Arkansas to open against Louisville in Maui Invitational

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LAHAINA, Hawaii — Arkansas will face Louisville in the opening round of a loaded 2022 Maui Invitational bracket.

The eight-team bracket announced for the November event will include six teams that went to the 2022 NCAA Tournament, including three that reached the Sweet 16.

Arizona faces Cincinnati in the opening round after reaching the Sweet 16 in coach Tommy Lloyd’s first season. Texas Tech, another Sweet 16 team last season, plays Creighton and San Diego State faces Ohio State in the tournament’s return to the Lahaina Civic Center on Nov. 21-23.

The 2020 tournament was held in Asheville, North Carolina, and last year’s was played in Las Vegas.

Arkansas has reached the Elite Eight the past two seasons under coach Eric Musselman.

No. 1 South Carolina women beat Creighton, reach Final Four

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GREENSBORO, N.C. — Aliyah Boston scored 19 points and led top-seeded South Carolina to its second straight Final Four with an 80-50 victory over Creighton on Sunday night, ending the 10th-seeded Bluejays’ surprise run through the NCAA Tournament.

The Gamecocks (33-2) advanced to their fourth Final Four in the past seven tournaments.

Boston lost her streak of 27 double-doubles in a row, ending with seven rebounds in the blowout. But she gained a much bigger prize – a shot at redemption in Minneapolis next week.

Last year, Boston missed a short putback in the closing moments of the Gamecocks’ 66-65 loss to eventual NCAA champion Stanford in the national semifinals. She collapsed in tears on the court and has been almost single-minded in wanting to finish what the team missed out on then.

The Gamecocks will face either Louisville or Michigan on Friday in the Final Four. The top-seeded Cardinals play the No. 3 seed Wolverines for the Wichita Region title on Monday night.

South Carolina danced and celebrated the win on Sunday as Boston held up two fingers for its back-to-back Final Fours.

It was a disheartening end for the feel-good Bluejays (23-10), who had burst through the Greensboro Region to reach the Elite Eight. Lauren Jensen had 12 points to lead the Bluejays.

South Carolina had struggled on offense down the stretch this season, especially in the past four games – shooting less than 36% in the SEC Tournament final loss to Kentucky and in NCAA wins against Howard, Miami and North Carolina.

This time, the Gamecocks were efficient, free-flowing and on target. They made six of their first seven shots to take a 13-5 lead four minutes in. When Creighton closed to 13-10, South Carolina took off on a game-changing 31-10 surge to take control for good.

Boston was her unstoppable self against an opponent without a player taller than 6-foot-1. She made six of seven shots the first two quarters for 14 points. Destanni Henderson had 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting including a pair of 3-pointers.

The Gamecocks led 46-25 at the break and built the lead to 32 points late in the fourth quarter.

Brea Beal and Henderson finished with 12 points apiece while Victaria Saxton had 11, giving South Carolina four starters in double figures.

Creighton had hoped its unconventional, fire-away-from-3 attack might take the Gamecocks by surprise as it did to seventh-seeded Colorado, second-seeded Iowa and third-seeded Iowa State.

But much like No. 15 seed St. Peter’s on the men’s side in its lopsided loss to North Carolina earlier Sunday, the grind against Power Five programs proved too much to keep Cinderella dancing. Creighton could not match up sizewise with South Carolina and were outrebounded 43-23.

THE BIG PICTURE

Creighton: Bluejays coach Jim Flanery said it Saturday – he had a bunch of sophomores running around out there and overachieving. Next year, they’ll be back with more experience and a clear direction of how good they can be. That could mean another successful NCAA run for the Big East Conference’s Bluejays.

South Carolina: The Gamecocks have discussed a singular expectation – to win it all – since they lost to Stanford in the Final Four last year. South Carolina has arrived at that watershed moment, and are eager to collect the team’s second national title in five years.

