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Blogger Spotlight: Bruins Nation on UCLA, NBA and ’11-’12

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It promises to be an interesting season in Westwood. UCLA’s frontcourt is loaded, its backcourt is untested, there’s some pressure on coach Ben Howland and Arizona is threatening to become a Pac-10 powerhouse. To top it off, two Bruins who were expected to be key parts of next year’s team – Malcolm Lee and Tyler Honeycutt – were selected Thursday in the NBA draft. Four months ago, few would’ve predicted that.

So I asked Tyler, one of the many manager/editors at Bruins Nation, to help sort out what’s been a busy few months.

As an added bonus, his Blogger Spotlight also has info on a scholarship the site is offering. Best read on for more.

Click here to read other Blogger Spotlights

Q: Given Ben Howland’s track record — three straight Final Fours, Pac-10 titles, etc — does it seem like the last two seasons really happened? Who saw those speed bumps coming?

A: The three straight Final Fours was always going to be a tough feat to continue. There was no illusion that the Bruins were going to follow up with another immediate run like that, particularly with the immediate loss of players like Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook, and the remaining core of those teams soon after. We had thought that the success of those years would keep any bumps to a minimum, but no one that I know saw a depth as low as the 14 win season of just over a year ago coming. Those two seasons are all too real in mind, not just in terms of the (too few) wins and losses, but in teaching lessons that we hope will stay in the minds of coaches, players and those of the greater Bruin Nation in the years to come.

Q: That four-game stretch in November — losses to Villanova, VCU, Kansas, Montana — must’ve brought back many memories of last season’s 14-18 record. But there was a turning point for the 2010-11 squad. Can you pinpoint it?

A: At first, the game at Kansas was looking like it was going to be the turning point – while we reject the concept of ‘moral victories’ at BN, the combination of the talent on display as well as the tenacity showed by that young Bruin team in Lawrence was really encouraging for the fortunes of that season. And then Montana happened. Inconsistency was a key storyline in the early and mid-season; while that victory over BYU – and Malcolm Lee’s defense of Jimmer – showed what the team was capable of at its best, you never knew when that team was going to hit the floor.

In terms of a turning point, a couple of points in the season actually come to mind – 4 games in mid-January at the Oregon schools and back in LA against Cal and Stanford helped steer the team in the right direction after some early struggles in conference play. The real turning point, I think came with an early February homestand against USC and St Johns. As I wrote entering that week, it was a critical stretch for the team’s NCAA tournament goal, and for the program as a whole. After being taken to OT by last place Arizona State, those two games were not only significant in their own right, but as a signal for the rest of the season.

Q: When BYU was earning so much acclaim, how often did you find yourself waving your arms furiously, declaring “Hello! We DID beat those guys!” Or would you rather people underestimate the Bruins (if that’s really possible, given the history and all).

A: The four letters on our uniforms and on Pauley Pavilion’s center court are a representation of the storied history of UCLA Basketball. We never want the players wearing them to be underestimated, and don’t think that opposing coaches or players are overlooking the Bruins in part due to that factor. The lack of wider acknowledgment of the team as BYU went on their tear was certainly in mind, but not that much of an aggravation. At that point in the season, the Bruins needed to win games and put forth a consistent effort form game to game. Without that, the memory of and praise for that afternoon in December would be of little comfort. As it happened, once the Bruins played themselves into the tournament discussion, the team did start getting respect for that win.

Q: So what about next season then? There’s the abundance of frontcourt talent, but some backcourt questions. What’s your take on how Howland will adjust? And who will be missed more among early entrants: Malcolm Lee or Tyler Honeycutt?

