin Center renovations as the building is supposed to be completed by the fall of 2017.

“The Tom Izzo Hall of History will become a great gathering place on our campus where together we can celebrate the excellence of Spartan Basketball and MSU Athletics,” athletic director Mark Hollis said in a release. “When this facility project is complete it will be the finest college basketball facility in the country, so it’s only fitting that Tom’s name will be a permanent part of it.”

Overall, this is a nice addition to the Breslin Center, especially since Izzo and Michigan State basketball will forever be associated with one another. It should be cool for fans to go through it and re-live great moments in Michigan State history and the wing is another nice recruiting tool that can help point out all of Izzo’s biggest accomplishments.

 

Puerto Rico Tip-Off Tournament moving to Orlando amid Zika concerns

Lon Kruger
(AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
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Amid concerns over the Zika virus, the annual Puerto Rico Tip-Off announced a change in venue on Monday. Rather than staying on the island, the tournament will move to Orlando and all games will be played at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney.

The dates and teams will remain the same for the event as it will be played Thursday, Nov. 17, Friday, Nov. 18 and Sunday, Nov. 20. The field for the event includes Arizona State, Clemson, Davidson, Missouri, Northern Iowa, Oklahoma, Tulane and Xavier.

“We enjoy the beauty and accommodations that are afforded in Puerto Rico and wanted to make every effort in playing the event in San Juan, but the concern for student-athlete and spectator welfare became the primary driver in the decision,” Pete Derzis, senior vice president of ESPN Events said in the official release.  “We intend to return to Puerto Rico in the future.”

Puerto Rico is currently under a Level 2 alert for Zika according to the CDC. Since there have been cases of Zika on the island with native mosquitoes, it’s probably a smart move to eliminate all concerns over the virus if they can easily move the tournament elsewhere. It probably isn’t ideal for fans who purchased travel packages to Puerto Rico to watch the event, but it’s a small price to pay for the safety of everyone involved.

The Puerto Rico Tourism Company is also upset with the decision as Executive Director Ingrid Rivera Rocafort released a statement on Monday night.

“We are disappointed about this decision that we believe has been based on fear not the facts about Puerto Rico,” the statement read.

“There is no public health reason to cancel the Puerto Rico Tip Off or any sporting event in Puerto Rico. There is no doubt that our strong fan base and local spectators would have turned out to support their teams. Less than one percent of Puerto Rico’s 3.5 million population has contracted Zika, a far cry from projections. The hype and misinformation is fostering irrational decisions.”

PHOTO: Purdue unveils statue of John Wooden outside Mackey Arena

John Wooden (Purdue Athletics)
Purdue Athletics
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John Wooden will forever be associated with the UCLA program for what he did while coaching there.

10 national titles in 12 years, including seven in a row. Not bad, right?

What some people may forget is that before he got into coaching, Wooden was one of the best basketball players in the world. He played his collegiate ball at Purdue, where he was a three-time all-american and the 1932 National Player of the Year.

To honor Wooden’s legacy as one of the greatest Boilermakers ever, Purdue built a statue of Wooden and unveiled it in front of Mackey Arena this weekend:

“Not many people think of Johnny Wooden as a Boilermaker, but when I got here in 1957, some of the old-timers still remembered him as a player,” Jim Hicks, the alumnus that donated the statue, said. “I’m so delighted that people will see this statue and read his Pyramid of Success because I think the pyramid was his most important contribution.”

One of the neat touches of the statue: Wooden’s Pyramid of Success is right there for all to see.

North Carolina lands third commitment in 2017 class

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 23: Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels looks on during the third round of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament against the Iowa State Cyclones at the AT&T Center on March 23, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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North Carolina picked up their third commitment in the Class of 2017 on Monday in big man Brandon Huffman.

A four-star prospect who will play his final season of high school ball at Word of God Academy in North Carolina, Huffman’s strength at this point in his development is as a defensive presence around the basket. He stands 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan and should be able to help replace Kennedy Meeks, who graduates this spring.

Huffman’s development on the offensive end of the floor isn’t quite there yet. A native of Anchorage, Alaska, Huffman is still learning how to be more influential on that end.

Huffman joins Jalek Felton and Andrew Platek in UNC’s 2017 class.