Tshiebwe, Toppin lead No. 19 Kentucky past rival Louisville

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Oscar Tshiebwe had 24 points and 14 rebounds, Jacob Toppin added a career-high 24 points and No. 19 Kentucky shot a season-best 60% to dominate rival Louisville 86-63 on Saturday.

The battle for Bluegrass bragging rights resumed after a one-year pause with the Wildcats (9-4) jumping out quickly and surviving a couple of rallies by the Cardinals (2-12). Kentucky sorely needed a rebound game after dropping two of three, including its Southeastern Conference opener on Wednesday at Missouri, and responded by making nine of its first 12 attempts and finishing 33 of 55 from the floor.

Pretty impressive improvement for a team that entered the contest shooting 46% and just under 40% from behind the arc. The Wildcats outscored Louisville 46-34 in the paint and 20-12 on second chances, aggression that had been lacking in some of their bigger games.

Toppin, who went scoreless in 12 1/2 minutes off the bench at Missouri, started and made 10 of 15 with seven rebounds. The senior forward had 15 points by halftime and surpassed his previous scoring high of 20 midway through the second half.

“We played team basketball and whoever is open is going to shoot the ball,” Toppin said. “Obviously, my teammates got into a rhythm of finding me in the middle of the floor and I just executed. My teammates found me, and thankful to them for that.”

Tshiebwe added, “That’s the Jacob we know.”

Tshiebwe had his seventh double-double this season by halftime and came up one rebound shy of his fourth 20/15 effort this season. Last year’s consensus national player of the year was 10 of 13 shooting to offset missing 5 of 9 free throws.

Cason Wallace added 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting.

El Ellis had 23 points for Louisville, which dropped its third in a row and failed to give first-year coach Kenny Payne a victory against the team he worked for 10 years as an assistant under John Calipari.

But it was a homecoming nonetheless. Payne and Calipari hugged and smiled at midcourt before player introductions. More hugs followed as Payne went down the Wildcats bench to greet other assistants and players and was applauded by the expectedly blue-clad crowd of 20,934 at Rupp Arena.

“I appreciate it,” Payne said. “I respect Kentucky and I loved it here. To have them welcome me was great, but – I’ve said this over and over again – this isn’t about me. This is about these young men.”

Kentucky took off from there, though Louisville mounted a small run to get within 45-37 with 18:32 remaining in the game. That was the closest the Cardinals got as the Wildcats led by 27 with just over three minutes left.

“You have to be able to sustain their runs and lock in and focus to go on a run of your own,” Ellis said. “When times get tough, we have to come together more and continue to fight.”

Brandon Huntley-Hatfield added 10 points and Mike James eight for Louisville.

PEP TALK

Toppin entered the game shooting 5 of 20 over his previous four contests but was encouraged by one-on-one discussions with Calipari before and after the Missouri loss. Those talks included some hugs and assurance that he would start, which he did ahead of Lance Ware.

“I had a lot of support from my teammates and my coaching staff and it just feels good to get back to my old self mentally and physically,” Toppin said.

THE BIG PICTURE

Louisville: The Cardinals shot 47% and seemed intent on making it a game early in the second half. But they couldn’t slow Toppin or Tshiebwe, and things quickly slipped away in the final 10 minutes. They committed 15 turnovers that led to 19 Kentucky points and were outrebounded 33-20.

“I was disappointed in our lack of physicality,” Payne said. “We worked the last three days on rebounding. At times it looked like he reacted twice before we reacted once.”

Kentucky: With nowhere to go but up after Missouri overwhelmed them, the Wildcats started fast and hot from the field and stayed on the gas. Toppin’s performance was long overdue and complemented Tshiebwe well. Free throws remain a concern as they made 16 of 25.

UP NEXT

Kentucky: Hosts LSU on Tuesday night to resume SEC play

Louisville: Hosts Syracuse on Tuesday night in ACC play

No. 21 Texas Tech holds Louisville to lowest score since 1948

Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
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LAHAINA, Hawaii – Texas Tech’s defensive identity was on full display against a Louisville team trying to find its way under first-year coach Kenny Payne.

The 21st-ranked Red Raiders held the Cardinals to their lowest point total in 74 years in a 70-38 victory in the Maui Invitational on Tuesday, a result that continued Louisville’s worst start to a season since 1940-41.

“We’re going to dive on the floor, we’re going to play hard,” Tech freshman Robert Jennings said. “We’re going to make teams feel uncomfortable. We’re going to be the team that people don’t want to play.”

Louisville had a tough enough time offensively in its 80-54 loss to ninth-ranked Arkansas on Monday. Things got much worse Tuesday. The Cardinals have shot 29% overall and 23% on 3-pointers and committed 40 turnovers in their two games.

