Karl Malone Award Watch List announced

AP Photo/Ben Margot
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The preseason watch list for the Karl Malone award was released on Thursday.

The award is given to the nation’s best power forward. In 2016, the Karl Malone award was given to Iowa State’s Georges Niang.

Here are the 20 players on the watch list for this season:

Lauri Markkanen, Arizona
Johnathan Motley, Baylor
Ivan Rabb, California
Amile Jefferson, Duke
Jonathan Isaac, Florida State
Yante Maten, Georgia
Carlton Bragg Jr., Kansas
Dedric Lawson, Memphis
Miles Bridges, Michigan State
Isaiah Hicks, North Carolina
Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame
Michael Young, Pittsburgh
Caleb Swanigan, Purdue
Tyler Lydon, Syracuse
TJ Leaf, UCLA
Bennie Boatwright, USC
Alec Peters, Valparaiso
Kris Jenkins, Villanova
Austin Nichols, Virginia
Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin

Punch thrown following Bowling Green-Memphis WNIT game

Chris Day/The Commercial Appeal / USA TODAY NETWORK
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BOWLING GREEN, Ohio – A confrontation between two players in the postgame handshake line following Bowling Green’s win over Memphis on Thursday night in the Women’s NIT has been referred to campus police.

As the teams walked toward center court following Bowling Green’s 73-60 win in the Round of 16 game, Memphis’ Jamirah Shutes stopped to talk with Falcons’ player Elissa Brett. After a short conversation, Shutes appears to throw a punch at Brett’s face. Brett fell toward the scorer’s table and onto the sideline.

There was no immediate word about what caused the confrontation or if any player was seriously injured.

Bowling Green said in a statement that the incident is in the hands of the campus police.

“The incident that took place following tonight’s home WNIT game has been turned over to the BGSU Police Department,” the school said. “Bowling Green State University Athletics does not make comments about active police investigations. Our priority is with the health, safety and support of our student-athletes.”

Bowling Green coach Robyn Fralich didn’t directly comment on the incident after the game, saying only that they were “figuring all those things out,” as far as what happened in the handshake line.

Memphis’ office of sports information didn’t immediately respond to an email from The Associated Press seeking comment.

The Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper reported that Shutes, who leads the Tigers in scoring, took an elbow to her face with 24 seconds left in the opening quarter and played just eight minutes in the first half. She returned to start the second half.

Shutes, a fifth-year player who finished with 13 points in her final game with the Tigers, was a second-team All-AAC selection this season.

Brett scored 15 points in the win.

South Carolina’s leading scorer Jackson heads to NBA draft

Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK
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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina leading scorer Gregory “GG” Jackson II said Friday that he’s entering the NBA draft after one season in college.

The 6-foot-9 freshman said on Instagram Live that his year in college with the Gamecocks helped him mature.

“Now, I’m declaring for the NBA draft, just like that,” he said.

Jackson, 18, is projected as a mid-first round selection.

He started 29 of 32 games for the 11-21 Gamecocks, averaging a team-high 15.4 points a game. He also led South Carolina with 26 blocks and 24 steals.

Jackson, from Columbia, was rated the No. 1 college prospect in 2023. But he reclassified to join his hometown team and first-year coach Lamont Paris.

Gonzaga beats UCLA 79-76 in Sweet 16 on Julian Strawther’s late 3-pointer

Gonzaga's Malachi Smith
USA Today
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LAS VEGAS — Gonzaga and UCLA played one NCAA Tournament game that left the Zags’ star player bawling, and another game that stunned the Bruins.

Add another to the list. Maybe the maddest one in March yet.

Julian Strawther hit a 3-pointer with 7.2 seconds left to answer a 3-pointer by UCLA’s Amari Bailey, lifting Gonzaga to a wild 79-76 win over UCLA Thursday night in the Sweet 16.

“It’s moments like that you can’t make up,” said Strawther, a Las Vegas native. “Those are literally the moments you dream of. To even make a shot like that in March Madness and just to be back home in Vegas is like the cherry on top.”

The Bruins (31-6), the West Region’s No. 2 seed, stormed back from an eight-point deficit in the final 1:05 and took a 76-75 lead on Bailey’s 3-pointer with 12.2 seconds left.

The Zags (31-5) brought the ball up the floor and Strawther stepped into a 3-pointer after a drop pass from Hunter Sallis, sending Gonzaga fans to their feet.

“As soon as it came off, it looked like it was on line,” Strawther said.

The Zags still had to sweat it out.

Gonzaga’s Malachi Smith stole the ball from UCLA’s Tyger Campbell, but Strawther only hit 1 of 2 free throws at the other end, giving the Bruins a chance.

Campbell’s 3-pointer at the buzzer hit the back of the rim, sending the Zags rushing off the bench and into the Elite Eight against UConn on Saturday while leaving the Bruins disappointed again.

“Every game, try not to get too high, try not to get too low,” said UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez, who had 29 points and 11 rebounds. “He hit a big shot and we lost.”

Strawther’s shot was reminiscent of the one Villanova’s Kris Jenkins made off a drop pass to clinch the 2016 national championship – a shot that came after North Carolina’s Marcus Paige hit an off-balance 3-pointer with 4.7 seconds left.

There’s a reason it looked familiar.

“That’s Jay Wright’s play that he used in Villanova-Carolina, the championship,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “That’s what we call it. He makes it all the time.”

It also is the latest chapter in what’s become the best West Coast rivalry in college basketball.

UCLA got the better of the teams’ first NCAA Tournament go-around, rallying from 17 points down to send the Zags out of the 2006 bracket and star Adam Morrison to the floor crying.

Jalen Suggs crushed the Bruins the last time, hitting a running 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the Zags to the 2021 national championship game.

