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Nuggets Journal: How Spurs coach Gregg Popovich paved the way for Michael Malone

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Nuggets Journal: How Spurs coach Gregg Popovich paved the way for Michael Malone

Without an endorsement from legendary Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, Nuggets coach Michael Malone wouldn’t be in the position he’s in, as the fifth-longest tenured coach in the NBA.

Their relationship began at an NBA-run Basketball Without Borders camp in Argentina in 2005. There, over numerous bottles of wine, Malone worked his way into Popovich’s orbit.

Pop’s first impression of Malone?

“I just felt very quickly when I got to first meet him, we were in Argentina of all places,” Popovich said. “I just had a feeling about the guy. He had a quick knowledge of the game, understood people and had a real competitive spirit about him, that kind of thing. The friendship just kind of grew.”

When former San Antonio assistant Mike Brown got the job in Cleveland, it was Popovich who paved Malone’s path there. By virtue of LeBron James, who maintains a good relationship with Denver’s head coach to this day, Malone was thrust into a championship race on an annual basis.

“That five years in Cleveland allowed me to be seen in a different light because of the success that we had,” Malone said. But once James left for Miami, Malone needed another favor from the legendary Spurs coach.

He helped him land on his feet as an assistant in New Orleans with Monty Williams.

“Once you throw your lot in with somebody like that, it’s satisfying to continue to try to help in any way you can,” Popovich said. “People have helped me along the way, so why not return the favor to other people? Thrilled for his success. He’s only going to have more.”

Before Malone settled in Denver, he was the head coach in Sacramento for parts of two tumultuous seasons. Again, Popovich was there for him.

“And through all that when I was going through a tough time in Sacramento, I could call up Coach Pop and use him as a soundingboard,” Malone said. “And the best thing about it is, like my father, he was never going to tell me what I wanted to hear, he was going to tell me the truth and what I needed to hear.”

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The last county in Minnesota without a COVID-19 death has reported its first

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The last county in Minnesota without a COVID-19 death has reported its first

GRAND MARAIS, Minn. — Cook County reported its first COVID-19-related death on Wednesday, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

The person who died in the county, located at the far end of northeastern Minnesota’s Arrowhead, was between ages 75 and 79.

Cook County still has the fewest number of COVID-19 deaths of Minnesota’s 87 counties.

The next-lowest totals are in Big Stone, Lake of the Woods and Lincoln counties, which each have five deaths.

Minnesota reported 100 more COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday, a backlog from over the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend, pushing the state’s death toll to 9,482 since the pandemic began in March 2020.

Cook County’s vaccination rates are the highest in Minnesota, with 82.6% of the total population having received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 76.8% fully vaccinated. Ninety-nine percent of Cook County residents age 65 and older are fully vaccinated.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimated the county’s total population to be 5,736 in 2019.

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Women’s basketball: North Carolina holds off Gophers in ACC/Big Ten Challenge

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No. 6 Gophers beat UMD for first victory of the season

Minnesota’s women’s basketball team fell short in the ACC/Big Challenge on Wednesday, falling 82-76 against a good team from North Carolina at Williams Arena. It was disappointing, but there was a silver lining — freshman forward Alanna Micheaux.

Micheaux was a revelation, scoring a career-high 23 points with five rebounds.

Coach Lindsay Whalen raved about the freshman from suburban Detroit before the season started, and now everyone knows why.

“She has some of the best touch I think I’ve ever seen around the paint, and she knocked down her free throws,” Whalen said. “That was a heck of a game from her — timing, positioning, getting to her spots, but then being able to score through people and finish with finesse like she does.”

The 6-foot-2 post shot 8 for 10 from the field and 7 for 8 from the free-throw line and kept Minnesota close in a torrid second half. Her three-point play with 6:24 remaining pulled the Gophers to within 67-60, and her inside basket cut the deficit to 67-65 with 4:39 remaining.

Her miss on the ensuing free throw was her only miss from the stripe, and the Tar Heels scored the next nine points — six by Kennedy Todd Williams — to help North Carolina pull away.

Alyssa Ustby led five Tar Heels in double figures with 19 points, and Deja Kelly and Carrie Littlefield added 15 points apiece as North Carolina remained undefeated (8-0). The Gophers were never completely out of it, but they spent most of their effort trying to rally back from deficits as large as 12.

The Gophers trailed 39-29 at intermission.

Minnesota pulled ahead, 55-54, on a drive by Gadiva Hubbard with 35 seconds left in the third quarter, but Todd-Williams hit one free throw after an offensive rebound, and Kelly hit a half-court shot with a second remaining to give the Tar Heels a 58-55 lead heading into the fourth quarter — the beginning of a 9-0 run.

“It seemed like in the second half there was just a better flow for us and a lot of it started defensively. We were able to run and get some easy stuff,” Whalen said. “It’s hard when you spot a team 10 points in the second quarter. We did it, but that’s when you need those key two or three stops in a row.

