Villanova beats North Carolina on buzzer-beater to win national title

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HOUSTON — They call it “Nova.”

They practice the play every day during the “Wildcat Minute.” The purpose is to be prepared, regardless of the time on the clock, the score of the game and how many timeouts they have available. It’s a play that’s been in Jay Wright’s arsenal for years. Before Monday, the most famous shot during Wright’s tenure at Villanova came using “Nova” as point guard Scottie Reynolds took the ball the length of the floor in 5.5 seconds and finished a runner in traffic to beat Pitt in the 2009 Elite Eight.

The 2016 version of “Nova” substitutes Reynolds for Ryan Arcidiacono. Villanova’s trusted senior point guard is given the ball and tasked with taking a shot or finding an open option.

With 4.7 seconds left and Villanova tied with North Carolina at 74 with the national championship on the line, Arcidiacono made the right read, as he found trailing teammate, and inbounder, Kris Jenkins for the game-winning 3-pointer from the right wing as the Wildcats captured their second national championship in program history with a 77-74 win over North Carolina on Monday night.

The Jenkins buzzer-beating 3-pointer came out of a timeout right after a desperation, double-pump 3-pointer from North Carolina senior Marcus Paige that tied the game at 74, capping a wild sequence that will help this game go down as one of the greatest finishes in NCAA tournament history.

North Carolina trailed by 10 with 4:42 remaining but made a furious late rally to get back into things as Paige and his teammates wouldn’t give up.

But Jenkins, a 6-foot-6, 240-pound forward who was a recruiting afterthought for Villanova, had the final word as the confident junior hit the biggest shot of his life despite sitting on the bench for a good chunk of the game with foul trouble. Jenkins finished with 14 points as his buzzer-beater will go down in basketball lore as one of the best shots ever to win a championship.

“When I take the ball out, the defender usually follows the ball. So I was able to get in [Arcidiacono’s] line of vision,” Jenkins said. “I screamed his name, and he was able to flip it back to me.

“To have this opportunity to hit a game-winning shot, from a senior who was unselfish enough and gave up the ball, that could have been the final shot of his career. And I’m happy it turned out that way.”

Arcidiacono finished with 16 points, as he was named Most Outstanding Player of the 2016 NCAA tournament.

“The play is going to become famous now but all it really is is get the player you trust the most with the ball to make a decision and kind of open up the court,” Villanova assistant coach Baker Dunleavy said of “Nova.” “The final option was Kris coming behind, and give Ryan credit, he saw Kris’ man right in front of him and got it to him.

“Our scout team knows the play so it never works. But, of course, it works in the Elite Eight in 2009 and the final game in 2016. But, no, it never works in practice.”

The unselfish nature of the final play of the season perfectly captured the essence of Villanova basketball during the 2015-16 season — as well as the four-year career of Arcidiacono. The Big East regular season champions were constantly doubted during the season after some early tournament exits the last few years and early-season, double-digit losses to quality opponents like Oklahoma and Virginia. Without a bonafide future NBA player, the Wildcats relied on balance, toughness and keeping a positive attitude as they became an offensive juggernaut during most of the NCAA tournament.

Arcidiacono is the backbone to the Wildcats. A starter since his freshman season, the 6-foot-3 guard has made a ton of huge plays during his Villanova career. When you go over the history of Arcidiacono making big plays in critical moments, it’s easy to see why Villanova wanted the ball in his hands to make an important play.

“His freshman year, he had a buzzer-beater against Syracuse. His sophomore year he hit the huge buzzer-beater against Kansas in the Battle 4 Atlantis. Last year, at Butler, he had the ball in his hands with six seconds left, opportunity to make a play, found Darrun Hilliard open for a three at the buzzer,” Villanova assistant coach Ashley Howard said of Arcidiacono. “He’s been our guy, man. In crucial situations we’ve always gone to him. He’s always came through. I can remember at Providence last year, overtime game, he comes off a ball screen, gets to the basket, layup with two seconds left. He’s unflappable in those moments. He made the right play tonight and his legacy is going to be enormous at Villanova. Enormous. I’m proud of him.”