“The two things I take away from Arkansas and Texas Tech is their defense, their ability to create turnovers,” Payne said. “It’s not about how skilled they are. It’s about their will.”

Kevin Obanor scored 15 points to lead the Red Raiders (4-1), who bounced back from a 76-65 loss to No. 10 Creighton on Monday with their most dominating defensive performance since holding Incarnate Word to 37 points in 2018.

“They imposed their will on us consistently throughout the whole game and we turned the ball over and we shot a bad percentage because of them,” Payne said. “We have to learn from that and we have to play the similar way as they played.”

Louisville (0-5) was held scoreless for more than 10 minutes spanning the halves. The Cardinals missed 13 field goals and two free throws and committed six turnovers during the drought.

When it started, Texas Tech led 20-13. When it ended with Sydney Curry’s layup, the Red Raiders were ahead 45-15.

The Cardinals’ 38 points were their fewest since a 62-34 loss to Xavier on Jan. 7, 1948.

Jaylon Tyson’s 3-pointer pushed the Red Raiders’ lead to double digits during a 17-2 spurt that ended with the Red Raiders ahead 32-13 at half.

The 13 first-half points were the fewest allowed by Texas Tech since Northwestern State scored 10 on Dec. 12, 2018. It was only the second time since the 2009-10 season that Louisville had scored so few points in a first half.

Of the 12 Texas Tech players who suited up, 11 scored, and the Red Raiders shot 43% for the game and made 14 steals.

El Ellis and Jae’Lyn Withers each scored seven points for the Cardinals, who were 11 of 49 from the field (27%) and finished with 18 turnovers.

“Well, I was on them pretty hard yesterday,” Tech coach Mark Adams said. “I don’t necessarily like to be that way. But we just got so many new and young players and we got to get them to grow up. Sometimes you have to do that different ways. We’ve been more stern with them and talk more about discipline and toughness.

“Still have a long ways to go, but it was really satisfying to see these guys at least listen, be coachable, and I think make a step forward.”

BIG PICTURE

Texas Tech: Adams, in his second season, has never lost back to back games with the Red Raiders. Tech’s trademark defense is in midseason form, having allowed 55 points or less in three of its first four games.

Louisville: The Cardinals’ worst start in 82 years continues. They started 1940-41 with 11 straight losses.

UP NEXT

Texas Tech plays in the fifth place game Wednesday against the Ohio State-Cincinnati winner.

Louisville plays in the seventh-place game Wednesday against the Ohio-Cincinnati loser.

Louisville escapes major sanctions in hoops bribery case

Jeff Faughender/Courier Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. – After five agonizing years, Louisville finally gets to look forward.

An independent panel placed the Cardinals’ basketball program on two years of probation and fined it $5,000, but spared the school major penalties from NCAA allegations leveled in the aftermath of a federal investigation into corruption in college basketball.

The Independent Accountability Resolution Process (IARP) also declined on Thursday to penalize former Cardinals coach Rick Pitino, whom the NCAA initially cited for failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance. Chris Mack, Pitino’s successor who was fired in January, also was not penalized for additional allegations announced last year by the NCAA.

“The panel views this decision as exonerating both coaches,” IARP chief panel member David Benck said in a conference call with reporters.

Pitino, now the coach at Iona, thanked the IARP for its fairness and reiterated his adherence to the rules.

“So, do I feel vindicated? It’s not really that important anymore because it’s been five years,” Pitino said in a conference call.

Former Cardinals assistant coach Jordan Fair and associate head coach Kenny Johnson, now a Rhode Island assistant, received two-year show-cause orders for Level I violations. The IARP concluded that Fair “was knowingly involved” in arranging a cash payment in exchange for a player enrolling at Louisville.

The IARP, created to decide complex cases, also restricted Louisville’s recruiting visits for this academic year and issued a public reprimand.

“We were hopeful of a successful outcome through this process, and that’s what we received,” Cardinals athletic director Josh Heird said in a news conference with Louisville’s acting president, Lori Gonzalez.

The IARP was created out of proposals from a commission led by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2018 to reform college basketball. The panel’s decision cannot be appealed.

The NCAA in May 2020 accused Louisville of committing a Level I violation for an improper recruiting offer and several Level II violations. Pitino was accused of failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance – an accusation the IARP concluded was unfounded.

The NCAA case followed a federal investigation announced in September 2017 that involved numerous college basketball programs accused of giving illicit cash to recruits. The school acknowledged it was the subject of allegations related to the recruitment of Brian Bowen II.

Louisville had previously been placed on NCAA probation because of a sex scandal. Thursday’s decision by the IARP put the latest disciplinary matter to rest for a school that has endured several scandals since 2015.

