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Notre Dame beats UConn on Arike Ogunbowale’s last-second jumper in OT

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Arike Ogunbowale etched her name in Notre Dame lore with the shot that lifted the Irish over rival UConn.

Ogunbowale’s jumper from the corner with a second left gave Notre Dame a 91-89 overtime victory Friday night, handing the Huskies their second straight stunning and sudden end to an undefeated season in the national semifinals.

She finished with 27 points and Jackie Young had a career-high 32 to lead the Irish back to the championship game for the first time since 2015.

“I know I just had to shoot it at the last minute,” Ogunbowale said. “I didn’t want to give them a chance to get the ball. I went into Mamba mentality. Kobe’s here, so that’s what I tried to channel.”

It’s the second consecutive year an undefeated UConn team lost in the Final Four on a last-second shot in overtime. Last time it was Mississippi State and Morgan William, ending the Huskies’ 111-game win streak.

“There’s nothing you can say to a college kid after experiencing this two years in a row that’s going to make them feel any better about, you know,” Geno Auriemma said. “We had an amazing run for five months. That’s just the way it is. One weekend in March gets to decide your season.”

The Irish will face the Bulldogs — who won again in OT earlier Friday — on Sunday night in the title game. Muffet McGraw’s squad will be looking for its second national championship to go with the one the Irish won in 2001.

Ogunbowale had a chance to seal the game in the final minute of overtime, but she missed two free throws. Crystal Dangerfield then hit a 3-pointer to tie it at 89, setting up the fantastic finish. The Huskies threw the ball down the court after the 3, but didn’t get a chance to tie it.

“We were a little dejected at the end of regulation, but Arike I think was madder than anyone,” McGraw said. “She wanted the ball in her hands and we put it there for the end of the game.”

This was the latest chapter in the greatest current rivalry in women’s basketball. The sellout crowd that included Lakers great Kobe Bryant, who was sitting behind the Huskies bench with his wife and daughters, saw quite the show with epic comebacks from both teams. Bryant later tweeted at Ogunbowale, “Big Time shot Arike!”

Notre Dame has never beaten the Huskies in the national championship game. They now have won four of the five meetings in the Final Four, including twice in overtime.

“It was the second or third time we beat them in the semifinal, that’s been our lucky charm,” McGraw said. “We can’t seem to beat them in the final. To have a big lead, squander that and come from behind, this one is really special. It’s got to be the best one.”

UConn was down five with under a minute to go in regulation before Napheesa Collier hit a 3-pointer with 15 seconds left and Kia Nurse had a steal for a layup a few seconds later to tie it. After Notre Dame turned it over with 3.6 seconds left in regulation, Gabby Williams’ runner was short, sending the game to overtime.

The teams traded shot for shot in overtime before the Irish led 86-84 with 2:37 left in the extra period. Young then made three free throws over the next 2 minutes to give the Irish a five-point lead with 43 seconds left.

Collier then scored to make it a three-point game. Ogunbowale missed her two free throws a few seconds later. She atoned 37 seconds after a Notre Dame timeout with the shot that set off a wild celebration from the Irish faithful that made the trip.

“I practice this all the time,” Ogunbowale said. “It’s everyone’s dream to get a game-winning shot, so you practice this in the gym when you’re by yourself. So I was prepared for this moment.”

This might be one of the most improbable NCAA runs by McGraw’s team, despite being a No. 1 seed. The Irish lost four players over the course of the season to ACL injuries. With only seven healthy scholarship players left, the Irish rallied from second-half deficits in the last three NCAA games.

Just like their regular-season meeting, Notre Dame started out hot. The Huskies trailed 24-11 late in the first quarter before Katie Lou Samuelson hit a 3-pointer just before the end of the period. That began a 28-6 run over the next 9 minutes to give the Huskies a 39-30 advantage. Azura Stevens had 10 points during the run as UConn took over, much to the delight of the sellout crowd of nearly 20,000 fans.

The Huskies (36-1) led 41-34 at the half before Notre Dame rallied. The teams traded the lead in the third quarter before the Huskies went up 60-57 heading into the fourth quarter.

Collier finished with 24 points for the Huskies. Stevens added 19.

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.