Shabazz Napier sparks UConn’s win over Kentucky


With less than 30 seconds left in their semifinal matchup against Kentucky, UConn was clinging to a 54-52 lead.

Shabazz Napier had the ball in his hands, dribbling down the shot clock before the Huskies were going to try and put Kemba Walker in a position to score. But Brandon Knight knocked the ball out of Napier’s hands and Kentucky dove on it, calling a time out.

In the huddle, the UConn coaching staff was worried about how the freshman point guard was going to react. He had been an integral part of UConn’s defense, playing a major role in holding Knight to just 6-23 shooting from the floor, and Kentucky still had one possession left with a chance to tie or win the game.

But during the timeout, Napier looked at UConn head coach Jim Calhoun and said “Coach, I’ll make it up next play”. And while he didn’t exactly make it up the next play — when DeAndre Liggins missed a 24 foot three that would have won the game — Napier buried two free throws with 1.7 seconds left that clinched a trip to the national title game for the Huskies, 56-52.

UConn was not very good offensively. Kemba Walker played what was easily his worst game in the month of March, finishing with 18 points, seven assists, and six boards on 6-15 shooting. (It should tell you just how good Kemba has been in March that 18, seven, and six is considered an off night.) The Huskies shot just 1-12 from three. They turned the ball over 15 times. They only managed to get six offensive rebounds.

“I think that offensively we struggled with a lot of open shots. Obviously, they were loading up to find Jeremy and Kemba,” Calhoun said after the game.

“I thought Kemba could have had 12, 13 assists. We missed shots we usually should make and will make.”

UConn won this game with their defense.

There was Alex Oriakhi and Charles Okwandu in the paint, holding Josh Harrellson to just six points and four rebounds. There was the combined 2-14 that DeAndre Liggins and Darius Miller shot from the floor. In fact, outside of a four minute stretch to start the second half, when the Wildcats managed to score 14 points, Kentucky was downright atrocious on the offensive end.

They finished the game shooting 33.9 percent from the field. They were just 4-12 from the free-throw line. They averaged just 0.89 PPP, a number that drops all the way to 0.84 PPP if you factor out the three that Knight hit at the buzzer.

“I just think we missed a bunch of open shots,” Harrellson said. “We had good looks. Me, personally, I couldn’t knock anything down in the first half. Missed a bunch of one-footers. We had a bunch of good looks in the first half. We just couldn’t make anything.”

The best performance of the night, however, was the job that Napier did on Brandon Knight. Knight finished the game with just 17 points on 6-23 shooting from the floor. As poorly as Napier played offensively — 1-7 shooting, three turnovers — he was that good defensively.

“He played great, great defense,” Calhoun said. “Knight is a very young, good player that’s been going crazy. Tonight we call those costly points. I think that Knight is an absolutely magnificent player. But six for 23 is expensive. That’s how we look at it. We try to use that term defensively. In other words, if you take a lot of tough shots, that’s expensive because your field-goal percentage goes down and we in turn have a much better chance to win.”

Perhaps the most telling statistic for the Wildcats is that despite getting 15 offensive rebounds on the night, they were only able to score five second chance points. Combine that with the 4-12 free throw shooting, and Kentucky’s inability to capitalize on the opportunities that they had probably cost them.

I am an avid supporter of the use of advance statistics in college hoops. If you aren’t looking at Kenpom’s web site, then you aren’t truly informed about college basketball. There is so much to be learned by looking at a team or a game or a matchup through that lens. But one thing that cannot be gleaned from tempo-free stats is the ability to make a big play at a big moment.

Kenpom has yet to invent a stat for “rising to the occasion”, if you will.

And that is precisely what made the difference in tonight’s outcome.

Take, for example, a play midway through the second half. Doron Lamb looked like he had a wide open fast break layup, but Kemba chased him down and blocked the shot. Kentucky didn’t end up scoring on the possession, and the Huskies eventually won the game by one point.

That’s a relatively insignificant play. It won’t make Sportscenter. It won’t make the One Shining Moment cut. But the effect that it had on the game was enormous, and its the kind of play that is difficult to quantify on a stat sheet.

The final eight minutes of this game were filled with moments like that.