A: There has already been a lot of discussion – at Bruins Nation as well as on other UCLA-focused outlets – about how Howland is going to adapt, with particular focus on who is going to play the 3. With Tyler Honeycutt’s departure together with those backcourt questions, there is no easy solution to the question. After a year backing up Malcolm Lee at the off-guard position, moving Tyler Lamb over to the 3 would be a possibility, but shallowness in the backcourt will likely lead Howland to keep him at the 2 as much as possible. Earlier in the Spring, the Bruins brought in DeEnd Parker, a JC All-American out of San Francisco who looks to take some of that free playing time, as well as provide a backstop to Lazeric Jones and Jerime Anderson at the point.

While it might not be the ideal use of the players’ skills, that abundance in the frontcourt – particularly at power forward – is going to force some compromises down the lineup, and may require Howland and his coaches to put their skills in managing the … and egos of a group of confident young athletes to the test. Joshua Smith has the bulk of the minutes locked up, and Anthony Stover showed the the defensive ability and an overall (raw) talent in his redshirt freshman season to claim the reserve spot behind. That leaves four players – (returning starter) Reeves Nelson, Brendan Lane, and UNC transfers David and Travis Wear that are primarily slated at power forward. These guys need somewhere to play, and the in-flux wing spot is the answer. In high school, Nelson showed an ability to nail outside shots that would help him in that transition, but few people that have seen him play at UCLA could swear such a confidence. In a press conference earlier in the Spring, Howland told reporters that David Wear would get some of those vacated minutes at the 3, but a lot can change between April and the start of practices and the coming of the season.

With all that talk about filling the lineup hole left by Tyler Honeycutt, you may be surprised to hear that Malcolm Lee is going to be the more missed of the two, and it isn’t close. While Honeycutt was one of the most talented players in the Pac-10 last year and had the ability to take over a game (as in his 33 point performance at Kansas), he was just as apt to make a mental mistake, a sloppy pass or lay off on a defensive possession or three. As incoming UCLA freshman Norman Powell put it when asked about last spring’s Bruins NCAA exit: “I feel like (Tyler) Honeycutt didn’t perform like he could have. On the defensive end they really needed him on some plays but he seemed lost.” I don’t want to come down too hard on Tyler; his return would have ensured the Bruins as the team to beat in the Pac-12’s debut year, and could certainly have evolved into one of the elite players in the nation. However, we need to look at what they have demonstrated to date, and that is where Malcolm Lee shines, as the heart and soul of last year’s team as well as one of the nation’s premier defensive stoppers.

Q: Speaking of Honeycutt and Lee, Bruins Nation did a recent post on how the NBA views UCLA players. Seems some Bruins often get underrated on draft day, then manage to surprise people in the NBA because of their fundamentals and defense. (Of course, that doesn’t apply to obvious talents like Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love.) When will teams learn?

A: I would have hoped that they would have learned this week. As much as fans like to focus on the missteps of their favorite team’s GM and scouts, the fact is that there are some very bright men and women setting up the draft boards and making personnel decisions in the NBA, and these decision-makers are coming to understand the value of how Ben Howland and staff have prepared their players for the next level. As that post closed, “NBA scouts have begun to factor in the success of former Howland players in recent years.” There is a growing sample of Howland players whose pro performance is showing scouts that despite the lack of flashy play and gaudy statistics that UCLA players are very, very good.

Q: Then how do you think Honeycutt and Lee will fare in the pros?

A:That’s a tough one to answer. I would not expect them to have an immediate impact in the league, but Honeycutt has the ability to make an impact. Improving upon his focus will be a major part of reaching that goal, but he is young enough so that such an evolution is not too much of a stretch. Lee has work to do on the offensive end – When he declared for the draft and hired an agent, there was significant concern among members of our site in particular about the weakness of his outside shot, and the effect of the NBA’s labor dispute to his ability to continue to develop and even join a team. With that said, even the worst case would see Lee as a defensive stopper with some offensive ability, a skill set that should keep him in demand for several years, if not a household name.

Q: UCLA’s recent hire of assistant coach Korey McCray seems to have already paid off when Jordan Adams committed Monday. Should we expect to see more and more recruits from around the country flock to Westwood or will UCLA still rely primarily on West Coast players?

