Virginia fires women’s hoops coach Thompson after 4 seasons

Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports
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Virginia dismissed women’s basketball coach Tina Thompson after four seasons on Thursday,

Athletic director Carla Williams made the announcement. It came one day after the 14th-seeded Cavaliers were eliminated 61-53 by Wake Forest in the first round of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament. Thompson has one year remaining on her contract.

The Cavaliers were 5-22 this season and 30-63 in four years under Thompson, a Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer and four-time WNBA champion. They were 15-38 against conference competition.

“Unfortunately, we have not experienced the kind of success this program has come to expect and deserve,” Williams said in a statement released by the school. “I am thankful for Coach Thompson’s efforts and I wish her the very best.”

Thompson’s tenure included an 0-5 mark last season, before the Cavaliers opted out of the season, and a a 2-16 conference ledger during the regular season this year that includes a pair of forfeits.

Virginia took a loss without taking the court after a game scheduled Feb. 10 at No. 4 Louisville was canceled following an announcement by the ACC that the Cavaliers’ plane had mechanical and staffing issues so the team couldn’t get out of Charlottesville in time.

The most recent forfeit became official last week when a rescheduled home game against No. 14 Notre Dame was not played. The game was initially scheduled for Jan. 25, but was canceled, Thompson said, to allow the Fighting Irish to play another opponent. However, Notre Dame ultimately played no one on Jan. 25.

Thompson said Virginia decided not to play the game after it was rescheduled for Feb. 22 because of the academic stress she believed it would have put on her players.

Beekman 3 gives Virginia stunning 69-68 win over No. 7 Duke

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DURHAM, N.C. — Reece Beekman has a knack for connecting on big shots and he did it again Monday night on another big stage for Virginia.

Beekman hit a 3-pointer with 1.1 seconds left and the Cavaliers knocked off No. 7 Duke 69-68.

“Another big shot, and I hit it,” Beekman said.

Beekman’s 3 over Duke’s Paolo Banchero was just the second made 3-pointer on 12 attempts for the Cavaliers. And five of Beekman’s seven points came in the last two minutes.

“We don’t have a nickname for Reece,” teammate Jayden Gardner said. “He just shows up and performs.”

Beekman also drained a 3 at the buzzer to beat Syracuse in the 2021 Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament – the final game the Cavaliers won last season, meaning he’s connected on winning 3s in two of the team’s last 16 wins dating to last season.

Gardner scored 17 points, redshirt sophomore Kadin Shedrick posted a career-high 16 points – many coming on a variety of dunks – and Armaan Franklin had 11 points. Virginia (15-9, 9-5 ACC) has won three games in a row.

Foul-plagued Mark Williams scored 16 points and Trevor Keels got all 12 of his points in the second half for Duke (19-4, 9-3), which had a five-game winning streak snapped.

Banchero was held to a season-low nine points and his desperation 3 hit only the side of the backboard to end the game.

“You don’t come to Duke to not play tough games,” Williams said. “We weren’t able to close it out.”

Before the last sequence, Beekman made a backcourt steal and basket to knot the score but failed to complete the three-point play. Then Keels put Duke back on top with two free throws with 1:26 left.

Virginia’s Kihei Clark had a look at an open 3, but it bounced off with about a minute left. Another Duke turnover came before Gardner missed.

But Clark forced held ball, resulting in Virginia ‘s possession with 7.2 seconds to play.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said there was a defensive breakdown off the inbounds pass, with Clark delivering his game-high ninth assist.

“The end of the game, that wasn’t complicated,” Krzyzewski said.

Beekman said there was no reason for alarm when Virginia’s perimeter shots weren’t falling. The Cavaliers held a 52-28 advantage in points in the paint.

“I feel like we took good shots, some just didn’t go in,” Beekman said. “We had a lot of plays going to the rim.”

Duke didn’t lead in the second half until Jeremy Roach’s drive for a basket at the 4-minute mark. Keels then put back his own miss to make it 66-63.

“We kept responding,” Gardner said. “Credit this group for never backing down.”

Virginia led 34-29 at halftime, aided by a 15-3 stretch that began around the midway mark of the half.