Arcidiacono was so impressive during the tournament that veteran broadcaster Jim Nantz approached the senior after the game and gave him the tie from around his neck. It’s a little-known tradition that Nantz does with a senior at the conclusion of every NCAA tournament.

“Jim Nantz came up to me, stopped me. I just thanked him for a great tournament, everything he did,” Arcidiacono said. “He said at the end of the tournament I always go to the winning team and I pick a senior who has inspired him throughout the tournament. He gives him the tie at the end. He said it was me. I was in awe. I didn’t know what to say. It was just a great honor from a really nice person.”

(Scott Phillips)
(Scott Phillips)

In the postgame locker room, Arcidiacono and Jenkins sat side-by-side as a media throng gathered around each of them. Jenkins was sitting in his chair, holding the national championship trophy and doing his “champions dance” while Arcidiacono had Nantz’s tie around his neck. Other players and coaches in the Villanova locker room could be heard repeatedly watching different angles of the Jenkins buzzer-beater on phones as they tried to wrap their heads around being a part of one of the greatest basketball games of all time.

“That’s been our team all season. Nobody cares who gets the credit,” Howard said. “Guys play hard for each other on both ends of the floor. And that last play was just a testament to that. Ryan could have easily forced a shot, game goes into overtime, no big deal. But he made the right play because he trusted his brother and Kris came through for him.”

Arcidiacono, Jenkins and the rest of the 2016 Villanova Wildcats will undoubtedly be legends around campus and Philadelphia — mentioned now in the same breath as the 1985 team that is still the highest-seeded team to ever win the NCAA tournament.

Meals will be bought for them and photos will be taken, babies might even be named “Arch” or “Kris.” A city that has dealt with a pro basketball team that has (semi) purposely lost for years to go with slumps in baseball and football now has a champion to cheer for.

“Hopefully [Kris buys his own cheesesteaks], so he doesn’t get an NCAA violation. Let’s hope he pays for it until he graduates,” Villanova guard Jalen Brunson said with a laugh. “But Kris is going to be a legend, not for that shot, but for everything that he’s done.”

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.

Dream’s McDonald returning to Arizona to coach under Barnes

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Atlanta Dream guard Aari McDonald is returning to Arizona to work under coach Adia Barnes.

The school announced that McDonald will serve as director of recruiting operations while continuing to fulfill her WNBA commitments. She will oversee all recruiting logistics, assist with on-campus visits, manage recruit information and social media content at Arizona.

McDonald was one of the best players in Arizona history after transferring from Washington as a sophomore. She was an All-American and the Pac-12 player of the year in 2020-21, leading the Wildcats to the national championship game, which they lost to Stanford.

McDonald broke Barnes’ single-season scoring record and had the highest career scoring average in school history before being selected by the Dream with the third overall pick of the 2021 WNBA draft.

South Carolina, Staley cancel BYU games over racial incident

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina and women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley have canceled a home-and-home series with BYU over a recent racial incident where a Cougars fan yelled slurs at a Duke volleyball player.

The Gamecocks were scheduled to start the season at home against BYU on Nov. 7, then play at the Utah campus during the 2023-24 season.

But Staley cited BYU’s home volleyball match last month as reason for calling off the series.

“As a head coach, my job is to do what’s best for my players and staff,” Staley said in a statement released by South Carolina on Friday. “The incident at BYU has led me to reevaluate our home-and-home, and I don’t feel that this is the right time for us to engage in this series.”

Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson, a Black member of the school’s volleyball team, said she heard racial slurs from the stands during the match.

BYU apologized for the incident and Richardson said the school’s volleyball players reached out to her in support.

South Carolina said it was searching for another home opponent to start the season.

Gamecocks athletic director Ray Tanner spoke with Staley about the series and supported the decision to call off the games.