No. 2 Arizona pulls away from No. 6 Xavier, setting up West regional final rematch

source: AP

LOS ANGELES — With both teams not playing anywhere near their best in the first half, it was appropriate that No. 2 Arizona and No. 6 Xavier went into the locker room tied at 28 apiece. The second half was just as tight, but it was the Wildcats who were able to make the plays their needed to make as the game progressed.

Sean Miller’s team won by the final score of 68-60, setting up a rematch with No. 1 Wisconsin in Saturday’s West regional final.

T.J. McConnell, who struggled in the first half, rebounded in the second with 13 points, three assists and just one turnover. And while big man Kaleb Tarczewski did manage to grab nine rebounds in the first half, he couldn’t get much done when it came to finishing around the basket. Things turned around in the second half for the 7-foot junior, as he scored ten points and finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds.

Tarczewski was effective in his job on both ends of the floor, as his defense was good enough to keep Xavier’s Matt Stainbrook from helping his teammates find shots. While Stainbrook finished with 17 points and ten rebounds, just one of those boards was offensive and he also also finished with just two assists. Those contributions may be overlooked by many, but not by Tarczewski’s head coach.

“Kaleb is the one guy on our team who doesn’t get enough credit,” Miller said of his starting center. “A lot of times he’s not our leading scorer, and we have a balanced group, so our leading scorer a lot of times gets the credit for playing or the reason we won. But he does his job, is how I would describe him.

“There aren’t many front-court players that can play Stainbrook one-on-one like he did. Now, Stainbrook had his moments, and if you look 17-10 is a great night. But he had one offensive rebound, and one of the strategies for us is we didn’t want him to provide 10 to 20 points for his teammates.”

A key for Arizona in the second half was better shot discipline against Xavier’s defensive looks, be it man to man or a 1-3-1 zone defense that gave the Wildcats fits in the first stanza. Using a look that Oregon State was able to successfully use against the Wildcats in a win earlier this season. Xavier was able to make Arizona tentative offensively, with the Wildcats settling for jump shots with many of them being challenged.

Thirteen of Arizona’s 32 shots were three-pointers in the first half, with the resulting percentage of shots taken from three (40.6 percent) was much too high for Sean Miller’s team. Entering Thursday just under 26 percent of Arizona’s shots were three-pointers, and they also weren’t all that effective hitting the offensive glass. That changed in the second half, as Arizona both committed to attacking off the dribble more and performing better on the glass.

“We drew it up in the sand halfway through the year because we thought our foot speed was really slow with our bigs, and we won a lot of games with that defense,” Mack said of the 1-3-1. “But a great team adjusts. They were driving it more than we’ve seen. In the first half they were a little bit hesitant. They missed a few shots. They held on to the ball a little bit longer.

“In the second half, they rebounded it and they also drove it a little bit more than we were used to. But we felt like we needed to play it as much as we could to win the game.”

Arizona also had adjustments to make defensively, as the tandem of Matt Stainbrook and Jalen Reynolds was a major factor (16 points combined) in the first half. Their physicality played a role in Xavier scoring 22 of its 28 points in the paint, which kept the Musketeers in the game despite poor perimeter shooting. In the second half Arizona limited the Musketeers to 12 points in the paint and won the battle on the boards, with Stainbrook picking up three fouls over a span of 51 seconds in the second half (6:18 to 5:27) serving as a needed catalyst in that regard.

“We were getting out-rebounded the whole game,” Stanley Johnson, who finished with 12 points and six rebounds, said after the game. “The first war, which is the first four minutes of the second half, we got out-rebounded by five.

“I think [Stainbrook’s] out of the game, and having a 270-pound body out of the way, we started getting rebounds and we got the advantage on the boards. That’s been the story of the season for us; when we defend and rebound, it’s hard to beat us.”

Defense and rebounding have served as barometers for Arizona all season long, and that will be the case Saturday afternoon against Wisconsin as well. The good news for Arizona moving forward is that they’ve likely seen zone for the last time this season, but the keys offensively remain the same. The Wildcats can’t settle for shots, something they did for most of the first 30 minutes against Xavier, if they’re to avenge last year’s Elite Eight defeat at the hands of the Badgers.

North Carolina transfer Caleb Love commits to Arizona

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Caleb Love is now headed to Arizona.

The North Carolina transfer tweeted, less than a month after decommitting from Michigan, that he will play next season with the Wildcats.

“Caleb is a tremendously talented guard who has significant experience playing college basketball at a high level,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said in a statement. “We look forward to helping Caleb grow his game at Arizona. And as we near the completion of the roster for the upcoming season, we feel great about how everything has come together. Now it’s time for the real work to start.”

A 6-foot-4 guard, Love averaged 14.6 points and 3.3 assists in three seasons at North Carolina. He averaged 17.6 points in seven NCAA Tournament games, helping lead the Tar Heels to the 2022 national championship game.

Love entered the transfer portal after leading North Carolina with 73 3-pointers as a junior and initially committed to Michigan. He decommitted from the Wolverines earlier this month, reportedly due to an admissions issue involving academic credits.

Love narrowed his transfer targets to three schools before choosing to play at Arizona over Gonzaga and Texas.

Love will likely start on a team that will have dynamic perimeter players, including Pelle Larsson, Kylan Boswell and Alabama transfer Jaden Bradley.

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

kansas mccullar
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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

clemson pj hall
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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.