“Then maybe it’s a different ballgame, but give them credit.”

Deja Winters’ three-point play pulled Minnesota to within 75-71 with 1:12 remaining, but Todd-Williams answered with a layup and free throw for a 78-71 lead with 51 seconds left, and the Gophers were never able to catch up.

Winters scored 17 points and Gadiva Hubbard added 14 for the Gophers, who fell to 6-4. The Gophers begin the Big Ten season Monday against Nebraska at Williams Arena.

The Gophers didn’t have a player like Micheaux last season, and she could make a big difference this season as the Gophers take aim at an NCAA tournament berth.

“A game like this really boosted my confidence. It helped me out a lot,” Micheaux said. “But I can’t lie: I couldn’t have done it without the team. If it wasn’t for them setting up the plays, telling me how to get through and what screens to set, it would have never happened.”

The Gophers’ offense was sharp early. The team had six assists on seven first-quarter baskets and was tied 17-17 going into the second quarter. But things soon began unraveling. By intermission, Minnesota had taken 19 3-point shots and made just three (15.8 percent).

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Whicker: UCLA’s Tyger Campbell broadens his game as Bruins stifle Colorado

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Whicker: UCLA’s Tyger Campbell broadens his game as Bruins stifle Colorado

LOS ANGELES — The immediate goal for UCLA is to put last Tuesday’s nightmare a little bit deeper into the rear-view in each game.

Tyger Campbell was invisible against Gonzaga, as were several Bruins in that ballyhooed 20-point loss. He was present and up front in Wednesday night’s Pac-12 opener.

Campbell was content to include everyone else in the offense as UCLA barged to a 16-point halftime lead over Colorado. When the Buffaloes came back, Campbell reined them in, with 13 points and no turnovers in the second half of the fifth-ranked Bruins’ 73-61 win, a game they led by only four points with 9:35 left.

Campbell got three baskets in the next four minutes and the Bruins led by 12 again. Despite the best efforts of Colorado’s Jabari Walker, whose dad Samaki once played for the Lakers, UCLA handled the rest of it and improved to 7-1.

For the game, Campbell had 21 points, seven assists and one turnover. Coach Mick Cronin thought that was nearly as impressive as Myles Johnson’s 12 points, 10 rebounds and 14 deflections in the middle.

Like Johnson, Campbell has been in the coach’s crosshairs.

“For us to be the type of team we want to be in March, that’s the way he has to play,” Cronin said.

“I accepted he was a young player the first couple of years, trying to develop him to what he can be. Their strategy tonight was to force him to shoot, but I like the fact that he didn’t even hesitate. I’ve seen that guy in practice.”

“It wasn’t about me being super-aggressive or anything,” Campbell said. “When I’m out there, I’m just looking at the defense. Tonight my teammates got me the ball and I was able to knock them down.

“But I like to take the big shots. I think every player does. I believe in myself and I know the coaches believe in me.”

Campbell also got some counseling from Russell Westbrook, the Lakers’ All-Star who donated the money for the Bruins’ practice court in the Ostin Center. He was honored at Pauley Pavilion on Wednesday.

“To me, it’s just great that he comes here and sees us play,” Campbell said. “We remember the days when he was here. He’s such a great player. The legacy he left, with all the Final Fours … he just told me to keep shooting.”

It was an efficient night for the Bruins, who took 12 Colorado turnovers and turned them into 23 points. They suffered only nine turnovers themselves, and Campbell (4 for 7) and Johnny Juzang combined for 5-for-10 shooting from the 3-point line.

Colorado missed 10 of its first 12 shots but rallied to shoot 42.1 percent, and Walker put together 22 points and 11 rebounds.

Cronin wasn’t satisfied with UCLA’s second-half defense, but then Jaime Jaquez Jr. played only 7:14 and sat out the second half. He banged his head on the court, and assistant coach Michael Lewis told Cronin that Jaquez “doesn’t look 100 percent” after warmups at halftime.

UCLA is still missing Cody Riley in the post, and Cronin is hoping his return, plus a higher comfort level for Team USA member and freshman Peyton Watson, will accelerate the Bruins. To that end, he experimented with five bench players together for a short period in the first half.

“I think that helped us wear them down in the second half, but I still think Johnny and Tyger played too many minutes,” Cronin said. Juzang had 35 minutes, Campbell 33.

The 6:30 p.m. start held the crowd to 7,941, although UCLA’s frenzied win against Villanova last month was supposed to make every home game an occasion.

Writing this win off as a routine errand wouldn’t be wise. Colorado has won twice in Pauley since 2018 and beat the Bruins, 70-61, in Boulder last year.

“The margin for error is limited against UCLA,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. “Even when they lose somebody like Jaquez they keep coming at you.”

UCLA’s theme now is to reject satisfaction. Johnson was a defensive specialist at Rutgers and Campbell was a distributing point guard, but Cronin is trying to push them past their definitions.

The Bruins don’t believe in looking back, either, but then they already know what’s there.

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