A pair of 3-pointers from reserve Bates Jones helped the Blue Devils stay in range after the Cavaliers built a 32-20 edge. Still, Duke was stuck with its largest halftime deficit of the season.

BIG PICTURE

Virginia: The Cavaliers are 48-39 against ranked opponents in coach Tony Bennett’s 13 seasons. Virginia had made at least three 3-pointers in every previous game this season.

Duke: The Blue Devils had sloppy execution at times during their only home game during a six-game stretch. Krzyzewski said he was concerned about the energy level following a 20-point win two nights earlier at rival North Carolina.

MISSING POINTS

Banchero, a freshman forward, was bottled up by Virginia’s double- and triple-teams. He had averaged a double-double during Duke’s latest winning streak.

But with the Blue Devils, who entered the game averaging an ACC-best 80.7 points per game, struggling to find offensive flow, he failed to score in the second half – with just one shot attempted after halftime.

“He’s touching the ball,” Krzyzewski said. “(We need him) to take more shots.”

Classmate A.J. Griffin scored a season-high 27 points at North Carolina over the weekend, but he was 1 for 7 from the field for two points.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Blue Devils are bound to pay for this result, with two of their four defeats coming on their home court against unranked opponents. But Duke will have two more chances this week to rebuild its resume with road games.

UP NEXT

Virginia: Host Georgia Tech on Saturday.

Duke: At Clemson on Thursday to make up a postponed game.

Navy tops Virginia, 1st win over ranked foe since Robinson

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — John Carter Jr. scored 19 points, Sean Yoder added 15 and Navy got its first win over a ranked team since the David Robinson era, stunning No. 25 Virginia 66-58 in the season opener for both teams on Tuesday night.

The Midshipmen beat a team ranked in The Associated Press Top 25 – where Virginia’s stay will be brief – for the first time since Robinson led them past Syracuse 97-85 on March 16, 1986.

East Carolina transfer Jayden Gardner led Virginia with 18 points, but after the Cavaliers tied the game at 55-all with 8:53 left, they didn’t score again for more than 8 1/2 minutes. Another transfer, Armaan Franklin, made a 3-pointer with 15 seconds left.

Yoder, meanwhile, scored twice inside and Daniel Deaver had a putback while Virginia went cold, making one of its last 10 shots.

Franklin’s 3-pointer was his second field goal. The Indiana transfer, coveted for his outside shooting, missed nine of 11 shots and six of seven 3s in his Cavaliers debut.

Carter scored 16 of his points in the first 13 minutes as Navy blistered the Cavaliers from long range, making eight of its first 10 3-point tries. The Mids made two of their next 10 before Carter connected for his fifth with 24 seconds to play. That gave Navy a 64-55 lead and sent fans filing for the exits.

BIG PICTURE

Navy: A hot shooting start in a hostile atmosphere demonstrated that while the Midshipmen lost their best player from last year’s team, their four returning starters play with a confidence borne of experience. Carter and Yoder led the long-distance success, but three others made a 3.

Virginia: Coach Tony Bennett’s signature pack-line defense often struggles early in the season, especially when incorporating new players like Gardner and Franklin. That was especially true early as the Mids made eight 3-pointers in the first 13 minutes.

UP NEXT

The Midshipmen remain in Virginia to face Virginia Tech on Friday night, the second of three straight games against Atlantic Coast Conference foes. The last time Navy faced three teams from the ACC was the 1968-69 season.

The Cavaliers remain at home and play Radford on Friday night.

Gonzaga is No. 1 in preseason AP Top 25; UCLA, Kansas next

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
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Gonzaga carried a No. 1 ranking all last season before falling a win short of becoming college basketball’s first unbeaten national champion in 45 years.

Mark Few’s Bulldogs start this season in the same position, hoping to complete that final step this time around.

The Zags were the runaway top choice in The Associated Press Top 25 men’s college basketball preseason poll released Monday. They earned 55 of 63 first-place votes to easily outdistance No. 2 UCLA, which earned the other eight. Kansas, Villanova and Texas rounded out the top five, while reigning national champion Baylor checked in at No. 8.

The Zags have accomplished just about every milestone possible in 23 years under Few other than cutting down the nets on the final Monday night of the season. They came close to completing the first unbeaten run since 1976 last year with a wire-to-wire No. 1 team, only to fall to the Bears in a one-sided final in Indianapolis.

