UConn, Geno Auriemma raising the bar in women’s game more important than Wooden comparisons

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UConn looks to move to 10-0 in national title games (AP)

With the juggernaut that is No. 1 UConn a victory over No. 1 Notre Dame away from earning its tenth national title, one of the focuses will be the achievements of head coach Geno Auriemma. A win would also be his tenth national title, matching the number reached by the late John Wooden at UCLA. Are there differences in the ways the two great coaches went about their business? Sure there are, and Auriemma said as much during the team’s press conference Monday afternoon.

“Well, we are a lot different. Come from different eras, different backgrounds,” Auriemma said. “I couldn’t tell you one piece of that pyramid, because at the time that I was growing up and they were winning every game, I was more interested in, you know, how good Mike Warren was.

“I was more interested in how Valley shot the ball or why Shackleford was so good, or, holy s***, they’ve got Sidney Wicks and Curtis Rowe and they’re still winning like that. So I didn’t pay attention to the other stuff.”

When it comes to Auriemma’s work, focusing on how he compares to Wooden shouldn’t come at the expense of acknowledging how he’s transformed UConn basketball into the program that currently sets the bar in women’s college basketball.

A young program that didn’t play its first season of college basketball until the 1974-75 campaign (it isn’t all that uncommon for programs to be that young, with Title IX being signed into law in 1972), UConn women’s basketball tallied just one winning season prior to Auriemma’s move to Storrs. Auriemma won the program’s first Big East title in his third season at the helm, and two years later the Huskies made their first Final Four appearance.

While it took more four years for the program to win its first national title, with Rebecca Lobo and company running the table (35-0) and beating Tennessee in the title game, the work then set the stage for UConn moving forward. Not only did they engage in a chase for supremacy in the sport with a Tennessee program that under Pat Summitt set the bar, UConn eventually caught up and raised that bar even higher.

Detractors may use that dominance as an excuse to not tune in, citing the product as being “boring” and lacking intrigue, the excellence of those elite programs has helped boost others as well. While UConn has dominated the trophy count of late, winning four of the last six national titles (Huskies have won eight since 2000, with the rest of the country getting seven), other programs have stepped forward.

Notre Dame, their opponents Tuesday night, won a national title in 2001 and has been in each of the last five Final Fours and other national champions (who didn’t win one prior to UConn’s first in 1994-95) include Baylor (twice), Maryland and Texas A&M.

The Fighting Irish have enjoyed success against UConn in the past, having won seven of the last eleven meetings and holding a 3-2 record against the Huskies in national semifinal/title games (all three wins coming in the semis). It’s a game they look forward to, and it’s one that has helped Muffet McGraw build her program into one of the nation’s best. With that being the case, they won’t show up at Amalie Arena in Tampa looking to participate in some kind of coronation, but there is an understanding of what this matchup has done for all involved.

“I like playing UConn.  It’s definitely a learning experience,” Notre Dame guard Jewell Loyd said Monday. “Winning and losing against them, whatever it is, you learn so much and it really‑‑ I think it’s good. Every time we’ve played them, it’s always been a good battle. That’s what you want for women’s sports.”

UConn entered the Final Four as prohibitive favorites, and that remains the case ahead of the national title game. National Player of the Year Breanna Stewart leads the way for a team with three first team All-Americans (Moriah Jefferson and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis being the others) and a fourth player in Morgan Tuck who many, including McGraw, believe is deserving of such praise herself.

With that kind of talent comes the pressure of expectation, especially with UConn have a 9-0 record in championship games, but that’s something the program’s had to navigate for quite some time. However being undefeated in title games isn’t an achievement that’s taken lightly, even with the amount of success that the Huskies have experienced.

“You don’t realize while you’re doing it, but when you bring it up like that and you really force yourself to look back, man, I really can’t explain it either.  Can’t explain it,” Auriemma said Monday when asked about the 9-0 record in title games.

