Virginia and Texas Tech deliver a classic title game

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MINNEAPOLIS — Jarrett Culver and Chris Beard stood in the corner of the raised floor, embracing, commiserating and consoling as their opponents celebrated the national championship they so desperately wanted just a few feet away. Beard wrapped his arms around Culver, and told the sophomore star he loved him.

Then, Tony Bennett, moments after a game that will redefine his career and legacy, made his way to that corner, around his team and toward the two Red Raiders.

“He told me to keep my head up, keep pushing,” Culver recalled, “and, ‘great game.’”

One of the greatest, even.

Virginia completed one of the best comeback stories in the history of sports when the confetti fell on its 85-77 overtime victory against Texas Tech in a game that featured all-time performances and historic moments in a classic 45 minutes of basketball.

Anyone fretting that pitting two of the country’s best defenses against each other on the biggest stage might lead to a monumental flop need not have worried.

Texas Tech and Virginia gave us one of the best final nights of the season in the game’s history. It was absolutely that good.

It featured two of the sports unquestioned best teams, a pair of elite coaches, a couple lottery picks and more drama than we deserved. It wasn’t perfect, but it was fantastic.

“It was, Bennett said, “a terrific game.”

(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

It was a game of stories and a game of moments, with the latter informing the former.

The final 6 minutes of regulation was what made this game go from great to all-timer. Virginia led by eight, a monster lead given its soul-snatching defense and time-sucking offense. But when Kyler Edwards’ bucket trimmed it to six and Matt Mooney’s triple halved it to three, the prospect of a Red Raider comeback – and Virginia collapse – seemed possible.

Then Ty Jerome clanked a 3, and Norense Odiase, who has spent the last five years in a Texas Tech jersey, banged home a layup and was fouled. His and-one tied the game, and set U.S. Bank Stadium ablaze.

“We started making plays,” Culver said, “and that opened up the door.”

Virginia did not wilt, however, getting buckets from De’Andre Hunter and Kyle Guy to go back up four. The game, unsatisfied to follow a clean trajectory, whipsawed back to Texas Tech, which got a triple from Davide Moretti and a layup from Culver to take the lead for the first time since the last minutes of the first half. When Odiase made two free throws seconds later, Texas Tech had a three-point cushion and 22 seconds to kill to claim its first national title.

Instead, Hunter reached legend status.

Jerome penetrated into the paint and looked like he might try the same floater he missed just a possession earlier, but instead floated a pass out to the corner to Hunter, who caught the ball near his head, reloaded it into his shooting pocket and fired away, splashing a triple with 14 seconds left to tie the game.

“I just took my time and shot it,” Hunter said. “I just was standing there. I just stood there. I didn’t move, really.”

Some guys run into history, Hunter stood and shot his way there. It’s that make he’ll be remembered for, but his night of 27 points, nine rebounds and three blocks in 44 minutes make for one of the best title-game performances ever.

We could have scrambled at him and ran at him a little bit more, and that might be a coaching mistake, but we were dialed in,” Beard said. “We knew who he was. He just hit a lot of tough shots.”

Still, Texas Tech had a chance to tie it after what nearly became the most infamous attempted timeout since Chris Webber in 1993.

Culver’s potential go-ahead 3 missed its mark with 5 seconds remaining and Hunter corralled the rebound. He looked to pass the ball up ahead to Guy, but the hero of Saturday’s semifinal win wasn’t using his hands to catch a pass. Instead, he was signalling for timeout when Hunter’s pass sailed out of bounds with 1 second remaining, giving Texas Tech one last chance to head home to Lubbock with snipped nets and a trophy in tow.

Instead, Braxton Key blocked Culver’s fadeaway attempt and the country was gifted with an additional 5 minutes of a beautiful basketball game.

I had the mindset to get downhill, create,” Culver said, “and I saw a switch. I felt like I had an open shot so I shot it.”

Overtime provided only a fraction of those final 6 minutes of regulation, with Texas Tech taking a three-point lead that would be overtaken by the Cavaliers and never returned. It ended with Hunter launching the ball into the Minneapolis air as a champion.

“I see guys do it all the time, and it looked cool to me,” he said, “so I wanted the ball and I wanted to throw it up.”

(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

In the end, the game lived up to the two teams’ reputations as defensive juggernauts, but delivered the drama that some thought would be impossible to create with two teams who care more for stops than buckets.

That, though, missed the truth of this matchup. Yes, Virginia and Texas Tech are two of the best defenses in the country – and maybe that the sport has seen in recent years – but their offenses were far from disasters. Quite the opposite. Both had bucket-getters. Both had lottery picks. It had overtime for the first time since 2008.