There was the steal and layup that Kemba had with just four minutes left in the game when he was clearly exhausted. There was the nifty, up-and-under lay-in that Napier had with just over two minutes left in the game. There was DeAndre Liggins stepping on the three point line when he drew a foul on Jeremy Lamb in the final minute. There was the three that Liggins missed at the end of the game that would have given Kentucky the lead in the final seconds.

And there was Napier, knocking down the two free throws at the end to seal the win.

UConn didn’t necessarily win on Saturday night because they played better or because they were the better team.

They won because they played better when it counted. The Huskies made the plays in the clutch. Kentucky didn’t.

And that is why UConn will play for the national.

Biden celebrates LSU women’s and UConn men’s basketball teams at separate White House events


WASHINGTON – All of the past drama and sore feelings associated with Louisiana State’s invitation to the White House were seemingly forgotten or set aside Friday as President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcomed the championship women’s basketball team to the mansion with smiles, hugs and lavish praise all around.

The visit had once appeared in jeopardy after Jill Biden suggested that the losing Iowa team be invited, too. But none of that was mentioned as both Bidens heralded the players for their performance and the way they have helped advance women’s sports.

“Folks, we witnessed history,” the president said. “In this team, we saw hope, we saw pride and we saw purpose. It matters.”

The ceremony was halted for about 10 minutes after forward Sa’Myah Smith appeared to collapse as she and her teammates stood behind Biden. A wheelchair was brought in and coach Kim Mulkey assured the audience that Smith was fine.

LSU said in a statement that Smith felt overheated, nauseous and thought she might faint. She was evaluated by LSU and White House medical staff and was later able to rejoin the team. “She is feeling well, in good spirits, and will undergo further evaluation once back in Baton Rouge,” the LSU statement said.

Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, Biden said, more than half of all college students are women, and there are now 10 times more female athletes in college and high school. He said most sports stories are still about men, and that that needs to change.

Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs and activities.

“Folks, we need to support women sports, not just during the championship run but during the entire year,” President Biden said.

After the Tigers beat Iowa for the NCAA title in April in a game the first lady attended, she caused an uproar by suggesting that the Hawkeyes also come to the White House.

LSU star Angel Reese called the idea “A JOKE” and said she would prefer to visit with former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, instead. The LSU team largely is Black, while Iowa’s top player, Caitlin Clark, is white, as are most of her teammates.

Nothing came of Jill Biden’s idea and the White House only invited the Tigers. Reese ultimately said she would not skip the White House visit. She and co-captain Emily Ward presented team jerseys bearing the number “46” to Biden and the first lady. Hugs were exchanged.

Jill Biden also lavished praise on the team, saying the players showed “what it means to be a champion.”

“In this room, I see the absolute best of the best,” she said, adding that watching them play was “pure magic.”

“Every basket was pure joy and I kept thinking about how far women’s sports have come,” the first lady added, noting that she grew up before Title IX was passed. “We’ve made so much progress and we still have so much more work to do.”

The president added that “the way in which women’s sports has come along is just incredible. It’s really neat to see, since I’ve got four granddaughters.”

After Smith was helped to a wheelchair, Mulkey told the audience the player was OK.

“As you can see, we leave our mark where we go,” Mulkey joked. “Sa’Myah is fine. She’s kind of, right now, embarrassed.”

A few members of Congress and Biden aides past and present with Louisiana roots dropped what they were doing to attend the East Room event, including White House budget director Shalanda Young. Young is in the thick of negotiations with House Republicans to reach a deal by the middle of next week to stave off what would be a globally calamitous U.S. financial default if the U.S. can no longer borrow the money it needs to pay its bills.

The president, who wore a necktie in the shade of LSU’s purple, said Young, who grew up in Baton Rouge, told him, “I’m leaving the talks to be here.” Rep. Garret Graves, one of the House GOP negotiators, also attended.

Biden closed sports Friday by changing to a blue tie and welcoming the UConn’s men’s championship team for its own celebration. The Huskies won their fifth national title by defeating San Diego State, 76-59, in April.

“Congratulations to the whole UConn nation,” he said.