“And I said this [Sunday], for those of you that were here, it’s going to end,” Auriemma continued. “It might end tomorrow. Might end if we’re in that situation next year, following year. This isn’t something that’s going to last forever. Not going to win every single championship game that we’re in, if we’re in some more, but up to this point, man, it is something that’s really hard to explain. And I’m just incredibly grateful.”

One year after going 40-0, UConn is one victory away from winning a third straight national title and putting together a three-year stretch of 113 wins and five losses. While some will point to that dominance as an example of what’s “wrong” with women’s college basketball, the fact of the matter is that it isn’t their responsibility to make sure everything’s “even” like in youth sports (in some cases, not all) where every kid gets a ribbon for showing up.

Other programs have worked to reach UConn’s level and will continue to do so, which can only be a positive for the sport moving forward. UConn’s “job” is to set the bar, not make sure that others can reach it, and that is the case for great teams/programs in any sport. For that achievement, Auriemma and his program should be commended.

Report: Notre Dame closing deal with PSU’s Shrewsberry

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
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Notre Dame is finalizing a deal to make Penn State’s Micah Shrewsberry its new men’s basketball coach, two people with direct knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The people spoke on condition of anonymity because contract details were still being completed and needed school approval.

Shrewsberry, in his second season at Penn State (23-14), led the Nittany Lions to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011 and a tournament victory for the first time since 2001.

The Nittany Lions beat Texas A&M and were eliminated by Texas in the second round.

Notre Dame has been searching for a replacement for Mike Brey, who spent the last 23 season as coach of the Fighting Irish. He announced in January that this would be his last season with Notre Dame

The Irish finished 11-21.

Shrewsberry grew up in Indianapolis and went to school at Division III Hanover College in Indiana.

He was the head coach at Indiana University South Bend, an NAIA school located in the same city as Notre Dame, from 2005-07.

He later worked as an assistant coach at Butler and Purdue, with a stint as an assistant with the Boston Celtics in between.

ESPN first reported Notre Dame was close to a deal with Shrewsberry.

Bacot says he’s returning for fifth season at North Carolina

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina forward Armando Bacot is returning to play a fifth season for the Tar Heels.

Bacot announced his decision Wednesday, giving North Carolina fans a bit of good news after the Tar Heels failed to reach the NCAA Tournament.

The 6-foot-11 Bacot is North Carolina’s career leader in rebounds, double-doubles and double-figure rebounding games.

Bacot led North Carolina to a runner-up finish in last year’s NCAA Tournament, and his decision to return was a major reason the Tar Heels were ranked No. 1 in the preseason Associated Press Top 25.

The Tar Heels didn’t come close to meeting those expectations. They went 20-13 and opted against playing in the NIT. Bacot earned Associated Press All-America third-team honors and averaged 15.9 points and 10.4 rebounds.

He averaged 16.3 points and 13.1 rebounds in 2021-22. He capped that season by becoming the first player ever to have six double-doubles in one NCAA Tournament.

Bacot participated in North Carolina’s Senior Night festivities this year. He has a fifth year of eligibility because of the waiver the NCAA granted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ed Cooley takes over at Georgetown with lofty aspirations

Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
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WASHINGTON – Ed Cooley’s task at Georgetown is to bring a once-storied program back to prominence in a competitive conference that has three teams still part of March Madness in the Sweet 16.

Cooley’s lofty aspirations go beyond lifting the Hoyas up from the bottom of the Big East Conference. After leaving Providence, which he took to the NCAA Tournament seven times in 12 years, he already is talking about trying to coach Georgetown to its first championship since 1984.

At his introductory news conference Wednesday that felt like a pep rally, Cooley said he wanted current and former players to envision cutting down nets and watching “One Shining Moment” with the nets hanging around their necks. He promised wins – many of them – and plotted a path forward that he knows will involve some tough times.

“It’s a process, and the process now, because you have a changing landscape in athletics, you’ll have an opportunity to probably move it quicker than you would have 10, 20 years ago,” Cooley said. “We’re going to lose some games. It’s OK. Losing’s part of growth. But over the course of time, it will pay off.”