Creighton vs. Goliath: Surprise Jays face No. 1 Gamecocks

William Howard-USA TODAY Sports
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GREENSBORO, N.C. — Surprising Creighton is on the NCAA Tournament run of a lifetime. The only thing standing in the way of a first trip to the Final Four is No. 1 South Carolina and the nation’s most dominant player in Aliyah Boston.

The 10th-seeded Bluejays (23-9) believe they’re ready for that next, very huge step.

“I think what we have done already proves that we can be here,” Creighton senior Payton Brotzki said Saturday. “It’s obviously, a tough task, but I think we can trust in our preparation, our coaching, and just the faith and confidence we have in each other.”

So far, that’s carried Creighton as far as any double-digit seed in NCAA history except No. 11 seed Gonzaga, which reached the regional finals in 2011 before falling to Stanford.

South Dakota, a 10th seed in the Wichita Region, plays No. 3 seed Michigan on Saturday night for a spot in the Elite Eight.

If Creighton pulls it off, the win would surely join the list of biggest college upsets ever like tiny Chaminade on the men’s side defeating powerful top-ranked Virginia and star Ralph Sampson in 1982 or Appalachian State FCS football taking down fifth-ranked Michigan at the Big House in 2007.

Creighton coach Jim Flanery sees a chance, not unlike how 15th-seeded St. Peter’s beat Kentucky and Purdue on the way to men’s Elite Eight.

“I think we’re unconventional enough offensively ,” Flanery said, “to create some issues for them.”

Good luck.

South Carolina, led by the 6-foot-5 Boston, has answered every challenge this season. The Gamecocks (32-2) have gone 12-0 against ranked opponents this year after defeating No. 17 North Carolina 69-61 here Friday night. That total includes wins over a pair of remaining No. 1 tournament seeds in North Carolina State and Stanford.

“I don’t think we can get caught up in anything but what we have within our team,” said Zia Cooke, South Carolina’s third leading scorer at 11 points a game. “I know Creighton, they have great shooters. They’re super aggressive. So we are preparing for that.”

Creighton has already defeated No. 2 seed Iowa and No. 3 seed Iowa State, taking a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter on the Cyclones in a 76-68 Sweet 16 win Friday night.

The Bluejays use a motion attack that forces opponents to guard the perimeter or pay. They lead the country in assists at more than 20 a game and are second nationally with 10.3 3-pointers per contest.

It’s an effective, and necessary, style given Creighton’s lack of size. The Bluejays don’t have a player than 6-1. South Carolina has seven at least that tall – on the bench.

“Clearly, we don’t have that,” Bluejays junior forward Carly Bachelor, all of six-feet, said.

“But I also think that’s a strength of ours,” Bachelor continued, “not having to rely on size and just everybody being able to shoot and cut and score.”

Boston can shoot and cut and score, along with rebound. She went for 28 points and 22 rebounds in the North Carolina win, her 27th straight double-double. She also hit 12 of 13 foul shots and scored all 13 points for South Carolina in the fourth quarter to hold back the Tar Heels.

The self-effacing, modest Boston will not brag on herself, only works to get better and help the Gamecocks achieve their much stated season’s goal of a national championship. “That’s been our main focus the entire season,” she said.

South Carolina coach Dawn Staley has seen true growth from her superstar this season, both on and off the court. Her first two seasons, Staley said, Boston was largely about “books, basketball, and really, Netflix and taking naps.”

Boston has evolved, Staley says, to become more social and outgoing, finding a successful balance this season to success and fun.

Cooke watched Boston’s game against North Carolina and was amazed at her dominance and effort at the most crucial of times.

“I think she surprises us each and every day,” Cooke said. “She continues to make history.”

Upstart Creighton women top Iowa State, reach Elite Eight

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GREENSBORO, N.C. — Creighton’s players gathered for a group hug near midcourt as the final seconds ticked down to the horn, then Tatum Rembao flung the ball skyward in jubilation.

Moments later, the Bluejays migrated to share the celebration with fans and family near courtside.