“I can’t even describe what he did. It’s crazy,” Gonzaga’s Drew Timme said of Strawther’s game-winner. “It’s just like that Jalen shot, man.”

Timme had 36 points for his record 10th NCAA Tournament game with 20 points.

The flurry of a finish started off more like a prize fight, each team taking its turn landing blows in a game of wild swings.

UCLA led by 13 at the half, but went on an 11-minute field goal drought as Gonzaga went up by 10 with 2:40 left. The Bruins took their rally turn and retook the lead, but left Gonzaga with too much time on the clock.

“We should have been tighter on Strawther,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “We were the whole game. We just weren’t on that play. If we were tighter then he couldn’t have looped behind.”

Timme kept Gonzaga in it during UCLA’s torrid first half and Gonzaga’s porous first-half defense tightened in the second, giving them a seven-point lead with 53 seconds left.

Jaquez brought the Bruins back in his final college game.

The Pac-12 player of the year scored on a three-point play and a layup to cut it 74-71 with 45 seconds left. Timme then missed two free throws, setting up Bailey’s shot.

Thankfully for the Zags, Strawther was on the mark with his long 3-pointer and Campbell was off the mark on his, sending Gonzaga to the Elite Eight for the fifth time under Few.

Florida Atlantic makes first Elite Eight, bounces Tennessee

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Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK — Florida Atlantic, playing in just its second NCAA Tournament, moved within a victory of the Final Four by using a second-half push led by Michael Forrest to beat fourth-seeded Tennessee 62-55 on Thursday night.

The ninth-seeded Owls (34-3) will play third-seeded Kansas State in the East Region final at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.

Even before the tournament started, this was the unquestionably the greatest season in FAU history. Now it the Owls are one of the biggest stories in all of sports.

Johnell Davis led the Owls with 15 points and Forrest finished with 11, eight in a crucial second-half run where FAU took control.

The Volunteers (25-11), who were looking for just the second Elite Eight appearance in program history, shot just 33% – including 6 of 23 from 3-point range. Josiah-Jordan James and Jonas Aidoo scored 10 points apiece.

UP NEXT

The Owls have never played Kansas State.

UConn a step from Final Four after 88-65 blowout of Arkansas

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Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports
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LAS VEGAS — After UConn lost as a 5 seed to 12th-seeded New Mexico State in the first round of last year’s NCAA Tournament, Huskies coach Dan Hurley told his core players they would be back on this stage.

Not only would they return, but Hurley said he would surround them with players capable of taking them deep into March.

They are certainly doing that.

The Huskies’ 88-65 victory over Arkansas in the West Region semifinals on Thursday night was their third by double digits in as many games. Jordan Hawkins scored 24 points to lead the dominant effort.

Fourth-seeded UConn (28-8) will play either UCLA or Gonzaga on Saturday for a spot in the Final Four, a stout response to last year’s early exit.

“We really from that day on really held each other to a higher standard and just told each other we’re going to push for a national championship,” UConn guard Andre Jackson Jr. said. “We’re going to push for that type of standard every day in practice and we’re going to hold each other to that.”

UConn is playing like a team capable of winning its fifth national title and first since 2014. The Huskies have outscored their three March Madness opponents by 62 points.

“They’ve got a real complete team, probably the most complete team in the country,” Arkansas guard Ricky Council IV said. “I think they can definitely win it all.”

The Huskies won their first two games by outscoring Iona and Saint Mary’s by a combined 86-49 in the second half. UConn surged early against Arkansas with a 14-point run and took a 46-29 lead into halftime.

The Huskies never trailed and led by as many as 29 points.

UConn, which has won nine of its past 10 games, shot 57.4% compared to 31.7% for Arkansas. The Huskies dominated inside, outrebounding the Razorbacks 43-31 and outscoring them 42-24 in the lane.

Adama Sanogo scored 18 points, Alex Karaban had 11 and Nahiem Alleyene 10 for UConn. Sanogo, who also had eight rebounds, has scored 71 points in 75 minutes in this tournament.

Anthony Black led Arkansas (22-14) with 20 points, Council had 17 and Nick Smith Jr. 11.

“I’m just proud of the way we’ve built this thing,” said Hurley, who is in his fifth season. “We’ve got an incredible group of players, and we get the right type of people and we’ve got great culture. We’re right where we thought we would be.”

MAKING PROGRAM HISTORY

Eighth-seeded Arkansas was seeking a third straight appearance in the Elite Eight, which would have been a first for the program. The Razorbacks made three consecutive Sweet 16s for the second time.

“There are not a lot of teams that have been to three straight Sweet 16s in the entire country, and we are one of them,” coach Eric Musselman said. “The culture is strong. As a staff, we’ll start working towards next year tonight as soon as we get back to the hotel.”

Senior Kamani Johnson won’t be around next season to see if the Razorbacks can get back to this point, but he said the program is in good hands.

“We’re doing something special in Arkansas and we’re of building on that,” Johnson said. “It hurts right now, but I’m really proud of this group.”

STILL PERFECT

UConn improved to 15-0 in nonconference games, all by double digits. Oklahoma State came the closest, losing 74-64 on Dec. 1.

“When people see us for the first time, it’s a great advantage to us because we are not a ball-screen heavy team,” Hurley said. “We have a lot of movement on offense. We’ve got the two centers (Sanogo and Karaban) that can dominate a game. We’re a unique team to play against if you haven’t seen us.”

SPREADING THE WEALTH

As dominant as UConn was inside, the Huskies also made 9 of 20 3-pointers and had 22 assists.

“To me, the most impressive thing is that they had 22 assists,” Musselman said. “We tried to cause turnovers and rush the quarterback, but 22 assists is a lot of assists.”

UConn entered the game averaging 17.4 assists.