NCAA Tournament

Paola’s Karr has helped Gonzaga to Sweet 16

The magical NCAA Tournament run by the Kansas women may have ended, but there’s still a local connection to the other Cinderella story in the tournament.

It’s Paola’s Taelor Karr, who has found a home at Gonzaga after she lost her scholarship at Kansas State. The Bulldogs, also seeded 11th like KU, play No. 2 seed Kentucky on Sunday in a regional semifinal.

After the Wildcats’ 2010-11 season ended, K-State released a statement that Karr was leaving the program. But she recently told the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash., that it wasn’t her choice. Instead, Karr said, Wildcats coach Deb Patterson didn’t renew her scholarship.

So Karr transferred to Gonzaga, where she thought she’d have to sit out a season because of NCAA rules. But she obtained a waiver to play right away for the Bulldogs. Karr, a 5-foot-8 guard, became a starter and is averaging 7.7 points and 4.5 assists.

“I’m very fortunate,” she told the newspaper. “It’s unprecedented for it to happen. I think the NCAA saw it wasn’t my fault and I shouldn’t be punished and have to sit out a year. It was great they listened to my story and took it to heart and gave me a chance.”

Karr scored 14 points, hitting three of six three-pointers, in Gonzaga’s first-round win over No. 6 seed Rutgers, and followed that up with five assists in a second-round upset of No. 3 seed Miami. The Bulldogs are making their third consecutive trip to the Sweet 16.

After winning its first two NCAA Tournament games on its home floor, Gonzaga, 28-5, will face Kentucky, 27-6, at the University of Rhode Island’s Ryan Center, a 2,718-mile trip from Gonzaga’s campus.

The team has never played that far east.

“Nobody on our team, except for myself, including our coaches have ever even been to Rhode Island before,” Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves said. “So this is a new experience for us. I think if we make that a big deal, it becomes a big deal. I certainly don’t talk about it with my team.”