No. 3 UConn women avoid 1st 2-game skid since ’93, top UCLA

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NEWARK, N.J. – Coming off a humbling loss without injured star Paige Bueckers, UConn coach Geno Auriemma hoped his team would learn a lesson.

The third-ranked Huskies struggled again without the reigning national player of the year, but held off UCLA 71-61 Saturday, managing to keep intact a streak of not losing back-to-back games dating to March 1993.

On Thursday, in their first game without Bueckers, the Huskies fell to unranked Georgia Tech and were held to a season-low 44 points.

“That particular loss the other night probably told a lot of players that you’re not good enough right now with the way you’re playing basketball and told our team that you’re not playing as a team,” Auriemma said.

“And you can use any excuse you want. Well, we don’t half our team. And that’s not either here or there. You can still play as a team even though you’re missing key components of your team. So I think the change was to try and play more as a team,” he said.

Dorka Juhasz shot 5 of 5 for 16 points to go with 16 rebounds and Evina Westbrook added 17 points, seven assists and seven rebounds for the Huskies (6-2) as all five starters scored in double figures.

UCLA (5-3) trailed 65-51 with 1:20 left before scoring 10 straight points, closing within four with 37 seconds to go. The Huskies pulled away after that.

“I just had that little bit of my confidence,” Juhasz said. “Last game was a hard one. All of us got together, we fought through adversity as a whole team. It’s not just me. Everybody was great today.”

Bueckers fractured her left tibia at the knee Sunday in a win over Notre Dame. She was averaging 21.2 points, 6.2 assists, and 5.5 rebounds and has accounted for 52% of the Huskies’ offense in points or assists this season.

Charisma Osbornes led UCLA with with 26 points, while Jaelynn Penn had 10 points and seven rebounds. The Bruins fell to 0-7 overall against UConn.

The Huskies had trouble finding their rhythm at the start against UCLA and trailed by as many 11. Caroline Ducharme hit a 3-pointer in the final seconds of the first half, capping an 11-2 run that pulled UConn within 30-28.

“There are moments in games when someone has to make a play of some sort. You have to have the kind of players that can make those plays during those moments. Sometimes those moments are early in the game. Sometimes they’re late in the game,” Auriemma said.

“What changed in the second quarter is there were more clean stops by us and being able to get out a little bit in transition and try to get some baskets early in the shot clock, around the lane. That gave us a little bit of momentum,” he said.

A fast-break layup by Westbrook after a steal from Aaliyah Edwards put the Huskies ahead for good at 43-42 with 3 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter. The basket came during a 14-0 run that made it 50-42, with Juhasz scoring seven of the points.

Up by 14 points, UConn missed five straight foul shots in less than a minute as UCLA closed to 65-61 on Dominique Onu’s layup with 37 seconds left.

“We didn’t come here for moral victories. Those days are past for UCLA basketball,” UCLA coach Cori Close said. “We came here to compete and win, and obviously we’re disappointed.”

The Huskies also are without freshman Azzi Fudd. The nation’s consensus top recruit last year is out because of a stress injury to her right foot, as is sophomore Nika Muhl (right foot).

“They still have a lot of really, really good players, so I don’t really feel sorry for them about that,” Close quipped.

Ducharme finished with 14 points, and Christyn Williams had 11 points, while Olivia Nelson-Ododa added 10 points and eight rebounds for UConn.

INJURY UPDATE

Auriemma said Bueckers is considering surgery to repair the tibial plateau fracture.

That would likely extend the time she is out until mid-February at the earliest.

“I think anytime there’s a fracture, that means there’s something that has to be fixed, and you let it be fixed by time or you need to go in there and fix it. So I think by the next couple of days, hopefully we’re going to have a definitive answer,” he said.

NEVER FORGET

The game was part of the Never Forget Tribute Classic at the Prudential Center in Newark, raising money for a 9/11-related charity. It’s the first season women’s teams competed in the event. The UCLA-UConn matchup was nationally televised on ABC, becoming the first regular-season collegiate women’s basketball game to ever air on the network. No. 15 UConn men took on St. Bonaventure in the second game of the doubleheader.

UP NEXT

UCLA: Host Texas Southern on Thursday.

UConn: Host Louisville on Sunday.

Gonzaga’s Timme among five finalists for men’s Wooden Award

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
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LOS ANGELES – Drew Timme of Gonzaga is one of five finalists for the John R. Wooden Award as the men’s college basketball player of the year.