Now they’ll try again.

“It is quite an honor to be selected preseason No. 1 for the second consecutive year,” Few said in a statement to the AP. “Our returning players realize the challenge of playing up to that level all year and look forward to it.”

Gonzaga lost AP All-Americans Corey Kispert and Jalen Suggs to the NBA, but second-team selection Drew Timme (19.0 points, 7.0 rebounds) and starting guard Andrew Nembhard return. The Zags also bring in a top recruiting class featuring the nation’s No. 1 overall recruit in 7-footer Chet Holmgren and a five-star guard in Hunter Sallis.

Going back to the 2019-20 season, the Zags have now been ranked in the top three for 32 straight polls, with 22 of those at No. 1.

THE TOP TIER

Third-year coach Mick Cronin has UCLA on a fast climb.

Leading scorer Johnny Juzang (16.0 ppg) headlines a Bruins roster that returns nearly intact after last year’s run from the First Four to the Final Four, where they lost to Gonzaga on a half-court shot in an overtime classic.

They are starting with their first top-10 preseason ranking since 2009 and their first top-10 ranking in any AP poll since spending 13 weeks there during the 2016-17 season.

“If we taught anybody anything last year,” Cronin said this month, “your seed or your ranking does not matter come tournament time.”

Kansas has the program’s 10th straight preseason top-10 ranking, followed by the Wildcats and Longhorns, who open their first season under Chris Beard with the program’s highest preseason ranking since 2010.

THE CHAMPS

Baylor has a second straight top-10 preseason ranking despite losing four starters from last year’s title winner, including AP All-Americans Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell. The Bears will try to join Duke (1991-92) and Florida (2006-07) as the only schools to win consecutive titles since UCLA’s run of seven straight from 1967-73.

“As we’ve talked with our team,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said, “we have a unique opportunity.”

BLUEBLOODS BACK?

Duke and Kentucky are starting with their typically high rankings after seasons unlike many in their tradition-rich histories.

The ninth-ranked Blue Devils are playing the final season under retiring Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski. They’re coming off a 13-11 season that included missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1995.

The 10th-ranked Wildcats are right behind them after a 9-16 season, the program’s first losing record since 1988-89.

Then there’s North Carolina, which made the NCAA Tournament but was inconsistent all season and out of the Top 25 before Christmas. The Tar Heels open at No. 19 in their first season under Hubert Davis, promoted after the retirement of Hall of Famer Roy Williams in April.

WELCOME BACK

St. Bonaventure is ranked for the first time in more than five decades. The Bonnies from the Atlantic 10 are No. 23, marking the first time they have been ranked since January 1971. That season was also the last time the program was ranked in the preseason (No. 20).

CONFERENCE WATCH

The Big Ten and Southeastern conferences have a national-best five ranked teams each.

The Big Ten has No. 6 Michigan, No. 7 Purdue, No. 11 Illinois, No. 17 Ohio State and No. 21 Maryland. The SEC has No. 14 Alabama, No. 16 Arkansas, No. 18 Tennessee and No. 22 Auburn joining Kentucky.

The ACC is next up with four, with No. 20 Florida State and No. 25 Virginia joining Duke and UNC. The Big 12 has its Kansas-Texas-Baylor trio, while the Pac-12 (UCLA and No. 13 Oregon), Big East (Villanova and No. 24 Connecticut) and American Athletic Conference (No. 12 Memphis and No. 15 Houston) are the others with multiple Top 25 teams.

WATCH LIST

The top unranked teams are all from power conferences, headlined by Michigan State as the leading vote-getter. Next up is Indiana under first-year coach Mike Woodson, Southern California and Arizona under new coach Tommy Lloyd.

Virginia loses 62-58 to Preston, Ohio, ending title defense

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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Virginia spent two years on top of the college basketball world. After one night in Indiana, it was all over for the Cavaliers.

Coming out of quarantine after a positive COVID-19 test, Virginia’s unusual title defense was stopped by another upset loss in the NCAA Tournament, falling 62-58 to Jason Preston and Ohio on Saturday.