Georgetown has lost a lot the past couple of years under Patrick Ewing, who was fired earlier this month after six seasons. The team went 7-25 this season after going 6-25 last season and lost 37 of 39 games in Big East play.

While Cooley at Providence was responsible for four of those defeats, the 53-year-old distanced himself from Georgetown’s recent run of losing.

“I don’t have anything to do what happened yesterday,” he said. “My job is to move us forward from today.”

Cooley’s mere presence is an acknowledgement that Georgetown needed a major change to become relevant again. After late Hall of Fame coach John Thompson’s 27-year-old run led to longtime assistant Craig Esherick succeeding him and then son John Thompson III and Ewing getting the head job, Cooley is the school’s first outsider in the position in a half-century.

His only connection to the Hilltop – beyond coaching in the Big East – is his daughter, Olivia, attending Georgetown. Cooley, a Providence native, said her desire to live in the Washington area played into his decision to leave for a conference rival.

It was certainly no accident that athletic director Lee Reed and school president John J. DeGioia used phrases like “new era” and “new chapter” when discussing Cooley. DeGioia said he believes Cooley will “uplift and restore this team” to compete at the highest levels of the sport.

“He has a proven record of success,” Reed said. “We knew we needed a leader, someone who understood our identity and could reimagine Georgetown basketball to fit today’s unique basketball landscape.”

That landscape, including players being able to profit off the use of their name, image and likeness (NIL) and more easily transfer schools, are the biggest changes Cooley has seen since landing his first head job at Fairfield in 2006. He expects to be aggressive, and given the high volume of Georgetown players coming and going via the transfer portal, could rebuild the roster in his image sooner rather than later.

“You have to find student-athletes that fit the way you want to play, your style of play, that fit you as a coach,” Cooley said. “We need to find players that can play for me that can attend Georgetown, not the other way around.”

Cooley acknowledged that some luck is needed but also stressed recruiting local talent to keep the best players in the region around. That’s just one building block to putting Georgetown back on the map, which Cooley wants the time and latitude to do.

“The word patience is always hard because everybody wants it and they want it right now,” he said. “Everybody wants it right now. Have a little bit of patience.”

Texas’ Arterio Morris plays amid misdemeanor domestic violence case

Amy Kontras-USA TODAY Sports
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AUSTIN, Texas — In a season when Texas fired coach Chris Beard after a felony domestic violence arrest, it has allowed a reserve guard to keep playing while he awaits trial on a misdemeanor charge of assaulting an ex-girlfriend.

Second-seed Texas has advanced under interim coach Rodney Terry to the program’s first Sweet 16 since 2008, and the Longhorns play No. 3 Xavier in Kansas City, Missouri.

Arterio Morris, a freshman who was one of the top recruits in the country last year, was initially scheduled to stand trial March 29, three days before Final Four weekend. Denton County prosecutors were granted a delay to an unspecified date.

Beard was fired Jan. 5, about three weeks after he was arrested on suspicion of a felony charge of choking his fiancée in a fight during which she also told police he bit, and hit her. She later recanted the choking allegation and the Travis County district attorney dismissed the case, saying prosecutors were following her wishes not to got to trial and that the charge could not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

Morris is charged with Class A misdemeanor assault causing bodily injury to a family member, which in Texas includes dating relationships. It stems from a June 2022 confrontation in the Dallas suburb of Frisco. The charge carries penalties ranging from probation and fines to up to a year in jail if convicted.

Morris’ attorney, Justin Moore, said the charges against Beard and the player are different.

“(Beard) was charged with a felony family assault,” Moore said. “That was far more serious as to what Arterio was alleged to have to committed. We maintain Arterio’s innocence.”

According to police, the ex-girlfriend said Morris grabbed her arm and pulled her off a bed, and later pulled the front of her sports bra, causing an injury to her neck and shoulder area. Police reported seeing a sizable bruise or scratch.

Texas officials declined comment. Beard said before the season that school officials he would not identify determined the freshman could play this season.