“The past two weeks hasn’t felt real,” Morgan Maly said.

Believe it, Morgan. The 10th-seeded Bluejays are within a game of the Final Four.

She scored a career-high 21 points in Creighton’s 76-68 win over Iowa State on Friday night as the Bluejays became only the fourth double-digit seed to reach a women’s NCAA Tournament regional final.

Rembao added 19 for the Bluejays, who entered the Greensboro Region semifinals savoring the program’s first run to the Sweet 16. Now, Creighton has joined Lamar in 1991 and Oregon in 2017 as 10-seeds that pushed to the Elite Eight. Gonzaga in 2011 was the lowest-seeded ever at No. 11 to reach the Elite Eight.

“This team just continues to amaze me,” longtime Creighton coach Jim Flanery said.

The challenge ahead is even bigger for the upstart team: a matchup with No. 1 overall tournament seed South Carolina for a trip to the Final Four.

Creighton (23-9), which upset second-seeded Iowa in the second round, shot 55% after halftime with six 3-pointers. As third-seeded Iowa State (28-7) made a desperate comeback to cut a 13-point deficit to three, the Bluejays maintained control by knocking down enough free throws to keep the Cyclones and Associated Press second-team All-American Ashley Joens at arm’s distance.

Rembao was key in that, making 6 of 8 in the final 45 seconds.

“I told them, you want to keep advancing because that’s the goal,” Flanery said. “But I also want to just keep coaching this team. So that’s kind of what I was thinking, was I just love coaching this team because it’s different people, different nights.”

Emily Ryan had 22 points, eight rebounds and six assists to lead Iowa State, which shot just 38%. Joens had 14 points but made just 3 of 11 shots and got much of her production at the line (7 of 7).

Iowa State was in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2010.

“We knew going into this game basketball is a make shot-miss-shot game,” longtime Cyclones coach Bill Fennelly said. “Especially with these two teams. They made a lot of tough shots tonight, and, unfortunately, we couldn’t get the ball in the basket when we needed it.”

BIG PICTURE

Creighton: The Bluejays had showed plenty of composure by beating the Hawkeyes last weekend on the road, led by Lauren Jensen’s late 3-pointer. This time, they played with confidence in the third quarter and didn’t panic as the Cyclones inched closer and closer.

Iowa State: Iowa State’s win against Georgia last weekend provided a measure of redemption for a team that missed on a chance to go to last year’s Sweet 16 by losing on a last-second overtime shot to Texas A&M. Fennelly said he had thanked his players “50 times” for getting him back to this point and encouraged them to enjoy the moment. But they couldn’t quite follow that with another step to the program’s first Elite Eight since 2009.

TAKING OVER

Creighton’s biggest lead, 66-53, came on back-to-back drives from near the 3-point arc from Payton Brotzki – with no helpside rotation to stop her – followed by a big 3-pointer from Rembao at the 7:16 mark.

Creighton made 12 of 19 shots (63.2%) with five 3s in the third quarter.

DEFNDING JOENS

Joens came in averaging 20.5 points, but she headed to the bench with two fouls midway through the second quarter and never got in much of a groove.

She had just five points on 1-for-5 shooting by the break and went scoreless in the fourth quarter despite playing all 10 minutes.

“They did a great job defensively just staying on us, kind of knowing our personnel and how to guard,” Joens said.

SAVORING THE MOMENT

Flanery eventually made his way to the postgame celebration but was more subdued than his players, offering a big smile and two thumbs-up to the crowd.

The players couldn’t wait for the locker room to bring out the water bottles, instead dousing Maly as she did a TV interview at midcourt, and then again when she rejoined the team.

“I just love playing with this team, and it makes the celebrations so much better,” said Maly, who made 7 of 10 shots with three 3-pointers.

Jensen leads Creighton past Iowa in NCAA second round

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IOWA CITY, Iowa — Lauren Jensen found a new place last spring when she transferred from Iowa to Creighton.