It made for a cocktail that was both sweet and intoxicating.

It’s the greatest feeling I’ve ever felt in basketball,” Guy said.

On a stage that can crush or elevate, and both teams rose to the moment to create a crowning game that will forever rank among the best.

“It was everything and more. You dream as a kid to play in something like this,” Culver said.

Virginia’s rise to the pinnacle of the sport comes just a year after reaching its nadir against UMBC. Much the same team, a wholly different result. From historic loss to storybook redemption.

You have a scar, and it reminds you of that, but it’s a memory,” Bennett said. “Does it go away completely? No, I wish it wouldn’t have happened in some ways. Now I say, well, it bought us a ticket here. So be it.”

Virginia walked through the blue and orange confetti that littered the championship floor with Jerome carrying the national championship trophy back to the locker room. Mamadi Diakite sat there with a piece of net tied around his finger, a placeholder for the ring that will eventually adorn his hand. Guy smiled and cameras with a hat that read “CHAMPIONS” across the brim.

Virginia was the laughingstock of the sport last year, and came through to the other side as champions. The Cavaliers survived Carsen Edwards in the Elite 8. Guy’s free throws in the final second beat Auburn in the Final Four. Hunter’s late 3 and a steely resilience beat Texas Tech.

No laughingstock now. No doubts about system or style. No peers now.

Virginia is the national champion.

“It’s a great story,” Bennett said. “That’s probably the best way I can end this. It’s a great story.”

One of the greatest, even.

(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Alabama coach Nate Oats gets new 6-year, $30 million deal

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama coach Nate Oats has agreed to a new six-year, $30 million contract amid the program’s best regular season in decades.

Oats will average $5 million plus incentives over the deal running through the 2028-29 season under a deal approved by the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees Compensation Committee.

It makes him the fourth-highest paid basketball coach in the Southeastern Conference and among the Top 10 nationally, athletic director Greg Byrne said.

Oats, who is in his fourth season, will make $4.5 million for the first year with $200,000 annual raises. The fourth-ranked Crimson Tide (19-3, 9-0 SEC) has the team’s highest ranking this deep into a season since 1976-77.

“I am honored and humbled to receive a contract extension from the University of Alabama,” Oats said in a statement. “As I have said many times, my family and I love this community, the city of Tuscaloosa and the university.

“I am incredibly proud of what we have been able to build during our time at UA which is a direct reflection of the student-athletes, coaches and staff who have all played a big part in our success. I am excited for what’s happening in the future of our program and the direction we are heading.”

Alabama has gone 80-39 under Oats, winning the 2021 SEC regular season and tournament championships.

“Coach Oats has done an outstanding job leading our men’s basketball program, and we want him to continue doing so for many years to come,” Byrne said in a statement. “He and his staff have lifted the program back to national prominence and built a product that is exciting to be a part of for our team and for our fans.

“We were confident Nate was going to be an outstanding coach for us when we hired him, and he is not only that, but also a great leader of our young men.”

The new contract comes nearly three weeks after Alabama basketball player Darius Miles and another man were charged with capital murder following a fatal shooting near campus. Miles, a reserve forward, was removed from the team and suspended from the university following his arrest.

Duke women’s coach Kara Lawson says men’s ball used vs. FSU

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Duke coach Kara Lawson said her team played with a men’s basketball for the first half of a loss to Florida Stated.

The 16th-ranked Blue Devils lost to the Seminoles 70-57 in Tallahassee, Florida – the team’s second Atlantic Coast Conference loss of the season.

After her team beat Pittsburgh 53-44 , Lawson ended her news conference by speaking animatedly.

“This would never happen in a men’s game. This would never happen. It’s embarrassing for our sport,” she said.

The circumference of a women’s ball is about an inch smaller than a men’s ball and it is typically 2 ounces lighter. While it may not seem like a lot, that’s a big difference.

Lawson said throughout the first half, Duke players were “complaining about the ball.” The Blue Devils were 7 for 34 from the field in the opening 20 minutes of that game. They were 12 for 38 in the second half. Florida State made 10 of its 30 shots in the first two quarters and 14 of 31 in the second half.

“To have a game that, at the end of the season, could be the difference between a seed, between a title, my players don’t deserve that and neither do their players,” Lawson said. “It’s a complete failure. And you can figure out who the people I’m talking about that failed the sport and our players and both teams.”

Lawson said assistant coach Winston Gandy went to the scorer’s table at the half to check on the ball when he realized what the problem was. She said the game officials changed the ball to start the second half.

“We have concluded through our investigation that it was a men’s ball,” Lawson said. “The conference and Florida State is saying that it wasn’t.”