“Our guys were again hopeful we’d get this opportunity,” Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett said. “The NCAA allowed us to come in in a unique way. I’m thankful for it, but it just stings right now to not advance in this tournament.”

No. 4 seed Virginia (18-7) won the ACC regular-season title and then had to withdraw from the conference tournament because of its COVID-19 issues. The Cavaliers spent seven days in quarantine, using virtual meetings to prepare for the matchup with Ohio.

Bennett and company just arrived on Friday, and now they are heading out once again.

Some familiar problems showed up again for the Cavaliers, who struggled to score during a key stretch in the second half and shot 35% from the field for the game. Virginia famously lost to No. 16 seed UMBC in the first round in 2018, but it used the setback as motivation in its run to the championship in 2019.

After last year’s NCAA Tournament was canceled because of the pandemic, the Cavaliers (18-7) became the first defending champion to lose in the first round since UConn in 2012.

Preston and Ben Vander Plas, the two stars of Ohio’s surprising Mid-American Conference Tournament run, were back at it.

Vander Plas scored 10 of his game-high 17 points during an 18-4 second-half run that erased a 38-31 deficit and gave the Bobcats a 49-42 lead. Ohio (17-7) never trailed again.

When it was over, Vander Plas raced over to give Bennett a hug. Vander Plas’ father, Dean, played college ball with Bennett.

Preston made big play after big play, finishing with 11 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists. Lunden McDay sealed the victory at the free-throw line in the closing seconds..

Ohio (17-7) has now won its last three NCAA first-round games – beating Georgetown in 2010 and Michigan in 2012. And even though the seats inside were mostly empty at Assembly Hall, the Bobcats reveled in the celebration on the court – and the one they heard about on their home campus.

“Obviously, it’s a huge win, being the 13 seed coming out and getting a win in the NCAA Tournament is big.” Vander Plas said. “I’m just really thankful we’re able to get a win (the fans).”

Next up is for the Bobcats is No. 5 seed Creighton on Monday.

Sam Hauser had 15 points and nine rebounds for Virginia, which won the ACC regular-season title before the COVID-19 test ended their hopes of winning the tourney crown.

“The program was quarantined for seven days after the positive test, they had seven negative tests and came here and tested negatively and haven’t tested positive since then,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said on the telecast. Barnhart is the chairman of the NCAA’s selection committee.

While Virginia controlled most of the first half and looked as if it might pull away when it opened a 38-31 lead, Ohio stormed back. Mark Sears made a layup and Vander Plas connected on two long 3-pointers to give the Bobcats a 45-40 advantage with 6:58 left.

Ben Roderick scored 15 points for Ohio. Trey Murphy III had 12 points for the Cavs.

“I know our guys are feeling it right now,” Bennett said. “We had some chances. I don’t know if we got tired down the stretch or felt a little bit of the pressure, but we had some good looks and just had a poor shooting day, a very poor shooting day from 3-point range with some quality shots, but they did a good job defensively.”

BIG PICTURE

Ohio: The Bobcats weren’t at their best but they outplayed Virginia for most of the second half and made just enough plays down the stretch. They’re just one win away from making their second Sweet 16 in a decade.

Virginia: It was a rough week for the Cavs, who weren’t even sure whether they would play until Friday. Perhaps the quarantine affected their conditioning or sharpness, but they didn’t finish either half well.

STRANGE SIMILARITY

Thirty years ago, Vander Plas’ father, Dean, and Bennett were teammates on Green Bay’s NCAA Tournament team that lost to Michigan State 60-58. Dean Vander Plas was Green Bay’s top scorer that night with 17 points.

“Wow, that’s unbelievable. That’s crazy to hear,” Ben Vander Plas said. “That’s really cool to score the same amount as my pops in the first round, that’s really crazy.”

West Virginia, others overcome obstacles to get to NCAAs

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Two days apart in late December, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins got a double dose of bad news: A promising freshman was lost for the season with a torn Achilles tendon. Then one of the few five-star recruits in program history quit the team.

Huggins needed to make some fast adjustments. The ensuing roster tweaks helped the Mountaineers get through a rugged Big 12 season and has put them on solid ground entering the NCAA Tournament.