She came back into her former home and knocked her ex-teammates out of the women’s NCAA tournament.

Jensen scored 19 points, including the go-ahead 3-pointer with 12 seconds left that lifted No. 10 seed Creighton over Caitlin Clark and second-seeded Iowa 64-62 in a Greensboro Region second-round game.

Iowa (24-8), which shared the Big Ten regular-season title and won the conference tournament, had two chances to tie the game in the closing three seconds. Monika Czinano missed a layup with three seconds left, then Kate Martin missed a putback as time ran out.

Jensen scored nine of the Bluejays’ last 10 points.

“I’ve gotten the question a lot,” Creighton coach Jim Flanery said. “‘How is Lauren going to feel today, what’s Lauren going to play like, da da da da?’ Those last few minutes had to be magical and special, and we’re super proud of her and we’re super proud that she’s part of our program.”

“Right away from summer workouts, this team welcomed me with open arms and made me feel at home and a part of the team, and I’m just so grateful for that,” Jensen said. “To be able to do that with them here today is just so great.”

Jensen had a layup with 1:26 left to cut Iowa’s lead to 62-60, then her 3-pointer gave the Bluejays a lead.

“I just wanted to go in and play my game and didn’t know what to expect with a sold out crowd,” she said. “Play my game and play with my teammates and hopefully come out with the win, which we did.”

“She goes over there and she comes back and beats us on our home court, and I want to congratulate her because she’s a great kid,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “She is a really, really good kid. I’m happy for her. I wish it wasn’t in this situation, but I am happy for her that she’s found a really good home and is really having a lot of success.”

After Clark missed a layup Emma Ronziek made the second of two free throws for the final margin.

Ronziek and Payton Brotzki had 13 points for the Bluejays (22-9), who advance to their first Sweet 16. They were the seventh double-digit seed to win in the women’s NCAA Tournament so far, matching the record set in 1998.

“This is for everyone who has played at Creighton and put on a uniform in the past,” Flanery said. “So happy for everyone who has been here. It means a lot. we have so much respect for Iowa and their program. The familiarity led to a lower scoring game than I anticipated. To make a Sweet 16 is really special.”

Czinano led Iowa with 27 points. Clark, who came into the game as the nation’s leading scorer at 27.4 points per game, finished with 15. Clark had a rough game, shooting just 4-for-19 from the field, including missing all eight shots in the second half.

“I missed some bunnies I usually make,” Clark said. “But that’s how basketball goes.”

Creighton led by as much as 12 points in the first half before a six-point Iowa run in the final two minutes cut the Bluejays’ lead to 38-32 at halftime. The Hawkeyes struggled offensively outside of Clark and Czinano, who had Iowa’s first 26 points of the game.

Iowa, which ranked second in the nation in scoring at 84.9 points per game, was held to a season-low in points.

ANOTHER IOWA CONNECTION

Creighton guard Rachel Saunders is an Iowa City native. Her father, Mike, played football at Iowa.

SELLOUT CROWD

Both sessions were sellouts, with an attendance of 14,382. The Iowa site had the best attendance of the 16 sites for the first round. Arizona was second with 9,573.

“To get that many people into a gym to watch women’s sports, I think that’s huge,” Czinano said.

“I apologize to our fans that they couldn’t celebrate a victory with us today,” Bluder said.

BIG PICTURE

Creighton: Flanery said on Saturday that playing in this game in front of a national television audience would be a chance to showcase his program, and the Bluejays took advantage of the spotlight to reach the regional semifinals.

Iowa: The Hawkeyes had the homecourt advantage, but struggled to get a lead against Creighton until late. The program had made back-to-back appearances in the second weekend of the tournament.

Martin, Kansas hold off Creighton 79-72 for another Sweet 16

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FORT WORTH, Texas — Remy Martin hadn’t led Kansas in scoring all season coming into the NCAA Tournament.

The fifth-year senior transfer from Arizona State is 2 for 2 on the big stage.

