No. 22 UConn beats VCU 70-63 in OT for third at Atlantis

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
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PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – R.J. Cole scored 26 points and Isaiah Whaley hit two late 3-pointers in his return to the lineup, helping No. 22 UConn beat VCU 70-63 in overtime for third place at the Battle 4 Atlantis on Friday.

Whaley had 16 points for the Huskies (6-1), including a tying 3 late in regulation and the go-ahead 3 at the 3:54 mark in OT. He also came up with a punctuating three-point play with 4.5 seconds left, celebrating his breakaway basket by with celebratory punches and two head-butts on the padded basket support.

The 6-foot-9 graduate forward missed Thursday’s loss to Michigan State after fainting briefly after playing 43 minutes during a double-overtime win against No. 19 Auburn in Wednesday’s first round.

UConn won despite shooting just 33% while committing 22 turnovers, with Whaley’s 3 standing as the only basket in overtime for either team until the final 12 seconds.

Jayden Nunn scored 21 points for the Rams (3-4), who led by four late in regulation. VCU had its own offensive troubles, shooting 36% and going 2 for 9 in the extra period.

This was a defensive-oriented game with physical play, one in which neither the Huskies nor the Rams got many easy looks. And it turned nearly everything after halftime into a grind to the finish, with neither team leading by more than four points in the second half.

VCU led 54-50 before UConn’s Tyrese Martin knocked down a 3 from the corner. The Huskies tied it at 56 when Whaley knocked down a 3 off a kickout from Adama Sanogo with 1:05 left.

UConn got the last chance to avoid overtime with an inbounds play from near half-court with 0.8 seconds left, but Cole’s catch-and-turn 3 near his bench hit the rim and fell away to push the game into overtime.

BIG PICTURE

VCU: The Rams opened the tournament by beating Syracuse 67-55, holding the Orange to 29% shooting, but they lost to reigning national champion Baylor 69-61 in Thursday’s semifinals. VCU’s defense is ranked among KenPom’s national leaders in defensive efficiency (88.6 points allowed per 100 possessions) and played like it, but the Rams just couldn’t come up with a couple of needed baskets late to win this one.

UConn: The Huskies’ first-round win was a memorable one, a wild 115-109 double-overtime victory against No. 19 Auburn filled with big shots down the stretch. UConn gave up the final nine points in a 64-60 semifinal loss to Michigan State on Thursday, but this time had enough to finish strong in the overtime against VCU’s defensive pressure.

UP NEXT

VCU: The Rams get a week off before hosting Campbell on Dec. 4.

UConn: The Huskies host Maryland-Eastern Shore on Tuesday.

No. 22 UConn survives, beats No. 19 Auburn 115-109 in 2OT

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
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PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – Shot after shot, No. 19 Auburn and No. 22 Connecticut went back and forth at each other seemingly oblivious to pressure from a dwindling clock in an ever-lengthening game at the Battle 4 Atlantis.

It may have been an early season tournament, but it felt like a March-esque thriller – right up to the second overtime when Tyler Polley and Adama Sonogo helped the Huskies finally wrestle away a 115-109 double-overtime victory in Wednesday’s first round.

“Pretty good tip for November, right?” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said.

Indeed, the first two-overtime game in the event’s 10-year history had plenty: big shots, clutch responses, frenetic sequences, even players diving on the floor for a loose rebound in the final seconds of a two-possession game with the outcome decided.

Exhausting? Chaotic? Thrilling? UConn coach Dan Hurley would choose all of the above.

“Now you have a chance to sit back and think about how many different ways it could’ve went the other way in regulation, or really from the five-minute mark all the way through to the second overtime,” Hurley said. “Just a multitude of things that went on that were mind-boggling, mind-numbing.”

Polley scored a career-high 24 points and hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 2:58 left in the second overtime, and had also hit a 3-pointer for the lead with 12.5 seconds left in regulation. He finished 6 of 9 from 3-point range.

