Villanova, Wright chasing title repeat with lessons from run

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VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP) Jay Wright slipped in and out of his competitive consciousness in the national championship game. He cringed as a coach as Villanova’s late lead trickled away against North Carolina. He loved the frenzy as a basketball fan watching the Wildcats and Tar Heels go shot-for-shot in one of the NCAA Tournament’s classic finals.

“This is what it’s like when you’re in the final and playing the best team in the country,” Wright said. “Little times it hits you like, wow, this is a great game.”

Little times. Like when North Carolina’s Marcus Paige hit a double-clutch 3 to tie the game at 74 with 4.7 seconds left.

“When Paige hit that shot, I had a second or two to think, this game is unbelievable and it could go into overtime and make it even more amazing,” Wright said.

Oh, the game got more amazing – no overtime necessary.

Kris Jenkins squashed the OT bid with a shot forever engraved as the biggest one in Villanova – heck, maybe March Madness – history. Jenkins spotted up behind the right side of the arc and buried a 3 at the buzzer to deliver Villanova to a 77-74 victory.

A miracle shot? Not quite. The Wildcats practiced that play for years and used a variation to reach the 2009 Final Four. The Wildcats were squashed by the Tar Heels in `09 and crashed into a March funk that lingered until last season.

With a championship banner to match one from 1985 nestled in the Pavilion rafters, the Wildcats must now hope that championship revelry doesn’t equate to a follow-up hangover.

The Wildcats suffered from a whopper following the 2009 run. The Wildcats dropped from 30 wins in 2009 to 25, 21 and then bottomed out at 13-19 and no postseason in 2011-12. Wright could not say no to friends or speaking engagements in the immediate aftermath of 2009 and the program seemed to waver from its recruiting foundation. He chased McDonald’s All-Americans or transfers who didn’t necessarily fit the program and it took a few seasons to stabilize.

“There were definitely times at the end of that, it was spiraling,” Wright said. “It really didn’t affect us until a couple of years later. I knew it then. … We were really preparing for that this time.”

As distractions mounted, Wright vowed this summer to stay connected to his family, players, coaches and recruits. Yes, there were stops at the ESPYs and a trip to the White House, but the big picture of staying focused on this season and beyond was not lost on Wright. Wright, 354-157 with two Final Fours in 15 seasons at Villanova, reigned in his commitments even as charities and corporations wanted a piece of the championship `Cat.

Wright tightened control this summer and even closed down the basketball office for a week in August for the first time so the entire staff could relax and regroup.

“I’ve had to say no to a lot of people, and I’ve probably disappointed a lot of people and I feel bad about that, I really do,” he said. “But the last time, I felt like it was my responsibility as the Villanova coach to do everything I was asked to do at Villanova. I did it. It got a little out of control. No, it got out of control.”

The Wildcats had not advanced out of the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament since 2009 and lost two straight seasons in the opening round as a 1 or 2 seed.

In March, they were in a pressure spot again: a No. 2 seed about to play pesky Iowa with a Sweet 16 berth at stake and a potential burden lifted. Wright sensed pressure had seeped into the Big East powerhouse’s environment.

“Our fans were tense. Our families were tense. The Philadelphia media was tense,” Wright said.

Wright couldn’t even break that tension with his confidants. Wright likes to linger in the locker room during pregame warmups and talk life with Villanova’s team chaplain and sports psychologist. All Wright found were a bundle of nerves under the collar of Rev. Rob Hagan.

“I could even sense he was nervous for me,” Wright said, laughing. “This is big.”

The Wildcats instead cruised past Iowa. They followed with wins over Miami and Kansas, crushed Oklahoma by 44 in the Final Four and made first-weekend flops a distant memory.

“They didn’t fear that failure,” Wright said. “But everyone else did. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a little bit of concern for them. I was not worried about it. But I was worried for them and everyone else.”

The Wildcats quickly learned being called champs comes with more than a ring and a banner. It means mingling with the president and getting hounded for autographs and photos on social outings.

“I definitely feel like we’re treated differently,” Wright said. “I can see it. I can feel it. All the time. I don’t want to be different. I enjoyed the way we were doing it. Even losing in the second round, I was loving those teams.”

So the question looms, armed with a heap of expectations, can Villanova repeat?

“We could,” Wright said. “But we could lose to anybody again. We’ve made it true. We’ve lost to everybody and we’ve won it all. But I think we’re good enough.”

Jenkins, Jalen Brunson, preseason All-American Josh Hart and the rest of the returning core should keep the Wildcats on track to try and become college basketball’s first repeat champions since Florida in 2006 and 2007.

Villanova President Rev. Peter Donohue bellowed to fans last week at a kickoff celebration that “Villanova is going to do it again!”

“That’s pressure from the boss!” Wright said with a smile over the house mic.

Again the Big East favorites and ranked fourth in the AP preseason Top 25, the Wildcats won’t judge this season on a banner-or-bust scale.

“The only way we can top that or be better than that is to be the best team we can be by the end of the year,” Jenkins said. “If that wins us another national championship, then cool.”

More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org

Marquette extends Shaka Smart’s contract through 2029-30 season

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MILWAUKEE — Marquette coach Shaka Smart has received a contract extension after leading the Golden Eagles to their first outright regular-season championship and tournament title in the Big East.