“The panel felt that the institution and the coach were hypersensitive on compliance issues coming right on the heels of the prior case,” Benck said.

The IARP also recently announced minor sanctions against Memphis in a similar case, signaling that the era of harsh NCAA penalties may be coming to an end with college athletes now allowed to make money off their name, image and likeness. Kansas is still under investigation by the IARP as a result of the federal probe, and this week it self-imposed a four-game suspension on coach Bill Self while reiterating the program’s commitment to the Hall of Famer.

Cases tied to the federal probe involving Arizona and LSU are still pending with the IARP. NCAA vice president of hearing operations Derrick Crawford expects those to be completed by next spring or early summer.

In the Louisville case, federal prosecutors alleged that Adidas representatives funneled $125,000 to a recruit’s family to get him to attend the school. Pitino was not named in the federal complaint and repeatedly denied authorizing or knowing of any payment to a recruit.

Benck also rejected NCAA allegations that Adidas, as Louisville’s sportswear partner, was acting on behalf of the school’s athletic interests.

“It was our interpretation that it was merely their own brand promotion,” Benck said. “On top of that, the institution never requested any assistance with recruiting in our opinion, had no knowledge of any assistance that the apparel company provided.”

The Hall of Fame coach and athletic director Tom Jurich were fired in the wake of the federal complaint. That episode occurred with Louisville on NCAA probation after a 2015 sex scandal in which a basketball staffer was alleged to have hired strippers to entertain recruits and players.

Louisville’s sanctions from that scandal included vacating 123 victories, including its 2013 men’s basketball championship and 2012 Final Four appearance – both under Pitino.

College sports’ governing body amended its Notice of Allegations in September 2021 for violations committed under Mack during the 2020-21 season. The NCAA accused the program of impermissible activities and said Mack did not promote an atmosphere of compliance.

Mack was fired in January after three-plus seasons and eventually replaced by former Cardinals player and Kentucky assistant Kenny Payne. Mack’s final season began with a six-game suspension by the school for failing to follow university guidelines in handling an extortion attempt by fired ex-assistant Dino Gaudio.

University officials pushed back against the accusations and noted coaching and administrative changes among their corrective measures.

The IARP’s decision closes a long period in which Louisville has been stifled competitively, administratively and financially. The Cardinals’ lone NCAA Tournament appearance since Pitino’s departure came in 2019, and the revolving door of coaches has limited Louisville on the recruiting trail.

“It’s finally over,” Heird said. “There’s been a cloud over this program for five years now, whether it’s recruiting or just the fans feeling the impact of it, the staff, the athletic staff, the university staff. For all of that to just be lifted today. … It’s relief.”

Arkansas to open against Louisville in Maui Invitational

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
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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.

Louisville beats Michigan 62-50 to return to Final Four

William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports
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WICHITA, Kan. – Hailey Van Lith scored 22 points, Olivia Cochran made a series of crucial baskets in the final minutes, and Louisville held off Michigan 62-50 in a physical game Monday night to return to the Final Four for the fourth time in program history.

Chelsie Hall added 15 points and Emily Engstler balanced out a poor shooting night with 16 rebounds and some big plays on defense, helping the top-seeded Cardinals (29-4) advance to face South Carolina next weekend in Minneapolis.

The No. 3 seed Wolverines (25-7) were within 52-50 with less than 3 minutes to go when the Cardinals, using some nifty ball movement to get out of a half-court trap, found Cochran for an easy layup. Then at the other end, Michigan star Naz Hillmon was called for charging, and Cochran added another bucket to give Louisville some breathing room.

The Cardinals finished off their second win over the Wolverines this season from the foul line.

Hillmon finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds for the Wolverines, who held their first three tourney opponents under 50 points to reach their first regional final, but were unable to hold down the Cardinals for the full 40 minutes.

The start resembled the two teams’ matchup in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge – much to the Wolverines’ chagrin – as coach Kim Barnes Arico’s team missed its first eight shots and allowed a heavily pro-Louisville crowd to get energized.

Unlike that game in January, though, when the Cardinals unspooled a 25-2 run spanning the first two quarters and cruised to a lopsided 70-48 victory, the Maize and Blue decided to put up a fight with the Final Four at stake.

Maddie Nolen came off the bench to drop two 3-pointers. Hillmon went to work inside, getting easy buckets at the rim when she wasn’t getting the Cardinals in foul trouble. And talented freshman Laila Phelia, who perhaps best epitomizes the direction of a program on the rise, managed to shake her defender for a couple of easy baskets.

The problem for Michigan soon became turnovers – hardly surprising given the Cardinals had forced more than 20 a game in the tournament. So while the Wolverines were stingy in the half court defensively, Louisville capitalized on 11 turnovers with 14 points in transition, and that helped Jeff Walz’s crew take a 30-27 lead into the break.

