Monday, April 15, 2019

Schaible: Virginia's journey comes full circle

Photo Credit: Charlie Neibergall- AP Photo

In a word: Redemption.

The one word that players like Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and Jack Salt worked so hard to avoid.

They didn’t say it. They didn’t think about it.

But they couldn’t avoid it.

And even days later, I still can’t quite believe the enormity of what this team accomplished.

The Virginia Cavaliers now openly say they had the worst loss in NCAA History.

Whatever stages of grief they had conquered to get to this point, well, that’s all in the past now.

The loss to UMBC in the 2017 NCAA will always be a part of Virginia’s history. But it no longer has to haunt them.

As the Cavaliers kept winning, each game more dramatic than the last, their fan base kept growing as well.

The appeal of the NCAA tournament is contingent on underdog storylines. It also thrives on its champion overcoming adversity along the way before achieving greatness.

In many ways, the 2018 NCAA tournament was unique. Not only did we have UMBC advancing as the 16th seed, we also saw the 11th seed Loyola-Chicago advance to the Final Four. 

We also saw the Villanova Wildcats storm through their conference tournament and dominate all opponents en route to their second NCAA Championship in three years.

In many ways, 2018 may have been somewhat of an anomaly, but I can’t imagine ever seeing a tournament run quite like Virginia’s path to cutting down the nets.

It all started with overcoming a 14-point deficit to Gardner Webb. Then, in the second round, they thoroughly outplayed a red-hot Oklahoma Sooners squad.

What a difference a couple of days made for the Cavaliers. They found themselves fending off deja vu inquiries and fielding questions on payback and vindication. But, as stated earlier, the team was not ready to have that conversation.

At the regionals, they out battled a tough Oregon Ducks team to secure a spot in the Elite Eight.

Of course, the doubters would point out that 12th seeded Oregon only reached the regional semifinal round by defeating 13th seeded UC Irvine.

However, and to borrow a line from Disney Jr., this is where the magic begins.

Yes, they came back from a deficit in the final five minutes against Oregon, but that’s nothing.

For their next three games, they trailed in the closing seconds and miraculously pulled out victories in the most perilous of situations.

It started with Mamadi Diakite’s buzzer beating, flip of the wrist baseline ten-footer, to Kyle Guy’s three clutch free throws and critical long range jumper and De’Andre Hunter’s exquisite performance in the finale. All the while, Ty Jerome was sensational in making certain these late game deficits were never insurmountable.

“You guys faced pressure that no team in the history of this game has ever faced,” said Virginia coach Tony Bennett. “You did not panic in the moment, you fought, and you found a way out. As I told the guys in the locker room, I said put your arms around each other and take a look at every guy in here. Promise me you’ll remain humble and thankful for this. We’ll have memories. It’s a great story. That’s probably the best way I can end this. It’s a great story.”

It most certainly is, coach.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Schaible: From a West Virginia humbling to the big stage, Texas Tech stands one game from standing on top

Photo Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

By: Brian Schaible
Twitter: @SBNationReports

For a team which stands at 31 wins and six losses, it’s hard to imagine this Texas Tech squad had to regroup following a losing streak.

But, they did.

After racing out to a 15-1 start, with a close loss to Duke as their only blemish, the wheels came off a bit in mid-January.

It started with a home loss to Iowa State followed by setbacks at Baylor and Kansas State. Cutting down the nets in Minneapolis would have only made sense to someone in a deeply hallucinogenic trance.

It was a dream. But a pipe dream at best.

But then things started to turn around. 

They coasted through the rest of the Big 12 schedule. They even avenged a road loss at Kansas with a 29-point throttling of Jayhawks in Lubbock.

And they weren’t just beating opponents, for the most part, they were burying them.

They up by 39 against West Virginia before coasting to an 81-50 victory in mid-February.

The ‘Guns Up’ crew were locked and loaded.

But, as the Big 12 tournament got underway in Kansas City, the Red Raiders were suddenly lacking firepower.

An embarrassing opening round loss to the last place West Virginia Mountaineers had many questioning whether a deep NCAA tournament run was even possible.