The ACC said it did a comprehensive review talking with game officials, administrators, the table crew and both schools.

“Following the thorough and objective review process, there was no evidence found to support the claim,” the conference said in a statement. “Per NCAA playing rules, there is no appeal or protest process.”

The ACC has instituted a procedural change that the game ball will be brought to the pregame meeting with the captains for approval.

“It’s very frustrating that (the game) … was not treated with the utmost respect that players on both teams deserve,” she said.

This wasn’t the first time this has happened in women’s basketball. In 2017, the College of Charleston played home games and practiced with men’s balls for most of its season until the error was was discovered.

“Let me be clear: Florida State beat us. They beat us playing with a men’s ball in the first half and a women’s ball in the second half. But I can’t say if we’d have played with a women’s ball in the first half and the second half that we would have won. But they can’t say that either,” Lawson said.

No. 1 South Carolina wins 28th straight 87-69 over ‘Cats

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COLUMBIA, S.C. — Dawn Staley’s pleased South Carolina had made its once-lopsided series with UConn more competitive the past few years.

She hopes her top-ranked team can accomplish another milestone when the teams meet for a top-five showdown on Sunday.

“It still stands true that we haven’t won up there,” Staley said.

Aliyah Boston had 14 points and 14 rebounds as South Carolina prepared for the top-five showdown with an 87-69 victory over Kentucky on Thursday night.

The Gamecocks (10-0 Southeastern Conference) improved to 22-0 and won their 28th straight, a run that included a 64-49 victory over the Huskies in Minneapolis last April to win the national championship.

Staley had lost her first seven games as South Carolina coach against UConn. The Gamecocks have won three of the past four matchups since.

“This particular class committed to each other,” Staley said. “When you have that type of commitment and you just want to win, you find yourself winning some games that you haven’t won before.”

Against Kentucky, reigning AP player of the year Boston extended her school mark with her 75th career double-double and moved within 11 of the SEC record of 86 games with a double-double held by LSU great Sylvia Fowles.

Things weren’t perfect for South Carolina, which fell behind early, then had its 15-point halftime lead cut to 54-48 midway through the third quarter.

Still, its dominant inside game – South Carolina outscored the Wildcats 62-14 in the paint – was more than enough to shut down Kentucky (10-12, 2-8), the last team to defeat the defending national champions at the SEC Tournament last March.

The Wildcats went on top 16-15 after a pair of baskets by Adebola Adeyeye.

That’s when South Carolina, fueled by its bench, took control with a 17-2 run. Ashlyn Watkins had three inside shots and Kamilla Cardoso scored four points during the surge.

The Wildcats used a 13-4 burst to start the third quarter to give South Carolina a few uncomfortable moments. But the Gamecocks got going once more with an 11-0 run to extend their margin.

Cardoso, the 6-foot-7 reserve, had 14 points and five of South Carolina’s 14 blocks. Defensive ace Brea Beal had 10 including both of the Gamecocks’ 3-pointers.

Beal thought the team held together well to blunt Kentucky’s runs and regain control. “I think it’s our mental aspect of the game and us believing in each other,” she said.

Robyn Benton had 24 points to lead Kentucky, which has lost three of its past four games.

Wildcats coach Kyra Elzy said South Carolina is difficult to match up with because of its deep bench. “They have depth after depth after depth,” she said. “They keep coming.”

BIG PICTURE

Kentucky: The Wildcats are the not the same team that featured two-time SEC player of the year Rhyne Howard the past few seasons. They have 10 newcomers – and six freshmen – who are still learning how to play against the SEC’s top teams like South Carolina.

South Carolina: Forgive the Gamecocks if their focus wasn’t fully on this one at first with a big week ahead. In an eight-game span, South Carolina will face No. 5 UConn and No. 3 LSU, a pair of high-profile games could expose any flaw – or show how powerful the Gamecocks are in chasing a second straight NCAA crown.

UCONN KARMA

South Carolina has opened 22-0 twice under coach Dawn Staley, in 2014-15 and the following year. Both runs ended against UConn. Next up for Gamecocks are the Huskies, although South Carolina has won three of the past four games over UConn including last April’s 64-49 victory to win the NCAA Tournament title.

UP NEXT

Kentucky returns home to face Alabama on Feb. 9.

South Carolina heads to No. 5 UConn on Sunday.

Miles, Citron lead No. 9 Irish past Boston College 72-59

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BOSTON — Olivia Miles and Sonia Citron had already scored 10 straight points to put away Boston College when they turned their attention to other things.