Sanogo had a career-best 30 points and stayed on the floor despite playing critical late minutes with four fouls for the Huskies (5-0), who blew a 15-point lead in regulation and squandered a lead late in the first overtime. But the two combined for UConn’s first 14 points of the second overtime as UConn finally pushed ahead for good.

“I definitely thought numerous times we could’ve had the game won,” said R.J. Cole, who had 24 points for UConn. “They weren’t going to go without a fight and we knew that. So we continued to just talk to each other and keep pushing, knowing that it’s not going to be easy and we’re going to have to fight for this one to get the win.”

K.D. Johnson and top freshman Jabari Smith had their own huge performances for the Tigers (3-1). Johnson scored 23 of his career-high 27 points after halftime, including driving baskets in the final seconds of regulation and the first overtime to extend the game.

“I was just trying to do anything to get a W,” Johnson said. “I wasn’t really focused on anything, how it was going. I was just trying to get a win.”

BIG PICTURE

UConn: Polley’s go-ahead 3 from the right wing started the decisive 9-0 run that pushed the Huskies to a 109-100 lead. Sanogo added two tough baskets in traffic as well as a pair of free throws to cap that run, part of a 12-for-12 effort at the line in the overtimes that helped UConn stay in control as Auburn tried to make a final run.

Auburn: This is the first trip here for the Tigers, who were coming off a 58-52 win at South Florida on Saturday. They looked headed for a big loss in regulation before clawing back in it, but ultimately faded by shooting just 5 of 17 from the field in the second overtime as UConn made its move to end the Tigers’ title hopes and send them to the consolation bracket.

“This one here is gone,” Pearl said. “Missed opportunity, gone. Let’s win two games.”

WHALEY’S STATUS

As the horn sounded, Polley began skipping to the UConn bench to celebrate with teammates, though the celebration froze for a moment at the sight of Isaiah Whaley laying on the sideline in front of the bench. After a few moments, Whaley got up with a smile to join the handshake line.

Afterward, Hurley said Whaley – who had played 43 minutes – had fainted and that he thought the 6-foot-9 forward “just stood up too quick” from the bench and there were no apparent concerns with dehydration.

SMITH’S GROWTH

Smith had 19 of his 22 after halftime for Auburn. That included a 3-pointer from in front of his bench with 2:39 left in regulation for a 76-74 lead after the Tigers had trailed 65-50 near the 11-minute mark.

That was part of a stretch of seven straight points for the 6-10 McDonald’s All-American, who also went 12 of 12 at the foul line.

“He’s not afraid of the moment,” Pearl said.

“In the second half, I thought he took the ball to the basket with more authority and obviously got to the foul line a lot in the second half, which shows a lot of maturity for a young player.”

UP NEXT

UConn: The Huskies will face Michigan State in Thursday’s semifinals.

Auburn: The Tigers will face Loyola Chicago in Thursday’s consolation bracket.

Gonzaga, UCLA hold down top poll spots ahead of showdown

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
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Gonzaga and UCLA continued their hold on the top two spots in The Associated Press Top 25 college basketball poll on Monday, setting the stage for their highly anticipated showdown this week, while Purdue and Duke barged their way into the top five.

The Bulldogs (4-0) had an easy week with wins over Alcorn State and Bellarmine and received 55 first-place votes from the 61-person medial panel that regularly covers college basketball. The Bruins (4-0) received five first-place votes after blowing out Long Beach State and North Florida last week to head to Las Vegas with some momentum.

Gonzaga played Central Michigan and UCLA faced Bellarmine on Monday night in the Good Sam Empire Classic. Then, the nation’s top two teams will square off Tuesday night in a Final Four rematch of a game won by the Bulldogs in overtime.

“It’s important for everybody if you want to make the NCAA Tournament,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “If you want to accrue a high seed, you have to play really, really good teams. I think it’s important for college basketball.”

Purdue received the only other first-place vote and leapfrogged Kansas into third in the Top 25 following the Boilermakers’ win over then-No. 5 Villanova in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off tournament. The Jayhawks were fourth and the Blue Devils were fifth.

