Pac-12 Pride; Stanford's Thrilling Comeback; DiJonai; NCAA Nonsense
Bill "conference of champions" Walton is the happiest man in America right now. His UCLA Bruins are in the Final Four. The embattled and under-appreciated Pac-12 also has two teams in the Women's Final Four.
So all is good with the world. As a result of its rather remarkable performance, the Pac-12 has earned 19 “units” in this tournament for a total payout of about $38.6M.
First, a word about the Bruins. Coach Mick Cronin, the last hire of my old friend, recently retired athletic director Dan Guerrero, has done an amazing job changing the culture in Westwood. The six-year, no discipline reign of Steve Alford is a thing of the past. Cronin's emphasis on defense and toughness is paying big dividends.
UCLA is now only the second team in history to go from the play-in round to the Final Four...from the "First Four" to the Final Four, if you will. In my mind, they stand little chance against the Gonzaga juggernaut, but it's been a great run as they've dispatched Michigan State, BYU, Abilene Christian, Alabama and Michigan.
Stanford Comeback: Last night's thrilling comeback win by the Stanford women over a very strong Louisville team was one for the ages. The Cardinal was down 12 at the half and in dire straits after being completely outplayed and out-hustled in the opening stanza.
"Honestly, I didn't recognize the people in the jerseys in the first half," said head coach Tara VanDerveer. "If we were, like, in a heavyweight fight, we were on the mat. We were getting pummeled."
Stanford was only within 12 because of the work of Cameron Brink inside—9 points and 5 blocks—and the ferocious play of Lexie Hull (above).
But everything changed after intermission. Stanford got aggressive. Shots started falling. Hometown hero Kiana Williams, who'd gone one for 11 in the first half, found the range. Ashten Prechtel came off the bench for Brink, who was having leg issues, and scored 16 points. Haley Jones was a monster on the boards and driving to the hoop. Anna Wilson slowed down Louisville's scoring machine Dana Evans.
Stanford won going away by 15 points.
In terms of where this ranks among VanDerveer's biggest wins? "This is right up there,” she said, “and especially because of this COVID situation. We've been in a hotel for two weeks. Maybe other teams would say, 'oh, that's enough. We're ready to go home.' This team really showed in the second half what they're made of, and I'm so proud, and I told them so after the game. I just love how we competed."
Next Up: Things don't get any easier going forward. The Cardinal will meet a tough, physical South Carolina team in the semi-finals Friday, the same group that beat Stanford in the Final Four in 2017. If Brink, Prechtel and Fran Belibi can hold their own inside and avoid foul trouble, I think Stanford has enough depth and firepower to win.
Should Stanford get by South Carolina, it will most likely set up a dream matchup with UConn in the finals. The Huskers will be heavily favored over surprising Arizona, but if Pac-12 co-defensive player of the year Aari McDonald can hold down UConn freshman superstar Paige Bueckers and continue her own offensive output (33 points in the Elite Eight) the Wildcats could pull an upset. Wouldn't an All Pac-12 final be wonderful?
Swallow the Whistle: Coach Geno Auriemma's UConn team has reached the Final Four 13 straight years, but he needed an egregious "no-call" in the final second of the Elite Eight win over Baylor to get there this time.
Leading 68-67, UConn missed two free throws, giving Baylor the ball with 17 seconds left. Guard DiJonai Carrington (more on her in a minute) drove to the left side of the lane and put up a shot from the baseline as she was hacked in the elbow and face by two UConn players. The no call was so absurd that everyone from LeBron James to several WNBA players, including former UConn star Swin Cash, tweeted about it.
Given the fact that Carrington had made two free throws with 19 seconds left to cut the lead to one, it's likely she'd have made the shots with 0.8 remaining to win the game.
DiJonai: We wrote earlier this week about the proliferation of transfers in college basketball. Well, Carrington is a grad transfer from Stanford. She was an All-Pac-12 guard, along with teammate Kiana Williams, as a junior, averaging 14 points and seven rebounds per game. She blew out her knee five games into the 2019-20 season and missed the rest of the year.
While rehabbing the knee, Carrington told the Stanford Daily, she decided she "was ready for a new start, a new city, new state, new conference.”
Baylor proved to be a good fit. She typically came off the bench halfway through the first quarter and played the rest of the game. For the season, Carrington averaged 13 points and five rebounds, winning Conference Sixth Player and Newcomer of the Year Awards.
Interesting to contemplate where she might fit in on this year's Stanford team...
Pack Your Bags Now: Oregon State’s Beavers, the Cinderella team of the NCAA Men’s Tournament, a No. 12 seed that advanced all the way to the Elite Eight, got a rude shock when they returned to their hotel room Monday night after a hard-fought loss to Houston.
Instead of letting OSU fly home the next morning, the NCAA informed the Beavers that they had to catch a 1:15 a.m. flight to Eugene. They arrived home in Corvallis at 4 a.m.
The NCAA nets over $800 million from the men’s basketball tournament. Yet they have to send a team home in the wee hours of the morning to save on some hotel rooms?
Why people hate (some) lawyers: Lawyers for Minnesota policeman Derek Chauvin, who killed George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for over nine minutes, are pursuing a defense strategy that would be laughable if it wasn’t so pathetic.
They claim Chauvin was distracted from "the care of Mr. Floyd" by the bystanders yelling at him and that it "interfered with Chauvin’s ability to treat him."
Well, no. The bystanders were actually trying to interfere with Chauvin's ability to kill him.