“I told Sonia I needed two more assists for the double-double. And she was like, `All right, I’ve got you,”‘ Miles said after helping No. 9 Notre Dame beat BC 72-59 on Thursday night.

“That’s just kind of our communication on the court,” said Miles, who found Citron for baskets on the next two Irish possessions to complete a 14-0 run – with all 14 points from Miles and Citron. “We just really play off each other really well.

Miles scored 22 points with 10 assists and eight rebounds, and Citron scored 23 for the Irish (18-2, 9-1 Atlantic Coast Conference).

Maria Gakdeng scored 16 points, T’Yana Todd had 13 and Andrea Daly scored 10 with eight rebounds for BC (14-11, 4-8). The Irish beat BC at home 85-48 on New Year’s Day but hadn’t won in Chestnut Hill since 2019.

“This is such a tough place to play,” said Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey, whose team faces No. 16 Duke next. “We’ll celebrate it until about 12:30, and then we’ve got film. Tomorrow we start focusing on Duke.”

BC came within five points, 55-50, before the Irish ran off 14 points in a row – nine by Citron, and five by Miles. That put an end to what had been a back-and-forth game in which the Irish opened big leads and then frittered them away.

“I always feel like we’re close,” BC coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee said. “They’re young; I think consistency comes with experience.

“I think it’s a big improvement from the first time we played Notre Dame,” she said. “I still want to see more, and I want to see us grow up as fast as humanly possible because I think we do have a dangerous team when we going well.”

Notre Dame led by 11 in the first quarter and held a 38-30 lead with two minutes gone in the third. BC scored 13 of the next 18 points, capitalizing on back-to-back Irish turnovers to tie it 43-all with three minutes left in the quarter.

But Natalija Marshall put back the rebound of her own miss, Miles drove to the basket, Maddy Westbeld added a pair of baskets and then Miles stole the ball and found Citron on the fast break to make it 53-43.

BIG PICTURE

Notre Dame bounced back from their first league loss of the season, a 69-65 defeat at North Carolina State on Sunday. Now they face No. 16 Duke.

The Eagles, who beat Pittsburgh on Sunday to snap a five-game losing streak, were looking for their second victory over a Top 25 team this season, having also beaten then-No. 10 N.C. State on Jan. 5.

UP NEXT

Notre Dame: Hosts No. 16 Duke on Sunday.

Boston College: Visits Syracuse on Sunday.

No. 16 Xavier beats No. 17 Providence 85-83 in OT thriller

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CINCINNATI — Jack Nunge had 23 points and 14 rebounds as No. 16 Xavier held off No. 17 Providence 85-83 in an overtime thriller Wednesday night.

Colby Jones and Souley Boum each scored 20 for the Musketeers, who won a first-place showdown in the Big East without injured forward Zach Freemantle.

Noah Locke had 22 points and Ed Croswell added 21 for Providence (17-6, 9-3), which had beaten Xavier three straight times.

A layup by Boum put the Musketeers (18-5, 10-2) ahead 82-79 with 51 seconds remaining in overtime. A turnover by the Musketeers led to a layup by Devin Carter that cut Xavier’s lead to one with 24 seconds left.

Boum hit one of two free throws, and Jared Bynum’s 3-point attempt from the left corner rimmed out at the buzzer as the Musketeers held on.

Xavier played its first game without Freemantle, the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer. He is expected to miss four weeks with a left foot injury, the same foot that required surgery in 2021.

Jerome Hunter, who has excelled off the bench for the Musketeers, made his first start of the season and scored nine points with eight rebounds. Xavier had used the same starting lineup in each of its previous 11 Big East games.

Things started well for the Musketeers. who went on a 12-1 run to build a 25-11 lead.

With Boum on the bench with two fouls, the Musketeers didn’t have a field goal in the final 4:18 of the first half and the Friars pulled to 39-35 at halftime.

Providence outscored Xavier 8-2 to start the second half and took its first lead, 43-41, with 17:41 left.

There was a frantic finish to the second half, with Adam Kunkel’s 3-pointer putting Xavier ahead 76-73 with 55 seconds left. But then Bynum banked in a tying 3 and Boum missed two long shots to send the game to overtime.

BIG PICTURE

Providence: The Friars, who won their first Big East regular-season title last year, entered the night tied atop the conference standings with Xavier and No. 14 Marquette, which hosted Villanova later. Providence was picked fifth in the preseason.

Xavier: Hunter, who averages 14 minutes, left with three minutes remaining in OT with an apparent cramp in his right leg. With Freemantle out, Hunter played 36 minutes.

UP NEXT

Providence: Hosts last-place Georgetown on Wednesday.

Xavier: Will host St. John’s on Saturday.