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UConn women back to the Final Four with rout of South Carolina

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ALBANY, N.Y. — Crystal Dangerfield scored 19 of her 21 points in the first half, and top-seeded UConn routed No. 2 South Carolina 94-65 on Monday night to reach the Final Four for the 11th consecutive year.

The Albany Regional final featured the past two NCAA champions in a rare occurrence for the women’s tournament. The Huskies (36-0) quickly turned it into a mismatch with stellar 3-point shooting. UConn went right at South Carolina in the opening quarter, hitting nine of its 14 shots — including 5 of 6 from beyond the arc — to go up 30-12.

Katie Lou Samuelson had nine points, including a four-point play, during the first 10 minutes. Dangerfield capped the opening burst with a 3-pointer from the top of the key just before the end of the quarter.

The Huskies stayed hot from behind the arc, connecting on 9 of 10 3-pointers in the half — including a perfect 5 for 5 by Dangerfield. Her last 3 of the second quarter made it 52-31 and delighted a crowd that included former UConn greats Tina Charles and Breanna Stewart, who helped the Huskies to four consecutive national championships. Stewart grew up 2 hours west of Albany.

Gabby Williams scored 23 points, Samuelson finished with 17 and Napheesa Collier had 16 as UConn scored the most points in school history for this round of the NCAA Tournament. Williams was named most outstanding player of the region.

The loss ended the stellar career of South Carolina post A’ja Wilson. The unanimous AP All-American, who grew up a few miles from the Gamecocks’ campus, helped the school win its first national championship last season and guided the team to two Final Fours in her four years. She did all she could to make it a third trip to the national semifinals.

She finished with 27 points for South Carolina (29-7), but it wasn’t nearly enough. Coach Dawn Staley took her star out with just over 3 minutes left in the game and her team down 31 points.

MEETING OF FORMER CHAMPS: This was the first time the previous two national champions met in the NCAAs since 1997 when UConn lost to Tennessee. It had happened twice before that.

STRONG ATTENDANCE: Albany had the best attendance of the four regionals, with over 10,000 fans coming on Friday night for the semifinals and 9,522 showing up Monday night. That two-day total easily eclipsed the 15,949 from 2015 when Albany last hosted the regional.

“The attendance is a result of a lot of hard work by people in the community who are interested in seeing women’s basketball develop to a higher level in Albany,” MAAC commissioner Rich Ensor said. “We got fortunate with the addition of Buffalo, it brought a state interest to the mix of teams. We were very fortunate to have the defending national champ playing the perennial national champ in our final.”

Albany will host again next year.

“Having it back-to-back years lays a foundation to build on,” Ensor said. “Good word of mouth from 2015 helped this year. Size of crowds this year will help sell tickets earlier in 2019.”

UP NEXT:

UConn will face the winner of the Spokane Regional final that features Notre Dame and Oregon.

Syracuse’s Tyus Battle to test NBA draft waters

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Syracuse announced on Friday afternoon that sophomore guard Tyus Battle will be declaring for the NBA draft without signing with an agent, giving him until the NCAA’s May 30th deadline to withdraw from contention and return to school.

Battle averaged 19.2 points as a sophomore for the Orange, who made a surprising run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

He is a projected late-first round or early-second round pick given his size, shooting ability and skill with the ball in his hands.

Losing Battle would be a massive blow to a Syracuse team that is already going to be without Matthew Moyer, who transferred out of the program, and Dareus Bazley, who is heading to the G League instead of enrolling in college.

Maryland’s Kevin Huerter declares for NBA draft, won’t hire agent

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Maryland wing Kevin Huerter announced on Friday afternoon that he will be declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, giving him the option of returning to school by May 30th.

“This will be a great experience for Kevin to get honest feedback from NBA teams and executives,” said head coach Mark Turgeon. “Taking advantage of this opportunity will allow Kevin and his family to make an informed decision about his future.”

Huerter is a 6-foot-7 wing known for his ability to shoot from the perimeter. He averaged 14.8 points and shot 42 percent from three as a sophomore.