The extra few days of rest may have been a blessing in disguise. Texas Tech fully regrouped and knocked off the likes of Buffalo, Michigan, Gonzaga and Michigan State to make it to the national title game.

This team means business.

“Sometimes we like to think we can out-tough an opponent,” said Texas Tech coach Chris Beard. “We battled. We contested. Our objective was not to out rebound Michigan State, it was just to be competitive and get our share.”

One of the stars in the semifinal has been the well-traveled Matt Mooney. His third college experience has worked out like a charm.

“I can’t explain it man, it’s been a heck of a journey,” said Mooney. “You know, I’m living the dream right now. I’m so grateful I got another opportunity. I’m grateful for this coaching believing in me, and these guys, my teammates, welcoming me into the program.”

For Texas Tech to get by Virginia Monday night, they will need to continue their attacking defense and create high percentage shots in the paint. 

“We just want to go in and play our game,” Red Raiders guard Kyler Edwards said. “If we don’t have a shot, we are going to kick it back out to make sure we are getting open looks.”

Somebody will emerge Monday night with their first ever national championship.

It’s a storybook ending no matter which team ends up lifting the trophy.

For Beard, he knew this program could reach new heights.

“I believe that Texas Tech can be part of the fight every year, and that’s what we are trying to do. If you’re in the fight long enough, eventually you are going to win.”

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Schaible: Cavaliers continue to win with flair and stand one game away from the title

Photo Credit: Kevin C. Cox- Getty Images

By: Brian Schaible
Twitter: @SBNationReports

Watching Virginia lately can be dangerous to your health.

At least your mental health.

After suffering their most devastating defeat ever in last year’s NCAA tournament first round, the Cavaliers traversed through a most perilous path to the national championship game.

If you thought they had used up all magical powers against Purdue in the Elite Eight, well that was simply a precursor for what occurred Saturday night at a packed U.S Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

Kyle Guy’s six points in the final few seconds will be remembered forever as part of Virginia folklore.

These guys are not just bouncing back, they are doing something by ripping out their competitors’ hearts along the way.

Guy drew the foul on the baseline with 0.6 left in the game and earned three free throws to close it out.

I watched as an inebriated Auburn fan spilled beer all over himself celebrating. It was like watching a coach get a premature Gatorade bath followed by the inevitable back breaker.

In the social media world has been both troll and legend. He’s always engaging and never shied away from fan and media engagement.

It seemed fitting for him to rise above all of the noise.

There are some similarities in Virginia’s last couple of tournament wins. For one, as the final buzzers sounded, the opposing teams each celebrated a short-lived victory.

By outlasting the Tigers 63-62, the Cavaliers will make their first-ever appearance in the national championship game. 

“It was clutch,” said Virginia coach Tony Bennett on Kyle Guy’s three consecutive free throws to ice the game. “We missed some free throws and I hope that was a good call. I believe it was. To step up to the line, make the shots, we got up by ten and they made some plays and we had some trouble. By the last two games….oh my!”

Oh my! 

How else can describe it?

After nailing a ridiculously difficult corner three-pointer, the junior guard had to like his chances to hit three in a row from the charity stripe? Well, sort of.

“I can’t lie to you and say I knew I was going to hit the,” said Guy. I was terrified, but I had confidence in myself. This is what we dream of. For me to be able to do this for our team, I couldn’t be happier.”

It’s certainly happier times for this entire team. Almost half the locker room wasn’t even on the team that lost to UMBC.

For the rest of the squad, they have certainly seen and experienced a lot over the last 12 months.

From idiots last March making death threats, to the diabolical ingrates who swarmed the Charlottesville area last August.

They have heard all the hate.

Now they are feeling the love.

But, is it destiny? 

“Honestly, when we were working out all summer, everyone had a fire in their eye because of how last season ended,” said Cavaliers guard Braxton Key. “Just seeing how Ty, Kyle, Dre, Mamadi, just how everyone was working, they were going to the gym two, three times a day. They were wearing me out. I thought I was a (hard) worker.”

On the verge of capping off an improbable run from being at the bottom last season to a possible title Monday night, Bennett had few, but impactful words to sum things up.

