Four Takeaways from Gonzaga’s win over Duke in Maui title game

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So much for all that undefeated talk.

Maybe now we can put that on Gonzaga?

(They’re not going undefeated, either. So please don’t.)

Rui Hachimura let the world know who he is while Brandon Clarke showed off what makes him such a valuable piece for Gonzaga as the Bulldogs put on a clinic in the first half before hanging on to beat Duke with their defense down the stretch.

It really was a phenomenal basketball game. Here are the four things we can take away from No. 3 Gonzaga’s thrilling, 89-87 win over No. 1 Duke:


It sounds weird that I am saying this after Gonzaga gave up 87 points on 72 possessions, but it’s true.

The Bulldogs literally did every thing they possibly could to give this game away. Their offense totally collapsed down the stretch. They missed four free throws in the final 30 seconds, a handful of layups in the final two minutes and allowed Duke’s ball pressure to create turnovers and bad shots that led to layups at the other end of the floor.

And Duke still couldn’t find a way to win.

A large part of this was due to some of their decision making in the final minute (we’ll get to that, believe me), but the credit must be given where the credit it due: Playing the most difficult team in the country to match up with, the Zags did about as well as you can hope for. Brandon Clarke battled through foul trouble to go be the switchable rim-protector we all knew he could be. Corey Kispert and Zach Norvell Jr. did a terrific job taking Cam Reddish out of this game. Gonzaga, as a team, spent 35 minutes playing really good, really fundamental gapping man-to-man, forcing Duke to settle for jumpers or drive headlong into traffic.

(AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

The Zags are not a great defensive team, not yet anyway. Rui Hachimura has a long way to go as an on-ball defender despite his incredible athleticism. Josh Perkins and Norvell are tough and smart positionally even if they aren’t great individual defenders.

But the key here, for me, is that the Zags got the stops they needed to get, despite the foul trouble and despite some of the questionable individual defense.

Gonzaga’s ball-screen offense is a pleasure to watch. It is the reason that they were up by as many as 16 points on the Blue Devils on Wednesday nigh, and it will be the reason they have a lead like that on a lot of different teams this season.

It sure is comforting for Few, however, to know that he has a team that can gut out critical defensive possessions. They did it five times in a row in the final 90 seconds tonight.


Man, did he make some big plays on Wednesday.

The blocks in the final minutes. The bucket in the paint with the game tied at 87. The assist to Clarke when Duke cut the lead to 83-81. He finished with 20 points, six boards, five assists and three blocks, but I feel like his impact on this game was so much bigger than what the box score says. He was the one that made the plays that Gonzaga needed the most.

For a kid that is almost too nice, for a player that Gonzaga has repeatedly said does not realize just how good he actually is and can be, it was a big deal that, in the biggest and most high-profile game that he will play this side of March, Hachimura stepped up and took over when his team needed him to.

He needs to work on that jumper and he needs to master the particulars of being a good one-on-one defender, but he showed the kind of (ahem) intestinal fortitude that the best have on Wednesday.

That’s a helluva coming out party.


Less than 24 hours after reminding everyone that he was, at one point in time, a top 15 prospect, Marques Bolden proceeded to remind us why we all had forgotten that he was once considered a one-and-done difference maker.

Simply put: He cannot be on the floor when Duke is playing a team that is a good ball-screen team. We saw it against Army, and we saw it tonight, as Josh Perkins — who has his flaws but is a terrific operator in ball-screen actions — tore Duke’s defense to shreds in the first 23 minutes of the game. It’s not much of a coincidence, then, that Bolden did not play in the final 17 minutes of this one.

The way that Duke wants to defend ball-screens is fairly straight forward given their personnel: They want to switch everything 1-through-4, but when the five is involved in the action, they want to ice it or drop it, and the five’s role in both of those coverages is the same. His job is to zone up between the dribbler and the screener, making sure the dribbler cannot turn the corner and get a head of steam to the rim while giving the guard defender time to get over the screen and back to his man.

It should look something like this:

That’s Javin DeLaurier at the five, and that’s not often what happens when Bolden is on the floor.

Here is a terrific example from the first half. Bolden ends up too far out on the perimeter and stays with Josh Perkins for far too long, so that when Perkins goes to reverse the ball and Zion Williamson — the help-man, or “tagger” — runs to Brandon Clarke, Filip Petrusev is left unguarded. Perkins finds him with a slick no-look pass as Bolden stands in no man’s land, defending no one:

There is a time and a place for Bolden to be effective. When he’s asked to be a rim-protector and a rebounder that brings energy, he can do that well. We saw it against Auburn.

If he’s going to be asked to defend ball-screen after ball-screen after ball-screen, Duke is not going to be able to play him if they want to get stops.


Four times in the final minute of this game, Duke had possession with a chance to run something to get a shot to tie or take the lead.

Every time, Duke ran an iso for R.J. Barrett, looking to capitalize on a mismatch and get their star player going downhill.