Defending national champion Baylor jumped to sixth after running roughshod over Central Arkansas and Stanford, while the Wildcats dropped only to seventh thanks to beating then-No. 12 Tennessee before losing to Purdue. Texas and Memphis were next, with Kentucky and Alabama in a tie for 10th in the second regular-season poll of the season.

The Wildcats and Crimson Tide were followed by Houston, Arkansas, Illinois and Tennessee at No. 15.

St. Bonaventure solidified its status as this season’s early mid-major darling by jumping six spots to No. 16 following wins over Clemson and Marquette. Arizona made the biggest leap into the poll at No. 17 after beating Wichita State and romping past then-No. 4 Michigan in the Roman Main Event, followed by another newcomer to the poll in BYU.

“We got good players,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said. “I know we’ve been out of the limelight; maybe a little bit of that’s my fault because I haven’t been looking for it. But you know what? We’re here now. And we belong.”

Auburn and Michigan rounded out the top 20 with Seton Hall, UConn, Florida, USC and Xavier completing the poll.

“This is where we are as a program,” said Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard, whose Pirates beat the Wolverines last week for their first win over a top-five nonconference team on the road. “We can play with anybody in the country and we have done that in the last seven years.”

CONFERENCE CALL

SEC – 6 (Nos. 10, 10 tie, 13, 15, 19, 23)

Big East – 4 (Nos. 7, 21, 22, 25)

Big 10 – 3 (Nos. 3, 14, 20)

Big 12 – 3 (Nos. 4, 6, 8)

Pac-12 – 3 (Nos. 2, 17, 24)

American – 2 (Nos. 9, 12)

West Coast – 2 (Nos. 1, 18)

ACC – 1 (No. 5)

Atlantic 10 – 1 (No. 16)

UP AND DOWN

Purdue and Baylor moved up three spots within the top 10, and Alabama move up four spots to forge a tie with SEC rival Kentucky. The biggest drop came with Michigan, which was fourth before a pair of losses sent coach Juwan Howard’s crew tumbling all the way to No. 20.

“We’re going to get better, and I trust we will,” said Howard, whose team has another tough test with North Carolina on Dec. 1. “It’s part of the game: adversity. Adversity hits, it defines the man, or how he responds the next time.”

IN AND OUT

Arizona would have come in at No. 31 last week and debuted in the poll at No. 17 this week, while BYU would have been 29th a week ago and entered the poll at No. 18. Seton Hall would have been 38th a week ago and came in at No. 21, while Xavier gave the poll four newcomers this week.

Oregon went from No. 12 to the first team out. Ohio State, North Carolina and Maryland also fell out.

Hubert Davis ready for coaching debut with No. 19 North Carolina

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Hubert Davis sounds at ease.

He’ll coach his first regular-season game Tuesday at 19th-ranked North Carolina. It’s the place where he played under Dean Smith before enjoying a long NBA career and later returned to join the staff of another Hall of Fame Tar Heels coach in Roy Williams.

Entering Tuesday night’s game against Loyola Maryland, the 51-year-old Davis is pointing to his deep connections to the program as the reason why he feels so comfortable.

“From that standpoint of having the spotlight on you, yes, I have not been there as a head coach,” Davis said Monday. “But I’ve been there before. So this isn’t anything different to me. I’ll be walking out there the same way – the emotions and the feeling will be the same way – as I have walking through that tunnel the other 2,000 times that I’ve walked through the tunnel.”

The transition at North Carolina stands as one of the highest-profile coaching change entering college basketball’s opening night Tuesday, from the April retirement of a 903-game winner with three national championships in Williams to the significance of the tradition-rich program turning to its first-ever Black head coach in Davis.

The night also marks notable debuts at several other marquee programs, including former Hoosiers star and NBA coach Mike Woodson taking over at Indiana (against Eastern Michigan), former Texas Tech coach Chris Beard leading No. 5 Texas (against Houston Baptist), Loyola Chicago’s Porter Moser taking over at Oklahoma (against Northwestern State) and Gonzaga assistant Tommy Lloyd replacing Sean Miller at Arizona (against Northern Arizona).