Marquette’s Prosper says he will stay in draft rather than returning to school

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MILWAUKEE — Olivier-Maxence Prosper announced he is keeping his name under NBA draft consideration rather than returning to Marquette.

The 6-foot-8 forward announced his decision.

“Thank you Marquette nation, my coaches, my teammates and support staff for embracing me from day one,” Prosper said in an Instagram post. “My time at Marquette has been incredible. With that being said, I will remain in the 2023 NBA Draft. I’m excited for what comes next. On to the next chapter…”

Prosper had announced last month he was entering the draft. He still could have returned to school and maintained his college eligibility by withdrawing from the draft by May 31. Prosper’s announcement indicates he instead is going ahead with his plans to turn pro.

Prosper averaged 12.5 points and 4.7 rebounds last season while helping Marquette go 29-7 and win the Big East’s regular-season and tournament titles. Marquette’s season ended with a 69-60 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.

He played two seasons at Marquette after transferring from Clemson, where he spent one season.

Kansas’ Kevin McCullar Jr. returning for last season of eligibility

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Kevin McCullar Jr. said that he will return to Kansas for his final year of eligibility, likely rounding out a roster that could make the Jayhawks the preseason No. 1 next season.

McCullar transferred from Texas Tech to Kansas for last season, when he started 33 of 34 games and averaged 10.7 points and 7.0 rebounds. He was also among the nation’s leaders in steals, and along with being selected to the Big 12’s all-defensive team, the 6-foot-6 forward was a semifinalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award.

“To be able to play in front of the best fans in the country; to play for the best coach in the nation, I truly believe we have the pieces to hang another banner in the Phog,” McCullar said in announcing his return.

Along with McCullar, the Jayhawks return starters Dajuan Harris Jr. and K.J. Adams from a team that went 28–8, won the Big 12 regular-season title and was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where it lost to Arkansas in the second round.

Perhaps more importantly, the Jayhawks landed Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson, widely considered the best player in the portal, to anchor a lineup that was missing a true big man. They also grabbed former five-star prospect Arterio Morris, who left Texas, and Towson’s Nick Timberlake, who emerged last season as one of the best 3-point shooters in the country.

The Jayhawks also have an elite recruiting class arriving that is headlined by five-star recruit Elmarko Jackson.

McCullar declared for the draft but, after getting feedback from scouts, decided to return. He was a redshirt senior last season, but he has another year of eligibility because part of his career was played during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a big day for Kansas basketball,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “Kevin is not only a terrific player but a terrific teammate. He fit in so well in year one and we’re excited about what he’ll do with our program from a leadership standpoint.”

Clemson leading scorer Hall withdraws from NBA draft, returns to Tigers

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CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson leading scorer PJ Hall is returning to college after withdrawing from the NBA draft on Thursday.

The 6-foot-10 forward took part in the NBA combine and posted his decision to put off the pros on social media.

Hall led the Tigers with 15.3 points per game this past season. He also led the Tigers with 37 blocks, along with 5.7 rebounds. Hall helped Clemson finish third in the Atlantic Coast Conference while posting a program-record 14 league wins.

Clemson coach Brad Brownell said Hall gained experience from going through the NBA’s combine that will help the team next season. “I’m counting on him and others to help lead a very talented group,” he said.

Hall was named to the all-ACC third team last season as the Tigers went 23-10.

George Washington adopts new name ‘Revolutionaries’ to replace ‘Colonials’

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WASHINGTON — George Washington University’s sports teams will now be known as the Revolutionaries, the school announced.

Revolutionaries replaces Colonials, which had been GW’s name since 1926. Officials made the decision last year to drop the old name after determining it no longer unified the community.

GW said 8,000 different names were suggested and 47,000 points of feedback made during the 12-month process. Revolutionaries won out over the other final choices of Ambassadors, Blue Fog and Sentinels.

“I am very grateful for the active engagement of our community throughout the development of the new moniker,” president Mark S. Wrighton said. “This process was truly driven by our students, faculty, staff and alumni, and the result is a moniker that broadly reflects our community – and our distinguished and distinguishable GW spirit.”

George the mascot will stay and a new logo developed soon for the Revolutionaries name that takes effect for the 2023-24 school year. The university is part of the Atlantic 10 Conference.