Kihei Clark’s heroics lead Virginia past Oregon, into Elite 8

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Thursday night had all the makings of yet another crushing March collapse.

Virginia has been arguably the best regular season program in college basketball over the course of the last six seasons. They’ve won four ACC regular season titles. They’ve been a No. 1 seed four times and a No. 2 seed in a different year. But that has not translated to March success.

In Virginia’s four previous trips to the NCAA tournament where they were a top two seed, they lost to No. 4 seed Michigan State in the 2014 Sweet 16, No. 7 seed Michigan State in the 2015 second round, No. 10 seed Syracuse in the 2018 Elite 8 and, of course, UMBC.

On Thursday night, the Wahoos were facing off with yet another opponents that they should, on paper, be able to dispatch fairly easily. Oregon, the No. 12-seed in the South, needed to win the Pac-12’s automatic bid just to get to the NCAA tournament in the first place, and early in the second half, with Virginia seemingly in control, the wheels started to fall off and the PTSD started to kick in.

There’s 5:30 left in the game. Virginia had just blown an eight point lead, letting the Ducks go on an 18-5 run that turned a 35-27 deficit into a 45-42. All of those struggles that Virginia’s had in tournament’s past, it makes moments like this that much tougher to deal with. The players on this team are human. They, like us, get the ‘oh no, it’s happening again’ thoughts creeping into their minds. Virginia had the game in their control. They let it slip through their fingers. Momentum is firmly on the side of Oregon and all the while, Kyle Guy and De’Andre Hunter are playing like they forgot how to shoot a basketball.

And when they needed it, it was the smallest guy on the court that showed up for Virginia in the biggest moment.

Not 30 seconds after freshman Louis King buried the three to give Oregon their biggest lead of the second half, Kihei Clark — a 5-foot-7 freshman point guard from California — stepped up and buried a three to stem the tide. Two possessions later, it was Clark that found junior Ty Jerome for another three, this one giving Virginia a 48-45 lead that they would never relinquish.

The final score was 53-49. Virginia sent the Pac-12 tournament champions back to Eugene as they advanced to their second Elite 8 under head coach Tony Bennett.

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This is the best team that Bennett has ever had at Virginia, and I don’t think there’s much of an argument against it.

Hunter is unquestionably the most talented player Bennett has ever coached in Charlottesville. Ty Jerome is a killer that is going to spend 10 years playing in the NBA. Guy is one of the very best shooters in America. This frontline has the talent and the versatility to play big, to space the floor, to play small and to be uber-switchable, all based on which of the other four frontcourt pieces are playing.

If Bennett is going to finally end his Final Four-less run, this is the year that it would be the most likely to happen.

But to get over that final hurdle, there was always going to be a night where Virginia had to survive a game they could have, or should have, lost.

Like Duke with UCF, this was probably that night.

Guy finally ended his streak of missing 16 straight threes, but that doesn’t been that he was good on Thursday night. He wasn’t. He shot 4-for-15 from the floor and 2-for-11 from three, missing a handful of wide-open looks and throwing a couple of makeable shots off the backboard. Hunter wasn’t much better. He was 4-for-13 from the floor and 1-for-6 from three, tossing up a couple of the worst misses that you’ll ever see from a 45 percent three-point shooter.

Virginia’s bench was unusable, Louis King was on fire and this looked like the end when Clark made the plays he made. He finished with 12 points and six assists, a massive boost for a team that doesn’t expect to get much of anything out of Clark.

The truth is this: Clark is certainly not a zero — he is a pest defensively, he doesn’t turn the ball over and he has made some threes this year — but I think that it is fair to say that the most valuable thing he does for this team right now is that he allows Jerome to play off the ball, where he’s his most effective. There are no other playable guards in the Virginia rotation. There’s Jerome, there’s Guy and there’s Clark.

Put another way, Tony Bennett was heading into a Sweet 16 matchup thinking about how Clark was going to get his program back to the Elite 8 for the first time since they blew a 15 point lead to Syracuse in the final eight minutes.

But that’s where we are right now.

And if this is the season that finally gets the Final Four monkey off of Virginia’s back, then everyone on that campus is going to have Clark to thank.

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.

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.