He’s joined by Zach Edey of Purdue, Trayce Jackson-Davis of Indiana, Houston’s Marcus Sasser and Jalen Wilson of Kansas.

Timme took his team farthest in the upset-riddled NCAA Tournament with Gonzaga losing in the Elite Eight. Sasser helped Houston reach the Sweet 16. Purdue lost in the first round, while Indiana and Kansas were beaten in the second round.

The winner will be announced April 4 on ESPN. All five players have been invited to Los Angeles for the 47th annual presentation on April 7.

Also among the top 10 vote getters were: Jaime Jaquez Jr. of UCLA, Brandon Miller of Alabama, Penn State’s Jalen Pickett, Oscar Tshiebwe of Kentucky and Arizona’s Azuolas Tubelis.

Voting took place from March 13-20.

South Carolina’s Dawn Staley will receive the Legends of Coaching Award during the ceremony at the Los Angeles Athletic Club.

Indiana’s Teri Moren wins AP Coach of the Year

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times / USA TODAY NETWORK
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DALLAS – Teri Moren has led Indiana to some unprecedented heights this season.

The team won its first Big Ten regular season championship in 40 years, rose to No. 2 in The Associated Press women’s basketball poll and earned the school’s first No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Moren was honored Thursday as the AP women’s basketball Coach of the Year, the first time she has won the award. She received 12 votes from the 28-member national media panel that votes on the AP Top 25 each week. South Carolina’s Dawn Staley was second with eight votes. Utah’s Lynne Roberts received five and Virginia Tech’s Kenny Brooks three.

Voting was done before the NCAA Tournament.

“I think a lot of people were like this is going to be a year where Indiana is reloading, rebuilding, they won’t be as good as they had been the year prior. We were picked third in the Big Ten,” Moren said.

Moren was surprised by her team, who told her she won in an elaborate ruse.

“Anytime you can share it with people that made it happen. the staff, the players, the most important people who have been instrumental in the season and this award is special. I was speechless.”

Moren accepted the award at the Final Four, sharing the stage with AP Player of the Year Caitlin Clark to complete a Big Ten sweep.

The team has come a long way from when Moren was a young girl growing up in southern Indiana. She was a diehard fan of the Indiana basketball team. The men’s one that is.

She would attend men’s games with her family when she was a kid and was a big fan of coach Bob Knight. She has a constant reminder of the Hall of Fame coach in her office as a picture of his infamous chair-throwing incident hangs by the door. Moren said it’s the last thing she sees before heading to practice.

As far as the women’s team, they just weren’t very good. Times have changed, as Moren has built the program into a blue-collar team that focuses on defense and is a consistent Top 25 team the last few seasons, appearing in the poll for 75 consecutive weeks starting with the preseason one in 2019-2020. That’s the fourth-longest active streak.

Before that, the Hoosiers had been ranked for a total of six times.

“People still talk to me about living in Bloomington and they couldn’t afford a ticket to the men’s game. Not that they settled, but became women’s basketball fans. At that moment, you could walk in and find any seat you wanted and watch women’s basketball,” Moren said.

“There were 300-400 people in the stands, now to what it is today, it’s an unbelievable thing to watch it grow. Things you dream about to see fans and bodies up in the rafters.”

The Hoosiers had six of the school’s top 10 most attended games this season, including crowds of over 13,000 fans for the first round of the NCAA Tournament and 14,000 for the second round game – a shocking loss to Miami.

“It stings right now, but that last game doesn’t define our season,” Moren said.

AP source: Alabama’s Brandon Miller declares for NBA draft

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Alabama All-American forward Brandon Miller is heading to the NBA after displaying versatile talent and athleticism in a lone season of college ball that was blemished by revelations he was present at a fatal shooting in January near campus.

ESPN first reported on Miller’s decision, and a person with knowledge of the situation confirmed the report to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because Miller hadn’t yet made an official declaration for the draft.

The 6-foot-9, 200-pound freshman, who was one of the nation’s top high school recruits, is projected as a potential top 5 draft pick.

Miller displayed his accurate 3-point shooting and athleticism in the most productive season of any freshman in Alabama history. He led the Tide to their first No. 1 ranking in 20 years and first No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed.

Miller averaged 18.8 points and 8.2 rebounds while hitting 38% from 3-point range. But he was scoreless in his first March Madness game, and went 3 of 19 and scored just nine points in a Sweet 16 loss to San Diego State.