“Phenomenal, my man. We got one more left.”

Friday, April 5, 2019

VIDEO- Green's inside look behind USF's CBI championship

By: Geno Green
Twitter: @TheGenoGreen

The South Florida Bulls (24-14) led wire-to-wire, but faced adversity before pulling away in the late stages to defeat the DePaul Blue Demons (19-17), 77-65 to capture the Roman College Basketball Invitational championship series, 2-1.

On the verge of going into halftime scoreless in the final 6:15, Laquincy Rideau’s layup as time expired delivered a much-needed jolt for the Bulls to go in up 39-34.

While DePaul kept the game within single digits, USF’s David Collins’ three-pointer on a jumping Devin Gage iced things with 5:47 left to increase its lead to 64-51.

Collins led the way for the Bulls with a team-high 19 points, to go along with eight rebounds and five assists.

DePaul’s Max Strus had a game to forget as the USF defense gave the senior little to no room to work with shooting 2-of-16 from the field. Strus resorted to the free-throw line for 11 of his 16 points in defeat.

Here is my video recap from South Florida’s CBI championship:

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

2019 Arizona State Sun Devils football schedule

By: Geno Green
Twitter: @TheGenoGreen

2019 Arizona State Sun Devils football schedule (All Times CT):

Aug. 29 (Thursday):

vs Kent State, Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, AZ, Time TBA

Sept. 6 (Friday):

vs Sacramento State, Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, AZ, Time TBA

Sept. 14:

at Michigan State, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, MI, Time TBA

Sept. 21:

vs Colorado, Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, AZ, Time TBA

Sept. 27 (Friday):

at California, Memorial Stadium, Berkeley, CA, Time TBA

Oct. 12:

vs Washington State, Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, AZ, Time TBA

Oct. 19:

at Utah, Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City, UT, Time TBA

Oct. 26:

at UCLA, Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA, Time TBA

Nov. 9:

vs USC, Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, AZ, Time TBA

Nov. 16:

at Oregon State, Reser Stadium, Corvallis, OR, Time TBA

Nov. 23:

vs Oregon, Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, AZ, Time TBA

Nov. 29 (Friday):

vs Arizona, Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, AZ, Time TBA

Dec. 6 (Friday):

Pac-12 championship game, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, CA, Time TBA

Monday, April 1, 2019

Green’s five takeaways from Notre Dame’s 84-68 win over Stanford in the Chicago regional final

Photo Credit- Robin Alam- Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

By: Geno Green
Twitter: @TheGenoGreen

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish (34-3) scrapped and clawed their way through a 10-of-39 (25.6 percent) shooting start to a near-perfect second half with 58 points on the path to an 84-68 win over the Stanford Cardinal (31-5) in the Chicago regional final at Wintrust Arena.

1) Sweet revenge for Arike:

Despite all of the accolades Arike Ogunbowale has accomplished at Notre Dame, the blocked shot by Erica McCall as she went towards the paint with seconds left still lingered as Stanford came out on top 76-75 in the teams’ last NCAA tournament meeting on March 26, 2017 in the Lexington regional final.

Fast forward two seasons to an April evening in the windy city with a pro-Irish crowd and Ogunbowale got the sour taste out of her mouth with 21 points and played a vital part in the second half resurgence by Notre Dame.

“That taste has been out of my mouth, but it was definitely a good win. They put us out in my freshman and sophomore years, which was tough,” Ogunbowale said. “To finally get it back, that’s big, but they’re a great team and played us well.”

2) The Jackie Young show:

In a performance reminiscent of last Monday’s Michigan State game, Jackie Young opposed her will on Stanford as she scored 11 of Notre Dame’s 13 points in a 3:59 stretch, which stretched from the third to fourth quarter.

The highlight came at the start of the run with a running floater to give the Irish their first lead since the 9:17 mark in the first quarter at 45-44. The more the crowd got active, the more Young felt at ease and seized possession on her way to a game-high 25 points, to go along with 10 rebounds for her 11th double-double of the season.

