NCAA Tournament Day 3 recap

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Game of the Day: No. 8 Butler 71, No. 1 Pitt 70

This wasn’t only the game of the day. This was one of the best NCAA Tournament games that I’ve seen in, well, ever. Butler and Pitt spent the first 39 minutes and change slugging this one out. Pitt kept trying to open up a lead, but Butler’s Shelvin Mack was playing one of the best games of his career. He finished with 30 points, hitting countless big jumpers, to keep the Bulldogs in it. As good as the game was, all anyone is going to talk about is the ending.

Pitt eventually took a 69-68 lead, but Butler had the ball with 7.1 seconds left in the game. They inbounded the ball to Shawn Vanzant, who drove and found Andrew Smith for a layup with 2.2 seconds left. Pitt didn’t have any timeouts left, so Ashton Gibbs led Gilbert Brown up the sideline when Mack fouled him with 1.4 seconds left. Brown hit the first and missed the second, but Nasir Robinson fouled Matt Howard with 0.8 seconds left on the rebound. Howard hit one of two, and Butler took out the first No. 1 seed.

Player of the Day: Kemba Walker, UConn

UConn may very well be the hottest team in the country, having now won seven straight games in March. And Kemba Walker could very well be the hottest player in the country. He scored 130 points as UConn won five straight games in the Big East Tournament before he went for 18 points, 12 assists, and eight boards in a first round win over Bucknell.

Kemba was just as hot against Cincinnati on Saturday night. He had 33 points, six boards, and five assists. More impressively, however, is that after struggling through the first 10 minutes of the second half — scoring two points as he battled what appeared to be a wrist injury — Walker scored 16 points to help hold off a scrappy Bearcat team.

Team of the Day: Wisconsin Badgers

I’ve said it numerous times in this space — Jordan Taylor is arguably the best point guard in the country and inarguably the most important player on the Wisconsin team. I’ve also said that Jacob Pullen is the guy that Kansas State needs to go off if they hope to make run in the NCAA tournament. On Saturday night, Pullen scored 38 points and showed off every reason he has cemented himself as a legend in Manhattan, Kan., while Jordan Taylor struggled his way to a 2-16 shooting performance.

But at the end of the game, it was Wisconsin — and Taylor — that made all of the big plays. The Badgers erased a six-point deficit late in the game, and after Taylor nearly blew a three-point lead by fouling Pullen on three point attempt (he missed the second), Taylor blocked a game-tying three point try from Pullen to seal the game. I don’t think anyone would have thought that Wisconsin had a chance to win this game if I told you that Pullen scored 38 points and Taylor went 2-16?

No. 2 San Diego 71, No. 7 Temple 64, 2OT: The Aztecs did everything they could to hand this game to Temple. They turned the ball over in the back court. They failed to win the game at the end of regulation and the end of the first overtime. But when the final buzzer sounded, SDSU picked up a win in the exact manner that you would expect. Kawhi Leonard, Billy White, and Malcolm Thomas combined for 45 points, 31 boards (10 offensive), seven assists, five steals, and five blocks.

No. 4 Kentucky 71, No. 5 West Virginia 63: Just two days after hitting the game-winning shot — his only field goal of the game — Brandon Knight scored 30 points in a win over West Virginia. He sparked an 11-0 run to open the second half and erase an eight point half time deficit and then hit six free throws down the stretch to help seal the win. Of note — it was the first time in eight years that John Calipari was able to knock off Bob Huggins.

No. 2 Florida 73, No. 7 UCLA 65: Erving Walker was the hero against UCLA scoring 10 of the last 12 Gator points and hitting two huge shots down the stretch. Walker finished with 21 points on just eight field goals attempts. The other important note from this game is that Kenny Boynton rolled his ankle in the second half. He came back and tried to play, but he was limping badly and was completely immobile.

No. 3 BYU 89, No. 11 Gonzaga 67: After getting 24 points and six assists from Marquise Carter in an impressive win over St. John’s in the first round of the tournament, the Zags were trending upwards. Or some we thought. Carter was a no-show and BYU ran Gonzaga on the floor. Jimmer Fredette finished with 34 points and six assists and Jackson Emery and Noah Hartsock combined for 29 points and six threes.

No. 12 Richmond 65, No. 13 Morehead State 48: Morehead State had no answer for Richmond’s Justin Harper, who finished with a game-high 19 points as the Spiders advanced to the Sweet 16. Kevin Anderson added 14 points. Kenneth Faried had 13 boards, seven on the offensive end, but only managed to score 11 points. Demonte Harper had just four points on 2-15 shooting.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.

Tyler Ulis injured as No. 1 Kentucky beats South Florida

Tyler Ulis, Ky Howard
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MIAMI (AP) Jamal Murray had 21 points and No. 1 Kentucky scored the final 15 points of the first half on the way to beating South Florida 84-63 in the HoopHall Miami Invitational on Friday.

Skal Labissiere added 17 points for the Wildcats (6-0), who led by as many as 31. Charles Matthews scored 11 points and Isaiah Briscoe finished with seven assists for Kentucky, now a winner of 37 consecutive regular-season games and 39 in a row against unranked opponents.

Chris Perry scored 14 points for USF (1-5), which has lost 18 consecutive games against teams ranked in the Top 25. Jaleel Cousins added 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting, and Jahmal McMurray scored 11 points for the Bulls.

Kentucky played the second half without starting guard Tyler Ulis, who departed with a right elbow injury after getting hurt while fighting for a ball loose on the floor.

Kentucky announced after the game that the injury was a hyperextension of the elbow and that he will be day-to-day.

The Bulls were within 27-21 with 6 minutes left in the first half after McMurray banked in a 3-pointer only a few feet away from where John Calipari was standing, and the look of anguish on the Kentucky coach’s face was clear.

It didn’t last long.

The Wildcats scored on seven of their next nine possessions and the game was over by halftime, Kentucky going into the break with a 42-21 lead.

It was a reunion for plenty of people on both benches. Calipari squared off with his former assistant Orlando Antigua, now in his second year leading USF. Antigua’s staff includes another former Calipari assistant in Rod Strickland, plus former Kentucky basketball staff members Mike Malone and Dominic Lombardi.

So the staffs have plenty of familiarity. On the court, there was plenty of disparity. Kentucky finished with a commanding 23-6 edge in points off turnovers and finished with 16 assists to the Bulls’ six.