Moore defended Texas officials’ decision to not suspend Morris.

“I do believe Texas has taken this seriously. They’ve also allowed Arterio to enjoy his due process rights,” Moore said.

Morris has played in all 36 games this season, although his minutes and have been limited on a senior-dominated team. He averages nearly 12 minutes and 4.7 points per game. His biggest moment was a soaring alley-oop dunk against Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament championship game.

Attempts to reach Morris’ ex-girlfriend through family members were not successful. According to online records, prosecutors sought the trial delay to “procure witness availability.” Prosecutor Jamie Beck did not immediately return messages.

Wichita State hires ORU’s Paul Mills to lead program

Russell Lansford-USA TODAY Sports
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Wichita State hired Paul Mills away from Oral Roberts to turn around its languishing men’s basketball program, landing what has been one of the hottest names among mid-major coaches.

The 50-year-old Mills led the the Golden Eagles to two of the past three NCAA Tournaments, engineering upsets of Ohio State and Florida as a No. 15 seed in 2021 before going 30-5 this past season and losing to Duke as a No. 5 seed.

He replaces Isaac Brown, who was fired after three seasons as the Shockers slowly slipped toward mediocrity.

“My family and I are extremely excited about being a part of Wichita State,” said Mills, who will be introduced during a news conference Thursday at Charles Koch Arena. “The rich history, winning tradition and unbelievable community support will keep us working on behalf of the greatest fans in all of college basketball.”

Mills got his break in coaching when he joined Scott Drew’s first staff at Baylor in 2003, working alongside future Kansas State coach Jerome Tang in helping to turn around a program that had been mired in controversy. Mills stayed for 14 years, helping to reach seven NCAA Tournaments, before replacing Scott Sutton at Oral Roberts before the 2017 season.

“I absolutely love Paul Mills. He’s like a brother to me. So happy for him and his family, for Wendy and the girls,” said Tang, who has Kansas State playing Michigan State in the Sweet 16 on Thursday night. “He’s going to be incredible because he is passionate about young people and about developing young men.

“There’s no throttle, like, hold-back governor on him in terms of love and what he pours into his guys.”

Mills went just 11-21 each of his first two seasons in Tulsa, but the seeds of a turnaround had been planted, and the Golden Eagles have not had a losing season since. The biggest step came two years ago, when Mills led Oral Roberts to the Sweet 16 of an NCAA Tournament played entirely within an Indianapolis “bubble environment” because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Golden Eagles slipped to 19-12 the following year before winning 30 games and the Summit League title this past season, when they were led by high-scoring guard Max Abmas, an honorable mention All-American selection.

“He’s the one that told me, he said, ‘Tang, 10s hangs with 10s and one hangs with ones,’” Tang said, “and he’s a 10 and he’s going to have some 10s around him.”

The hiring of Mills comes as the Shockers try to position themselves at the forefront of a new-look American Athletic Conference. Perennial powerhouse Houston is joining Central Florida and Cincinnati in leaving for the Big 12 after this season, and six new schools are due to arrive from Conference USA for the start of next season.

Wichita State, a power under Ralph Miller and Gene Smithson in the 1960s, returned to prominence when Mark Turgeon took over in 2000. But it was under Gregg Marshall, who resigned in November 2020 amid allegations of verbal and physical abuse of players, that it began to soar. The Shockers advanced to the Final Four in 2013, finished the regular season unbeaten the following year and at one point went to seven consecutive NCAA Tournaments.

Brown, who was Marshall’s top recruiter, led them back to the NCAA Tournament in his first year. But the Shockers were just 15-13 last year and 17-15 this past season, leading Saal to decide that a coaching change was necessary.

Turns out the answer Saal was looking for was just a few hours south at Oral Roberts.

“Paul Mills’ heart for people, passion for life and approach to the development of young people and programs is energizing,” Wichita State athletic director Kevin Saal said in a statement. “He aligns with Shocker Athletics’ core values, facilitates a first-class student-athlete experience and fuels broad-based competitive excellence.”