Martin scored 20 points, Ochai Agbaji put the Jayhawks ahead for good with his first basket early in the second half, and Kansas held off Creighton 79-72 on Saturday to advance to the Sweet 16.

A sore knee had Martin in and out of the lineup before he missed almost a month during Big 12 play. His first two double-figure games since December came in the Big 12 Tournament, helping the Jayhawks (30-6) win that title.

Now he’s led them to their 32nd Sweet 16, where they will play either Richmond or Providence.

“With the guys and my family, the group, they’re a pretty tight-knit group,” Martin said. “They keep my confidence going. They keep my mental going. I always felt like I had something in me, but there’s nothing to it. I just keep it simple.”

The short-handed Bluejays (23-12) stayed close with an uncharacteristically hot showing from 3-point range. One of the worst teams in the country from beyond the arc, ninth-seeded Creighton went 12 of 28. Arthur Kaluma was 4 of 10 and scored 24 points.

The biggest 3 came from freshman Trey Alexander, who swished an off-balance heave from well behind the line as the shot clock was about to expire for a 73-70 deficit with 2:25 to go. Keyshawn Feazell’s bucket soon after got Creighton within one.

The Bluejays had a chance to go ahead in the final minute, but Alexander’s errant pass went off Alex O’Connell’s hands. Agbaji scooped up the loose ball and took for a breakaway dunk, the last of his 13 second-half points.

Agbaji finished with 15 points, Christian Braun added 13 with a big 3 late in the second half and Jalen Wilson had 14 points and 14 rebounds.

Creighton, which reached the Sweet 16 last year, used just six players after losing 7-footer Ryan Kalkbrenner to a knee injury late in overtime of a 72-69 win over San Diego State on Thursday.

Point guard Ryan Nembhard, the Big East freshman of the year, was lost to wrist surgery late in the season, forcing the Bluejays to lean more on Alexander.

“Just to be resilient to come back and keep getting up every time you get knocked down, it’s just a silly little game, but I think it teaches you a lot about life in that regard,” senior Ryan Hawkins said. “I think this group’s got a lot of fire in them. I couldn’t be prouder of how we finished the season out.”

Hawkins drained a 3-pointer from well behind the arc 13 seconds into the game for Creighton and finished 3 of 6 from distance with 14 points. O’Connell was 3 of 8 and scored 16. Alexander finished with 14 points.

Martin, the 6-foot guard who scored 15 points in a blowout of Texas Southern in the opening round, had 16 in the first half off the bench. The Bluejays gave him room to shoot, and he went 2 of 4 from 3 and 6 of 9 overall before the break.

“You’ve got to have guys take some marginal shots and make them,” coach Bill Self said. “And Remy obviously took good shots, but you don’t expect a guy … you don’t expect point guards to do that. But that kept us in the game. We’re a different team with him.”

BIG PICTURE

Creighton: The Bluejays wouldn’t go away in the second half despite having three players on the court the entire 40 minutes and another for 38. They struggled to get closer than six points before the surge that gave them a chance to pull the upset.

“It was a good chess match in that regard,” coach Greg McDermott said. “The only difference is (Self) had nine or 10 guys down there to choose from, and we had seven.”

Kansas: The go-ahead bucket by Agbaji early in the second half came after the Big 12 player of the year missed all four shots in the first half. He was 1 of 7 from the field when he soared for an offensive rebound and hit the putback. His only 3-pointer came later.

FIT TO BE TIED

Kansas tied Kentucky in all-time wins and 30-win seasons. Each program has 2,353 wins and 16 seasons with at 30 victories. The milestones came two days after Kentucky lost to Saint Peter’s 85-79 in overtime as the second seed in the East Region.

ALLEY-OOPING PAIR

O’Connell and Kaluma connected on alley-oop dunks twice, with O’Connell feeding Kaluma both times. The first was late in the first half. The second came soon after halftime, and drew a smile from O’Connell as he glanced toward his teammate on their way to the other end of the court.