In a season full of adversity and challenges, in addition to dodging the usual stops and starts of the coronavirus pandemic, West Virginia didn’t just survive.

It got better.

“It changed the way we played,” Huggins said Wednesday. “But I think it changed the way we played for a positive.”

The Mountaineers (18-9) earned a No. 3 seed and will play 14th-seeded Morehead State (23-7) on Friday night in Indianapolis.

West Virginia wasn’t alone in adapting on the fly. Look at Florida’s resolve after losing Keyontae Johnson to a health scare, Drake losing two key players to injury in February or Ohio University pushing through a long pandemic pause to win the Mid-American Conference tournament.

The decision to quit by 260-pound Oscar Tshiebwe, one of the Big 12’s top freshmen a year ago, wasn’t as big a surprise to West Virginia as his production: Tshiebwe’s scoring and rebounding were down compared to a year ago by the time he left.

Like Tshiebwe, 6-foot-10 freshman Isaiah Cottrell could attack the rim and was a solid passer. Cottrell gave the Mountaineers some valuable minutes off the bench before he got hurt.

West Virginia was 8-2 at the time. Huggins decided to use a group of talented guards along with redshirt freshman forward Jalen Bridges to spread out opposing defenses who otherwise had packed the lane trying to fend off the tandem of Tshiebwe and forward Derek Culver.

West Virginia allowed an average of seven more points per game after Tshiebwe’s exit, although that coincided with the conference schedule that included six ranked opponents.

“The reality is, is when Oscar left, we became a much better offensive team,” Huggins said.

Culver, with more room to roam without Tshiebwe, recorded 11 double-doubles. Bridges replaced Tshiebwe in the starting lineup and brought an outside scoring touch.

Sophomore guard Miles McBride became the team’s leading scorer, had a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and tied for the Big 12 lead with 49 steals. Taz Sherman, a senior coming off the bench, more than doubled his scoring average from a year ago.

“I’ve got to give it to our coaches,” McBride said. “They always have a plan for, honestly, anything. We came together as a team. Everybody knew they had to step up, top to bottom.”

Johnson, the Southeastern Conference preseason player of the year, collapsed on the court during a Dec. 12 game. The Gators postponed their next four contests and Johnson was released from a hospital 10 days later.

With Johnson out for the season, the Gators went 11-8 the rest of the way. Sophomore Tre Mann took over the team scoring lead, including four of his top five performances heading into the NCAA Tournament.

Mann’s role “has continued to grow here over the course of this year, and he continues to get better,” Florida coach Mike White said. “Hopefully, he can finish really strong.”

Florida (19-12) is a No. 7 seed and will meet 10th-seeded Virginia Tech (15-6) on Friday.

The Hokies have had plenty of their own ups and downs. They’ve played just three games over the past five weeks due to COVID-19 issues.

Backup guard Cartier Diarra, a Kansas State graduate transfer, opted out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns. Second-leading scorer and rebounder Tyrece Radford served a four-game suspension after a January arrest. Jalen Cone has not played since a Feb. 6 ankle injury.

Drake (25-4) won its first 18 games, then lost leading scorer and rebounder ShanQuan Hemphill and point guard Roman Penn to foot injuries two weeks apart. The Bulldogs lost three of their final nine games yet still made the tournament.

For Ohio, the problem wasn’t a grueling stretch of games, but simply a lack of them.

With fresh legs, the Bobcats won their first MAC championship since 2012 after playing three times over 36 days prior to the league tournament due to pandemic-related postponements or cancellations.

“The most proud I am of this group is their character, what they’ve been able to go through in the last month-and-a-half to get to this point,” Ohio coach Jeff Boals said. “This group is going to have a memory of a lifetime now.”

Don’t count them out in the Big Dance, either. The Bobcats lost at Illinois by a basket, 77-75, on Nov. 27. They’re a 13 seed and will meet fourth-seeded Virginia (18-6) on Saturday night.

Bobcats forward Ben Vander Plas doesn’t have to look far for postseason advice. His father, Dean, and sister, Taylor, also played in the NCAA Tournament.

“For both of them, it’s their greatest basketball memory,” Vander Plas said. “To be able to do it with this team, I’m just so excited.”