He is also the third player from Maryland to declare for the 2018 NBA Draft. Justin Jackson, a borderline first round pick who missed time last season with a shoulder injury, has signed with an agent while Bruno Fernando is testing the waters. Maryland, who has an excellent recruiting class coming in, will be a preseason top 20 team if Huerter and Fernando both return to school.

Huerter is a borderline first round pick.

Michigan’s Charles Matthews to test NBA draft waters

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Michigan guard Charles Matthews announced on Friday that he will be declaring for the NBA draft, but that he does not intend to sign with an agent, meaning he has until May 30th to withdraw from the draft and return to school.

“After careful consideration with my parents and coaching staff, I am excited to announce that I will be declaring for the 2018 NBA Draft without hiring an agent,” said Matthews. “I give thanks to the Lord for this amazing opportunity, as well as the entire University of Michigan for their support. Go Blue!”

Matthews, a redshirt sophomore that averaged 13.0 points and 5.5 boards for the national runners-up, was a four-star prospect coming out of Chicago and spent his freshman season at Kentucky.

Matthews is a likely second round pick with the potential to climb into the first round should he prove to be a more consistent three-point shooter. He shot just 31.8 percent from beyond the arc this past season.

Virginia’s Hunter to return to school for sophomore season

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De’Andre Hunter announced on Friday afternoon that he will not be entering his name into the NBA draft and will return to Virginia for his redshirt sophomore season, a decision that will have as much of an impact on the 2018-19 college basketball season as any that is made this spring.

Hunter, now a potential top ten pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, was one of the breakout stars of the 2017-18 season. A 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, Hunter averaged 9.2 points and 3.5 boards while shooting 38.2 percent from three in just under 20 minutes a night for a Virginia team whose pace severely limits the kind of numbers a player like him can put up.

Throw in his ability to defend on the perimeter and in the paint, and Hunter is precisely the kind of player that NBA teams are looking to land as basketball becomes more and more built on positional versatility and the ability to space the floor.

And it’s that versatility that will make Hunter so important for the Cavaliers next season.

Let’s go beyond the simple fact that he is going to be the only guy on the Virginia roster that can create his own shot against length and athleticism and that there is a chance that he could end up being an all-american next season if things play out the right way. What makes Hunter so important to Virginia his that his defensive versatility is what allows Virginia to matchup with teams that want to try and play small-ball against them.

That’s precisely what UMBC did in the first round of the NCAA tournament, a game that Hunter missed with a broken wrist. We all know how that played out, and I’m not even dumb enough to pin all the blame of a 20-point loss to a No. 16 seed on a guy that played less than 20 minutes a night.

Virginia choked once they realized that there was a chance this could happen, but I would argue that a major reason they couldn’t ever truly assert their dominance was because they were unable to matchup with UMBC’s four-guard lineup without Hunter.

With Hunter back, Virginia is the No. 6 team in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25. If he had declared for the draft and signed with an agent, I’m not sure I would have had the Wahoos in the top 20.

He takes Tony Bennett’s club from simply being good to once against being a contender for the ACC regular season title.

Vanderbilt the sixth Kentucky player declares for the NBA draft

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Jarred Vanderbilt is now the sixth Kentucky Wildcat to declare for the NBA draft this spring, joining P.J. Washington and Wenyen Gabriel in testing the waters without signing with an agent.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo have all declared for the draft and signed with an agent.

Vanderbilt announced his decision on Friday afternoon.

“This season wasn’t easy for me,” Vanderbilt said. “At the end of the day, my goal has always been to make it to the NBA.”

“I know I have more to my game to show, but now I’ve got to figure out if the time is right for me to do it at the next level or if I would be better to return to school.”

Vanderbilt missed the first 17 games of his freshman season with a left foot injury, a foot that he had injured twice before during his high school career. He then missed all four of Kentucky’s postseason games with a left ankle injury, and there is a chance that he could end up needing surgery to correct this issue this offseason.

All told, the 6-foot-9 Vanderbilt played in 14 games as a freshman, averaging 5.9 points and 7.9 boards in just 17 minutes a night. But issues with his ability to shoot from the perimeter and a lower left leg that has proven to be extremely problematic, there is a good chance that Vanderbilt would go undrafted should he decide to turn pro.