“I feel like I was aggressive for the whole game and kept that same mindset as the shots were starting to fall. The (Stanford) defense was sagging off me a little bit, so I had to read the defense and take whatever they gave to me,” Young said.

3) 10,000-point mark eclipsed for Notre Dame starting five:

The Notre Dame starting five has been hailed as arguably the best in school history and Monday night added to another list of achievements.

Brianna Turner’s jumper in the late stages of the first quarter put the Irish starting five in a class of their own becoming the first in women’s basketball school history to eclipse the 10,000-point mark as a unit.

Fighting Irish coach Muffet McGraw downplayed the accomplishment as it was more being able to make a ton of shots as a group.

“I mean, it’s a milestone and certainly the first time it’s been done, men or women. It’s pretty amazing, but it really doesn’t mean anything, except they get a lot of shots,” McGraw said.

4) Prohaska makes small, but timely impact:

On a loaded team filled with future WNBA draft picks, freshman Abby Prohaska grabbed a small piece of the spotlight with a pair of layups and a critical defensive stop towards the end of the third quarter as the Irish took control with a 52-46 lead.

McGraw did not let Prohaska’s effort go unnoticed as it gave the bench player a taste of experience for what is to come for the next three seasons.

“I thought Abby Prohaska gave us such a huge lift. That momentum really helped turn the game around,” McGraw said.

5) Auriemma and McGraw meet once more on the Final Four stage:

When you think of the gold standard of women’s college basketball coaches— Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma and Notre Dame’s Muffet McGraw are at the top of most people’s lists.

The iconic coaches square off for the sixth time and for the second straight season in the national semifinal round on Friday night in Tampa. 

Last season’s meeting in the Final Four produced a finish for the ages as Ogunbowale’s 19-foot jumper from the wing proved to be the game-winner in Notre Dame’s 91-89 win in overtime. 

The Huskies exacted their revenge on Dec. 2, 2018 with an 89-71 road win over the Fighting Irish in the Jimmy V women’s classic. McGraw knows a better mindset in the latest installment will go a long way to getting a step closer towards repeating as national champions.

“We really lost our composure in that game, so hopefully we have learned a lot of lessons since then,” McGraw said.

UConn and Notre Dame will be a treat for the basketball universe to witness and a showcase for the women’s game on the biggest stage.

2019 Arizona Wildcats football schedule

By: Geno Green
Twitter: @TheGenoGreen

2019 Arizona Wildcats football schedule (All Times CT):

April 13:

Arizona spring game, Arizona Stadium, Tucson, AZ, 4 p.m.

Aug. 24:

at Hawaii, Aloha Stadium, Honolulu, HI, Time TBA

Sept. 7:

vs Northern Arizona, Arizona Stadium, Tucson, AZ, Time TBA

Sept. 14:

vs Texas Tech, Arizona Stadium, Tucson, AZ, Time TBA

Sept. 28:

vs UCLA, Arizona Stadium, Tucson, AZ, Time TBA

Oct. 5:

at Colorado, Folsom Field, Boulder, CO, Time TBA

Oct. 12:

vs Washington, Arizona Stadium, Tucson, AZ, Time TBA

Oct. 19:

at USC, Los Angeles Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA, Time TBA

Oct. 26:

at Stanford, Stanford Stadium, Stanford, CA, Time TBA

Nov. 2:

vs Oregon State, Arizona Stadium, Tucson, AZ, Time TBA

Nov. 16:

at Oregon, Autzen Stadium, Eugene, OR, Time TBA

Nov. 23:

vs Utah, Arizona Stadium, Tuscon, AZ, Time TBA

Nov. 29 (Friday):

at Arizona State, Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, AZ, Time TBA

Dec. 6 (Friday):

Pac-12 championship game, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, CA, Time TBA

Schaible: Auburn thrived off Okeke's injury and vaulted its way to its first-ever Final Four trip

Photo Credit: Christian Petersen- Getty Images

By: Brian Schaible
Twitter: @SBNationReports

In football, it’s commonplace to say, “Well as long as this team stays injury free, they have a real shot at a championship.”

We think nothing of it.

While we acknowledge injuries occur in basketball, they are usually of superficial variety. You know, the types where you end up in a Batman inspired nose guard.