It also begins the farewell season of Hall of Famer Mike Krzyzewski for ninth-ranked Duke, which faces 10th-ranked Kentucky in the Champions Classic in New York’s Madison Square Garden. Krzyzewski will retire after the season and hand off to associate head coach and former Blue Devils player Jon Scheyer.

For the Tar Heels, the nephew of 1970s program great Walter Davis is a bridge to the Smith era. Yet he’s also tied to recent successes since joining Williams’ coaching staff in 2012 after working as an ESPN basketball analyst, including reaching the national championship game in 2016 and then returning to win the title the following year.

“It just says a lot about the program,” big man Armando Bacot said of Davis’ UNC ties. “You see a lot of other programs going and getting guys from other schools, other leagues and stuff like that. But just us being able to keep it in the family says a lot.”

Davis has leaned into that tradition by hiring a staff full of former UNC players, including bringing in former East Carolina and Auburn head coach Jeff Lebo while promoting a Final Four Most Outstanding Player in Sean May as an assistant alongside Williams holdover Brad Frederick.

Davis wants to keep some traditions such as remaining one of the nation’s best rebounding teams, while adopting tweaks such as improving floor spacing with outside-shooting big men.

That much was clear in how the Tar Heels overhauled their frontcourt by bringing in 6-foot-9 transfer Brady Manek from Oklahoma and 6-11 transfer Dawson Garcia from Marquette. In Friday’s exhibition win against Elizabeth City State, the two made 4 of 9 3-pointers.

Davis has also been encouraging Bacot to shoot 3s after an offseason of work to expand his range. The 6-10 junior made his only 3 in the exhibition after attempting one in his first two college seasons.

After the exhibition, Garcia described Davis, whose college head-coaching experience is limited to the Tar Heels’ junior varsity team, as “super engaged … like he’s competing out there almost with us.”

Davis seems to look at it that way, too.

“I’ve played basketball my entire life,” Davis said. “I’ve been out there. So I know basketball. I know Carolina basketball. … I’ve had a lot of experiences, whether it be on the court or on the bench, that I can pull from to help me make decisions during a game.”

Georgia loses only returning starter Horne to knee injury

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
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ATHENS, Ga. — Senior forward P.J. Horne, Georgia’s only returning starter, will miss the 2021-22 season after suffering a knee injury in practice.

Georgia coach Tom Crean said on Twitter that Horne had season-ending surgery on his right knee last weekend. He said Horne hurt the knee when he “bumped knees in a scrimmage, lost footing and went down awkwardly.”

Horne played his first three seasons at Virginia Tech before starting all 26 games at Georgia last season. He averaged 8.5 points and 3.5 rebounds. His 46 3-pointers led the team.

Crean described the loss of Horne as “a major blow to us.” Horne was expected to provide stability and leadership to a revamped roster.

Crean said in his Twitter posts that Horne “was playing so well and showing great leadership as our leading returning player, but more so because he is such a great person and one of the finest people I’ve ever coached. He cares about his teammates deeply.”

The Bulldogs’ leading scorers from last season’s 14-12 team, guards Sahvir Wheeler and K.D. Johnson, transferred to Kentucky and Auburn, respectively.

Crean has had to rely heavily on the transfer portal to rebuild his roster.

Georgia was picked to finish last in the 14-team Southeastern Conference by media in voting released Tuesday.

Kentucky favored to win SEC; Pippen preseason player of year

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Kentucky is the favorite to win the Southeastern Conference title, while defending champion Alabama is picked to finish second in voting among a panel of national and league media.

Voters picked Vanderbilt sophomore guard Scotty Pippen Jr. as preseason SEC player of the year in results released by the league on Tuesday.

Pippen headlined the first-team All-SEC picks that also included Kentucky guard Sahvir Wheeler, a Georgia transfer. Alabama guards Jaden Shackelford and Jahvon Quinerly also made the first team, along with Colin Castleton and Mississippi State’s Iverson Molinar.

Ties were not broken.

The predicted order of finish: Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Auburn, LSU, Florida, Mississippi State, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt and Georgia.