Sidelines with John Clay

Links: North Carolina, Gonzaga reach NCAA championship game

North Carolina head coach Roy Williams, right talks to Nate Britt during the second half of the Tar Heels’ win over Oregon in the semifinals of the Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament on Saturday, April 1, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz.
North Carolina head coach Roy Williams, right talks to Nate Britt during the second half of the Tar Heels’ win over Oregon in the semifinals of the Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament on Saturday, April 1, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. Associated Press

Big Blue Links for Sunday:

▪ In Jerry Tipton’s Sunday notebook, ex-UK great Tony Delk takes up for official John Higgins, the subject of ire and threats from upset Kentucky fans after UK’s 75-73 loss to North Carolina in the South Region final.

“By the time you reach the NCAA Tournament, you should know that whenever you reach in, you can get fouls that hurt your team,” he said. “There might have been questionable calls. But at the end of the day, you put yourself in a position for the referee to make those calls.”

▪ UK football coaches are finding ways to motivate UK’s experienced secondary, reports Jennifer Smith of the Herald-Leader. Position coach Steve Clinkscale showed defensive backs tape of players in their position group at the recent NFL Combine.

“It’s not hard to convince them,” Clinkscale said. “Watch the combine, look at all the defensive backs out there who are long and fast and look how many there are. Some of these guys aren’t going to get drafted as high.

▪ Mark Story of the Herald-Leader writes on UK football super fan Jim Brown, who passed away Monday at age 97 and lived a full life beyond rooting for his beloved Cats.

▪ South Carolina’s Cinderella run ended in the Final Four with a 77-73 loss to Gonzaga on Saturday, reports David Cloninger of The State. The Gamecocks fought back from a 14-point deficit to take the lead but couldn’t hold off the Zags in the end.

▪ Gonzaga gets another shot at another first, reports Karen Crouse of the New York Times.

“Mark Few wrote the introduction for a book by his college roommate about the power of perseverance. On Saturday night, the Gonzaga men’s basketball team, which Few has built from a midmajor curiosity into a championship contender, provided him with material for a postscript.”

▪ Late offensive rebounds helped North Carolina beat Oregon 77-76 in the Final Four and lock up a spot opposite Gonzaga in Monday night’s championship game, reports Andrew Carter of the Charlotte Observer. Kennedy Meeks rebounded Joel Berry’s missed free throw at game’s end that allowed the Tar Heels to escape with the win.

▪ Meeks wills Tar Heels to brink of redemption, writes Luke DeCock of the Raleigh News and Observer.

“Kennedy Meeks would not be denied. No way. Not even with Isaiah Hicks struggling and his teammates’ shots not falling. He would get his shot at redemption, no matter what it took. It’s impossible to say that Meeks took last year’s loss to Villanova harder than anyone, but no one took it harder than him.”

▪ Pat Forde of Yahoo writes that North Carolina experienced revive and advance. “No team chokes its way into the national title game. But Carolina has flirted with it hard.”

▪ North Carolina secures passage thanks to two giant rebounds, writes Chuck Culpepper of the Washington Post.

“Some 362 wincing, striving days after a rapid-eye-movement nightmare flooded their brains and seeded their determination, North Carolina clung onto the last rung of a 10-point lead Saturday night and began clanging free throws. A dreary, formless national semifinal with Oregon had wound its way into something oddly stirring. A bloated University of Phoenix Stadium crowd of 77,612 had finally taken to gasping.”

▪ Five things the South Carolina women must do to beat Mississippi State in the title game, reports Matt Connolly of The State.

“1. Play well in the paint Mississippi State has a pair of towering centers in 6-foot-5 senior Chinwe Okorie and 6-7 sophomore Teaira McCowan. Without the injured Alaina Coates, A’Ja Wilson is the only real inside presence for the Gamecocks. The junior pulled down 19 rebounds in the national semifinal game against Stanford and will need another strong performance on Sunday. In order to do that, she must stay out of foul trouble.”

▪ Always Dreaming won the Florida Derby, earning a ticket to the Kentucky Derby, reports Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald. The lightly-raced colt is trained by Todd Pletcher and owned by Anthony Bomomo and Vinnie Viola of New York. Beaten favorite Gunnevera broke last from his No. 11 post and finished third.

▪ Gunnevera’s connections believe the Fountain of Youth will improve off of Saturday’s performance, reports Claire Novak of the Blood-Horse.

“The horse wasn’t comfortable in the beginning,” trainer Antonio Sano said of Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) winner Gunnevera. “He finished strong but the horses in the front weren’t stopping. ... I’m happy. This is an important race to win, but it was a good race for the next one.”

▪ Louisiana Derby winner Girvin is sending his youthful connections to the Kentucky Derby, writes Jeff Duncan in the Times-Picayune. Owner Brad Grady is 37 years old. Trainer Joe Sharp is 32 and in his only third year as a trainer.

“We’re ecstatic,” said Grady, as he choked back tears among a raucous group of friends and family after the trophy presentation “I’m so happy for (trainer) Joe (Sharp) and (wife) Rosie (Napravnik). It’s surreal.”

▪ In my column, I write about the Florida Derby and Louisiana Derby and how the favorite for this year’s Kentucky Derby could well come out of a strong Toyota Blue Grass field. McCraken, Tapwrit, J Boys Echo and Practical Joke are the favorites for Saturday’s race at Keeneland.

▪ On the eve of their opening day, the Cincinnati Reds are sticking to their plan, reports C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer.

“Before the 2016 season, Reds general manager Dick Williams sat down with The Enquirer’s Reds beat writers C. Trent Rosecrans and Zach Buchanan to discuss “The Plan,” the Reds’ blueprint for the rebuild of the franchise into a team that can win the World Series.”

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