For Kentucky and Auburn, this was a tale of two more serious injuries.

For one player, his season is over. 

For the other, well, um, it’s also over.

It was just a week ago that we saw PJ Washington with a hard cast on his leg. He was wheeling on a scooter and applying no pressure whatsoever on his injured foot.

His coach, John Calipari has been teasing the media the last several weeks with vague prognoses on when the star forward could return.

I think for most fans and media, the assumption was he would be returning next season, and that’s only if he opted out of entering the NBA Draft.

But he did return and he was sensational.

Against Houston in the regional semifinal, his 16-point performance, along with a gigantic blocked shot, almost single handedly propelled the Wildcats into the Elite Eight.

Against Auburn, Washington was near unstoppable in the first half as he dominated inside and outside.

It looked like Auburn was overmatched and this would inevitably be another Kentucky route. In other words, an outcome similar to when these two teams last met.

After watching them play so well without him last weekend, and now seeing Washington’s production in the Sweet 16, I was starting to envision Kentucky holding another championship trophy.

Washington is a big man, and he was making a big-time impact.

But, on the other side there is the story of another big man who was not in the game— Chuma Okeke.

The sophomore provided key buckets throughout the SEC Tournament including a monster performance in the title game against Tennessee.

In the NCAA tourney, he has led the way on and off the court.

Things ended abruptly for Okeke against North Carolina. After sprinting out in the second half and establishing a solid lead, Chuma had a collision that resulted a torn ACL in his left knee.

They held on against the Tar Heels, but even the most fervent Tigers fan had to be skeptical about their chances to advance to the Final Four.

On Sunday morning, Okeke told Auburn coach Bruce Pearl, he was in too much pain and would not be at the Kentucky game, at least not the start.

As Okeke watched Kentucky essentially man handling his teammates early on, he knew he had to be there to provide a lift.

Auburn remained resilient despite being outplayed. As they headed to the locker room for the halftime intermission, the Tigers trailed only by five.

Outside the arena, chaos was running amok as a police escort sirens sounded, Okeke was making his way making to the Sprint Center.

Was this some elaborate ruse cooked up by coach Bruce Pearl to motivate his team? Possibly.

But, it worked.

Okeke was rushed into the building. He did not see the team at halftime but they felt his presence.

This was not going to be a Willis Reed type situation. He was not going to play, but he was there to inspire.

Auburn responded and rushed out to a 7-0 run early in the second half. Both teams fought back and forth right to the final buzzer which led to overtime.

In the extra period, Jared Harper proved to be too much. Bruce Pearl absolutely loves his point guard and you can see why.

He’s a combination of fearlessness and tenacity. He’s damn near impossible to guard one of one. In overtime, it was practically all Harper isolations and delivered time and time again, which resulted in Auburn making it to the Final Four.

“I can’t do it with having the support of my teammates and coaches,” said Harper. “Guys like Samir grabbing those 50/50 balls, those rebounds, how Bryce (Brown) was playing offensively late second half. That gives me the confidence going into overtime to make those plays.”

Bryce Brown was a force from the outside. His four three-pointers often came at critical junctures.

When it seemed Kentucky was starting to break out, or get anything going momentum wise, it was Brown that often had the answer.

“It’s unreal,” said Brown. “It’s very, very emotional. I feel like this whole game we really wanted to do this for Chuma and the whole Auburn family. They supported us so much, but it just goes back to trusting each other and doing what we needed to win the game.”

Okeke did make it on the court. As the confetti flew,Okeke, with leg in full traction, was wheeled to front of the podium stage and celebrated their Midwest Region Championship right alongside his teammates.

It was nothing short of Pat Bowlen and John Elway-esque as Bruce Pearl loudly exclaimed to the crowd, that these two to games were for Okeke but the next two are for Auburn.

“I do believe in them, even though I’m pretty hard on them,” said Pearl. “At Auburn, in athletics we are not Cinderella’s in anything. We win championships. We are really, really good in all those other sports. Been a long time since men’s basketball has been good. That’s what makes it so special for us.”