Smart’s contract now runs through the 2029-30 season. This is the first extension Smart has received since signing a six-year deal when he took over as Marquette’s coach in 2021.

Marquette didn’t release financial terms of Smart’s deal.

“In a very short period of time, Shaka and his staff have done a tremendous job of establishing a winning culture, both on and off the court,” athletic director Bill Scholl said in a statement. “Shaka’s vision for the program is focused on extended, sustainable success. The individuals who interact with the team on a daily basis are able to observe frequent examples of growth and the excitement around the program is contagious.”

Marquette has gone 48-20 in Smart’s two seasons and reached the NCAA Tournament each of those years.

The Golden Eagles went 29-7 and won the Big East’s regular-season and tournament championships last season after the league’s coaches had picked them to finish ninth out of 11 teams. Marquette’s season ended with a 69-60 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.

Purdue’s Edey returning to school at NBA draft deadline; Kentucky’s Tshiebwe stays in

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Purdue’s Zach Edey decided it was the right call to go back to school instead of staying in the NBA draft. His predecessor as national player of the year, Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe, is sticking with his pro pursuit.

And Connecticut’s reign as NCAA champion will begin with multiple starters having left for the NBA draft and one returning after flirting with doing the same.

The 7-foot-4 Edey and UConn guard Tristen Newton were among the notable names to announce that they were withdrawing from the draft, the NCAA’s deadline for players who declared as early entrants to pull out and retain their college eligibility.

Edey’s decision came in social media posts from both the center and the Boilermakers program that earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament behind Edey, The Associated Press men’s national player of the year.

But Tshiebwe announced late in the afternoon that he would remain in the draft after a college career that included being named the AP national player of the year in 2022.

For the current champions, Newton (10.1 points, 4.7 assists, 4.5 rebounds) is returning after being one of four Huskies to declare for the draft after a run to UConn’s fifth national championship in early April. He scored a game-high 19 points to go with 10 rebounds in the victory over San Diego State in the title game.

The others were Final Four Most Outstanding Player Adama Sanogo, wing Jordan Hawkins and versatile guard Andre Jackson Jr. Sanogo (17.8 points) and Hawkins (16.3) have made it clear they have closed the door on their college careers, while team spokesman Phil Chardis said that Jackson (6.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists) would remain in the draft.

The Huskies have 247sports’ No. 3-ranked recruiting class for next year to restock the roster, led by McDonald’s All-American point guard Stephon Castle.

The NBA’s withdrawal deadline is June 12, but is moot when it comes to college players returning to school due to the NCAA’s earlier timeline to retain playing eligibility.

STAYING IN SCHOOL

TREY ALEXANDER: Creighton gets back a 6-4 guard who averaged 13.6 points and shot 41% from 3-point range in his first full season as a starter.

ADEM BONA: The 6-foot-10 forward and Pac-12 freshman of the year is returning to UCLA after starting 32 games as a rookie and averaging 7.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks – with coach Mick Cronin praising his toughness for “competing through multiple injuries for as long as he could” in a statement Wednesday.

EDEY: He averaged 22.3 points, 12.9 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.5 assists while shooting 60.7% from the field. His presence alone helps Purdue be a factor in the Big Ten race.

JOSIAH-JORDAN JAMES: The 6-6 guard went through the NBA G League Combine and had workouts with multiple teams before opting to return to Tennessee for a fifth season alongside teammate Santiago Vescovi.

JUDAH MINTZ: The 6-3 freshman averaged 16.3 points and 4.6 assists for Syracuse, ranking third among Division I freshmen in scoring behind only Alabama’s Brandon Miller and Lamar’s Nate Calmese.

OWLS’ RETURNEES: Florida Atlantic got good news after its surprise Final Four run with the return leading scorers Johnell Davis (13.8) and Alijah Martin (13.4). ESPN first reported their decisions, while Martin later posted a social media statement.

TERRENCE SHANNON JR.: Illinois got a big boost with Shannon announcing his night in a social media post. The 6-6 guard is returning for a fifth college season after averaging 17.2 points.

SPARTANS’ RETURNEES: Michigan State announced that guards Jaden Akins and A.J. Hoggard have withdrawn from the NBA draft. Standout guard Tyson Walker had previously withdrawn in April, setting up Tom Izzo to have five of his top scorers back.

GOING PRO

KOBE BROWN: Missouri’s 6-8 swingman opted against returning for a fifth college season after being an AP first-team all-Southeastern Conference pick averaging 15.8 points last season.

JAYLEN CLARK: The third-year UCLA guard averaged 13.0 points and 6.0 rebounds while leading the Pac-12 with 2.6 steals en route to being named Naismith national defensive player of the year. Cronin called him a winner with strong intangibles who made UCLA “a better program because he chose to be a Bruin.”

BRICE SENSABAUGH: The Ohio State freshman averaged 16.3 points and 5.4 rebounds in 31 games before missing his final two in the Big Ten Tournament due to a knee injury. He’s a potential first-round prospect.

TSHIEBWE: The 6-9, 260-pound forward is a tough interior presence who led the country in rebounds for two straight seasons (15.1 in 2022, 13.7 in 2023) while racking up 48 double-doubles. But he faces an uncertain next stop and is projected at best as a second-round prospect.

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

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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.