Gonzaga knew this as well, and they made sure to clog the lane with helpers and have their best athlete — Brandon Clarke, who finished with six blocks even though it felt like he had six blocks in the last minute of the game — meet him at the rim.

They are going to ride or die with their star, and on Wednesday, they died with him.

Part of that is simple strategy: Duke’s halfcourt offense is based on finding mismatches and creating isolation situations. It’s not exactly a bad idea, either. How many people are staying in front of Barrett, or Zion, or Tre Jones? But part of it is also betting on your player to make the right play, and this is where the breakdown happened.

Simply put, Barrett did not make the right read. He did not give the ball up when he drew the defense. This is one example. I could have done this for all four of those final possessions:

Barrett wanted, and has probably earned, the chance to be the hero for Duke. With that comes the responsibility to not play hero-ball, and the right to be criticized when a selfish play is made.

If Barrett wants to be a point guard in the NBA, he has to be able to see that pass and make that pass. A DeLaurier dunk forces overtime. Instead, Duke is heading home.


With all due respect to Virginia, and North Carolina, and Kansas, and whoever else thinks they have a shot at the title, these are the two teams that you are going to have to beat to do it.

Gonzaga should be the No. 1 team in the country on Monday morning. Frankly, I would probably still bet on Duke to win the title today, even with the eventual return of Killian Tillie.

Either way, I would love to see a rematch between these two teams in Minneapolis in April.

UConn adds former Rutgers guard Cam Spencer from transfer portal

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STORRS, Conn. — National champion UConn added some shooting depth to its roster Friday, announcing the signing of former Rutgers guard Cam Spencer from the transfer portal.

Spencer, who graduated last month with a year of eligibility remaining, averaged 13.2 points in his only season in New Jersey. The 6-foot-4 guard, who played his first three seasons at Loyola of Maryland, shot 44.4% from the floor, including 43.4% from 3-point range.

“Cam is the perfect addition to our basketball program,” UConn Coach Dan Hurley said. “He brings a unique combination of high-level skill and feel for the game, with a fierce competitiveness that has allowed him to enjoy a terrific college basketball career thus far.”

The Huskies lost their top 3-point scoring threat, sophomore Jordan Hawkins, to the NBA draft, along with wing Andre Jackson Jr. and post Adama Sanogo.

Guard Tristen Newtown gave the Huskies a boost last month when he withdrew his name from the draft pool and returned to Storrs.

The Huskies began summer workouts this week, welcoming a top recruiting class led by 6-6 point guard Stephon Castle, a McDonald’s All-American from Georgia. The class also includes 6-7 wing Jayden Ross and 6-4 guard Solomon Ball from Virginia, 6-7 wing Jaylin Stewart from Seattle, Washington, and 7-foot center Youssouf Singare from New York.

“I think that some of my strengths will stand out in UConn’s style of play,” Spencer said. “They have a lot of great movement and they play so well together, with great chemistry. I think that I can come in and hopefully contribute to that.”

NCAA tweaks rules on block/charge calls in men’s basketball

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INDIANAPOLIS — The NCAA is tweaking how block/charge calls are made in men’s basketball.

The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved rule changes on Thursday that require a defender to be in position to draw a charge at the time the offensive player plants a foot to go airborne for a shot. If the defender arrives after the player has planted a foot, officials have been instructed to call a block when there’s contact.

Defenders had to be in position to draw a charge before the offensive player went airborne under previous rules.

NCAA Men’s Basketball Rules Committee members made the proposal after NCAA members complained that too many charges were being called on those types of plays.

The panel also approved reviews of basket interference calls during the next media timeout – if the official called it on the floor – a shot clock reset to 20 seconds on an offensive rebound that hits the rim, and players being allowed to wear any number between 0 and 99.

A timeout also will be granted to an airborne player with possession of the ball, and non-student bench personnel will be allowed to serve as peacekeepers on the floor if an altercation occurs.

Charlotte head coach Ron Sanchez resigns after winning CBI title

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Ron Sanchez resigned as head coach of the Charlotte 49ers.

Sanchez took over the 49ers on March 19, 2018, inheriting a team coming off a 6-23 campaign. In five years Charlotte went 72-78 under Sanchez, highlighted by winning the College Basketball Invitational championship this past season, the Niners’ first post-season tournament title in school history.

The 22 wins this past season are the most for Charlotte since 2001.

“Ron took over a proud but struggling program and carefully rebuilt it into a 22-game winner. He has led with class, dignity and devotion to our young men,” Charlotte director of athletics Mike Hill said. “His decision to step down from Charlotte was a difficult one for him and everyone associated with our program. We wish him and his family every happiness.”

Hill said the team has already begun a national search for a replacement.

“This is a bittersweet day for me and my family as I step down to pursue other opportunities,” said Sanchez, who came the 49ers after working as an assistant coach at Virginia under Tony Bennett. “It has been a tremendous privilege to lead the 49ers basketball program over the past five years and I want to thank Niner Nation for its support. I will be forever grateful to my staff, players and the university.”

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.


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.


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.