Miller was described as a cooperating witness after the Jan. 15 shooting and was never charged with a crime.

But he and the Tide were dogged by off-court questions for the final two months of the season. Former Alabama player Darius Miles and another man were charged with capital murder in the fatal shooting of 23-year-old Jamea Harris, who was killed in early on Jan. 15.

Miller and fellow freshman Jaden Bradley were placed at the scene as well. According to police testimony, Miller brought Miles his gun. Miller’s attorney said the Tide forward was on his way to pick Miles up when Miles texted asking him to bring the weapon, but that Miller never handled the gun and didn’t know any criminal activity was intended.

Miller received threats after the news came out, and was accompanied by a university-provided security guard. “It doesn’t bother me,” Miller said of the threats at the NCAA regional in Birmingham, Alabama, “I send it to the right people and they handle it.”

Alabama finished the season 31-6 and won the Southeastern Conference regular-season and tournament titles.

Iowa’s Caitlin Clark wins AP Player of the Year

caitlin clark
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports
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DALLAS — Caitlin Clark has put together one of the greatest individual seasons in NCAA history with eye-popping offensive numbers.

Iowa’s junior guard, though, saved her best performance for the game’s biggest stage, recording the first 40-point triple-double in NCAA history to get Iowa to the Final Four for the first time in 30 years.

Clark was honored Thursday as The Associated Press women’s basketball Player of the Year. She received 20 votes from the 28-member national media panel that votes on the AP Top 25 each week. Voting was done before March Madness began.

“It’s a huge honor,” Clark said. “I picked a place that I perfectly fit into and that’s allowed me to show my skill set. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t mean something. It’s not the reason you play basketball, it’s just something that comes along with getting to do what you love.”

The Iowa coaching staff surprised Clark by sharing that she won the award while they were visiting the Iowa Children’s Hospital – a place near and dear to her. It also has huge ties to the Hawkeyes athletic department.

They put together a video of some of the children in the hospital congratulating Clark on an outstanding season, and in the middle of it, Iowa coach Lisa Bluder popped on the screen to tell her she won.

“I’m there for inspiring the next generation and being there for the people that you know are going through a hard time,” said Clark, who grew up in Iowa. “Being able to give joy to people that watch you play and watch your team play is amazing.”

She averaged 27.0 points, 8.3 assists and 7.5 rebounds during the season to help Iowa go 26-6. Clark has 984 points, the sixth-most in a season by any player in Division I women’s history. She also has over 300 assists.

“She is spectacular. I don’t know how else to describe what she does on the basketball court,” Bluder said.

Next up for the Hawkeyes is undefeated South Carolina in the national semifinals. The Gamecocks are led by Aliyah Boston, last season’s winner of the award. She garnered the other eight votes this season.

“There’s so many great players, more than just me and (Aliyah),” Clark told the AP. “You can go on and on and list the tremendous players. I think that’s really good for our game when there’s a lot of great players. That’s what is going to help this game grow more than anything else.”

Whether it’s hitting deep 3s from the Hawkeye logo at home games, hitting off-balance game-winning shots or throwing pinpoint passes to teammates for easy baskets, Clark has excelled on the court this year to get Iowa to a place it hasn’t been in a long time.

“It’s funny, because the better the opponent, almost the better she plays,” Bluder said. “It’s like she locks in on those, when we’re playing against Top 25 teams. That’s when her statistics even go up even more, against great opponents.”

Clark is the second Iowa player to win the AP award in the past few seasons, joining Megan Gustafson who won it in 2019.

UCLA guard Jaylen Clark declares for NBA draft

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
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LOS ANGELES – UCLA guard Jaylen Clark has declared for the NBA draft, weeks after a leg injury forced him out of the season’s final six games.

The junior from Riverside, California, announced his plans on his Instagram account Wednesday.

“Thank you to UCLA and coach (Mick) Cronin for believing in me,” Clark’s post read. “I’d like to announce that I am declaring for the 2023 draft.”

Clark didn’t indicate whether he would hire an agent ahead of the June 22 draft or retain his remaining eligibility. He has until May 31 to withdraw and be able to return to Westwood.

He suffered a lower right leg injury in the regular-season finale against Arizona on March 4. Clark averaged 13 points and six rebounds while starting 29 of 30 games. He led the Pac-12 in total steals with 78, tying for third all-time in single-season steals for the Bruins.

He was a second team All-Pac-12 selection, was named the league’s defensive player of the year and made its five-man All-Defensive Team.

AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25