The biggest reason Michigan was able to hang around despite 22 turnovers and atrocious 3-point shooting was a massive disparity at the foul line. The Wolverines were 15 of 20 on their free throws while the Cardinals shot just five total until they were sent there for four more in the final minutes.

BIG PICTURE

Michigan has made big strides under Barnes Arico, reaching the Sweet 16 last season and getting within one win of its first Final Four this season. Young players such as Phelia show there is much more to come in Ann Arbor, too.

Louisville has never won a national championship despite becoming a perennial contender under Walz over the past 15 seasons. The Cardinals get another shot to finally cut down the nets.

Early loss at Louisville on Michigan’s mind ahead of Elite 8

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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WICHITA, Kan. — Michigan’s first loss of the season was a doozy.

The Wolverines were blown out 70-48 at Louisville on Dec. 2, their second-largest margin of defeat.

Nearly four months later, Michigan has a chance to avenge that loss on a grand stage. The third-seeded Wolverines (25-6) face the top-seeded Cardinals (28-4) in the women’s Elite Eight on Monday night with a trip to the Final Four at stake.

Michigan’s players say much has changed since that rough night when the Wolverines committed 24 turnovers and shot 37% from the field.

“It was early on in our season and we were still figuring some things out,” Michigan guard Danielle Rauch said. “Playing at Louisville is a really difficult thing to do. So we definitely were shocked in that situation. But I think we’ve grown a lot since then and gone through a lot of different things throughout this season to prepare us to play them again.”

Michigan’s Naz Hillmon was held to 12 points – nine points under her current average. The first-team All-American said it was the first time she saw such intense defensive pressure.

“We really figured out, you know, if people are doubling and tripling me, how to put people in their best spots to be a contributor to our team and focusing on slowing down the game for us sometimes,” Hillmon said.

Louisville has moved on, but knows Monday won’t be easy.

“I would say we just can’t take that game into account,” Louisville guard Hailey Van Lith said. “We can look at it for things that went well for us, but it’s March. Everyone is going to put their best foot forward, everyone is going to fight.”

The Cardinals also have something to prove, having reached the Final Four three times and the national title game twice but never the championship.

“As a senior, obviously, getting to go to a Final Four would be everything,” Louisville guard Kianna Smith said. “I would say our goal is to win it all. We don’t want to sell ourselves short. We want to do something that Louisville has never done before and that’s win a national championship, but we’re not looking too far ahead. We’re taking it one game at a time and enjoying all the little moments together.”

HILLMON’S RUN

Hillmon is a dynamic interior presence who averages 21.2 points per game on 59% shooting for the season. In three NCAA Tournament games, despite getting extra defensive attention, those numbers have spiked to 22.7 points on 69% shooting.

“We talk about All-Americans and Players of the Year, and Naz Hillmon is still playing, and she is playing her best basketball right now and she’s doing things that are absolutely off the charts,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “I just think she doesn’t want it to end, and she knows at any second it can. … Almost the bigger the game, the more important the game, the more she is able to turn it up. It’s really a special thing.”

ENGSTLER’S INSTINCTS

Emily Engstler is a key part of Louisville coach Jeff Walz’s disruptive defense. Engstler led the ACC with 2.59 steals per game and made the league’s all-defense team.

“I think she is a difference maker,” Barnes Arico said. “You have a 6-2 (listed at 6-1) athlete that she is and can move so well, can block shots so well, can play and probably defend any position one through five. I think he (Walz) gives her the freedom to roam around and to be able to double, to be able to be a pest, to be able to just go run at somebody.”

Engstler also averages 12.0 points and 9.2 rebounds per contest.

FABULOUS FRESHMAN

Michigan guard Laila Phelia scored the go-ahead layup in the final minute against South Dakota on Saturday – an answer to requests by Barnes Arico and teammates that she become more aggressive.

“So once I knew the clock was running down, at that point, I knew I needed to attack the basket,” Phelia said of the shot that put Michigan ahead by two. “And I felt like my teammates gave me a lot of confidence right before I did end up going in, and they told me, now is not the time to hesitate.”

MASKED WOMAN

Louisville forward Olivia Cochran was hit in her left eye in the game against Tennessee on Saturday. A day later, she sat at the podium sporting a black eye that was swollen and mostly closed. She said she will wear a mask against Michigan.

“I’m doing fine,” Cochran said. “The game was pretty physical, but that’s just the sport.”

Cochran averages 8.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game while shooting 51% from the field.

VAN LITH LAUNCHING

Van Lith has been exceptional lately. She’s averaging 21.3 points per game during the NCAA Tournament in three games – up seven points from her overall season scoring average. She had 23 points and six assists against Tennessee.