38 and Done: Kentucky loses late-game touch, potential perfect season, on college basketball’s biggest stage


INDIANAPOLIS — The media poured into the Kentucky locker room in silent fashion on Saturday night after the Wildcats’ perfect season ended at the hands of Wisconsin. You could hear a pin drop as dozens of reporters slowly filed in to see the swollen eyes and bewildered expressions on the faces of Kentucky’s players.

Most Wildcat players had towels over their heads while doing everything they could to squeeze their over-sized basketball frames as far into their tiny lockers as they possibly could. Reporters approached Kentucky’s players in the locker room, but nobody wanted to be the first to address any of the players.

“We understood we had a great season,” freshman point guard Tyler Ulis said in a quiet, reflective tone. “But, basically, everyone understands that we did it for nothing.”

“It’s like a movie… like… the main character dies,” junior big man Willie Cauley-Stein said. “And you’re like, ‘What?! Why did the main character die?’ And you’re just, like, super-hurt over the main character dying or the good guy, the guy you never suspect is going to die ends up dying. No cliffhangers, no nothing. That’s the way it feels.”

Wisconsin’s win over unbeaten Kentucky is not shocking because of the result — a No. 1 seed beating a No. 1 seed should never be considered that big of an upset.

What’s shocking is how Kentucky, so cool and calm under pressure all season long, finally succumbed in a late-game situation. Three shot-clock violations as Kentucky held a four-point lead with a little over 6 minutes left changed the entire momentum of the game.


So what happened to Kentucky’s offense? Was head coach John Calipari instructing his offense to run some clock while holding a lead? Three straight possessions ending in a shot-clock violation in a late-game situation would seem to indicate that the Wildcats were trying to slow things down and run clock. But Wisconsin’s defense forced Kentucky into some bad shots.

“It wasn’t planned, it was just the way their defense was set up,” Ulis said of the Wisconsin defense. “They were slowing things down, sagging off, and they just did a great job.”

For the first time all season, the Wildcats were on the ropes and didn’t have the late-game magic we’ve seen so much of this season.

“We didn’t slow it down. We were trying to post the ball, run the pick-and-rolls, the stuff we were running. They crowded a little bit, the guys got a little bit tentative,” Calipari said. “We were trying to still play. The thing that was tough is we are a finishing team, that’s what we’ve been, and we didn’t. They did and we didn’t. That’s why they’re still playing and we’re not.”

With Kentucky’s offense going completely stagnant during that stretch, it’s easy to wonder why Calipari kept putting the ball in the hands of the Harrison twins when they weren’t making plays. Andrew Harrison said some of the possessions going awry were the result of him not listening to coach’s instructions.

“Maybe I didn’t execute. I mean, we didn’t execute as a team,” Harrison said. “Me being the point guard, I didn’t do what coach told me on a couple of occasions.”

Calipari immediately came to the defense of his point guard without missing a beat.

“He did fine. You did fine,” Calipari re-assured Harrison.

Freshman center Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky’s late-game workhorse during the Elite 8 win over Notre Dame, also stopped getting consistent touches during that poor offensive stretch. Towns wouldn’t let Calipari — or his teammates — take the blame for the way the offense crumbled and didn’t get him the ball.

“Coach did a great job. We all did coming up to this game. We had an absolute beautiful game plan. We just got beat,” Towns said. “I mean, we can’t go by a coaching decision. Without Coach Calipari, we don’t even get to 38 at all, neither this 39th game. There’s no way it’s a coaching decision.”

Nobody is going to point fingers at each other over the loss in the Kentucky locker room, but it’s easy to wonder if Calipari could have done things a little differently?

Why didn’t Ulis see the floor sooner when Kentucky’s offense began struggling so mightily? The Wildcat offense moves the ball far more effectively with Ulis in the game because he’s the best natural distributor on the Kentucky roster and a completely selfless player.

Ulis wasn’t on the floor during all three possessions that ended in a shot-clock violation. He also remained on the bench after a timeout following those three lost possessions. You have to wonder if Calipari made the right call going with the Harrison twins’ brand of hero ball on those possessions over a play-making guard who seems to thrive in tough spots?

Given the Harrison twins’ propensity to make clutch plays late in games the last two seasons, it’s also understandable to see Calipari sticking with what has worked for Kentucky so many times before.

“If you want to blame somebody, blame me. We were down eight. The game probably should have been over. These kids just fought,” Calipari said. “All of a sudden I look up, we’re up four. I’m like, ‘we’re going to win this thing.’ Then, you know, a play here, a play there, all of a sudden we don’t post it. They crowd us, we don’t post it again, we take a late shot… We’re not a team that takes shot clock violations. We got three.”

The way Kentucky lost its perfect season is going to be dissected a million and one ways as people look back and wonder how a team that looked so unbeatable finally lost — and on college basketball’s biggest stage. What’s lost in the equation is how incredible it is that it took this long for Kentucky to lose a game this season. They’re still the first — and only — team to start a season 38-0.

Most end-of-game situations in close games involved the Wildcats wearing down an opponent like a boa constrictor slowly squeezing the life out of its prey. Against Wisconsin, Kentucky couldn’t get it done on either end of the floor with the game on the line. The Wildcat offense struggled and they couldn’t get necessary stops to stay within striking distance in the final minute.

The criticism for this loss — and the season without a national championship — is going to fall heavily on Calipari. He wants people to remember that Kentucky still went on an unprecedented run. And Calipari is not entirely wrong with that sentiment. Kentucky will just happen to be the historic footnote instead of the national champion when everybody looks back at the 2015 Final Four.

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.