A: California and the West Coast has been and will always be the core of UCLA’s recruiting, but Bruin coaches dating back to John Wooden have not shied away from going after high school players throughout the country. The reality is that there has been a lull in elite high school talent on the West Coast in the last 3-4 years, and the program has been a little slow to adapt. Other power schools like Duke, UNC and Kansas are used to recruiting nationally as a necessity of maintaining an elite program; with the historic strength of prep basketball in Los Angeles and greater Southern California, there has not been the same need for UCLA to devote resources to extensively scouting outside the region, resulting in a lack of institutional knowledge in how to manage resources in recruiting those east coast/southern players while not overlooking up-and-comers in our backyard (something that we thought occurred in the last – 2010 incoming – recruiting class).

While Korey McCray’s skill in working with and developing the skills of young players like Dwight Howard will have a direct impact on the team, the reputation that he has developed from his years of work provide a level of credibility with recruits – and their coaches – beyond the mystique, or even the Howland/UCLA Factor, in parts of the country where the other powers have long-established footholds (when is the last time that a major Oak Hill product did not commit to Tobacco Road or Kentucky, anyway?).

Q: That all leads to the elephant in the room, right? If the Bruins struggle next year and the coaching staff fails to adjust, how much heat will be on Howland? I’m of the opinion that he’s earned major leeway — three straight Final Fours — but he IS held to a higher standard at UCLA. Rightly so, I’d say.

A: Coach Howland certainly earned a lot of leeway with Bruin fans with the success of the 2006-07-08 Final Four campaigns. With that said, that 14-18 year consumed a great deal of that leeway; that season was the program’s 5th losing season since World War II – 3 of those leading to the head coach being fired, with the remaining year being Howland’s first in Westwood. In past decades, for better or worse, UCLA coaches were terminated after much better team performances. It is true that there is a higher standard for the Men’s Basketball coach at UCLA than at near any other school in the nation. I believe there is also an understanding that bad things happen, and that season was a collection of bad things – recruiting misses, player development and even coaching. The important thing is to see that Howland learned from that down period and can recover, and never repeat a year like that again.

Last season saw a path for Howland and the program to bounce back from the depths of that lost year, as long as the program follows along that path through the next couple of years, in terms of increasing competitiveness on the court and recruiting well (with Jordan Adams being a strong start to this cycle) for the near-future, he will be fine. If he struggles and falls off that path, and serious questions arise about the state and future of the program, we won’t shy away from applying some of that heat. We certainly won’t be the only ones holding a match. I am confident though that Coach Howland will be just fine though; he has the track record of success and the ability to teach young men how to play the game, and has made coaching and recruiting decisions that bode well for the future.

Your raising the topic of adjustments by the UCLA coaching staff goes back to a topic of discussion dating back a couple of years at Bruins Nation. A point raised repeatedly in the ’09 season, but broached as far back as the Final Four years was an apparent inability or unwillingness for Coach Howland to adjust to certain personnel circumstances. In 2009, it was the inability of the team to play Howland’s trademark man-defense. To his credit, he did eventually work in some zone defense which, while not part of his normal bag of tricks was needed to salvage any sort of result from the team down the stretch. Last season, when super-freshman center Joshua Smith was being neutralized by early and often foul calls, Howland made a pair of changes to Smith’s deployment; starting him off the bench, but logging starter’s minutes was a simple, but successful way to keep Smith in games later. The more significant adaptation was to stop Smith from performing the normal Howland big man task of going outside and hedging on D, which had led to many weak fouls called on the big guy. Adaptations like these, as well as some recent changes to his staff are a demonstration of Howland’s ability to adjust – if not quite as quickly as we might like.

Q: Sean Miller’s rebuilt Arizona in a hurry. Lorenzo Romar’s Washington team is consistently strong. Other Pac-10 programs like Oregon, Cal and Stanford are rising fast. This is good for UCLA, right? More attention for the conference means its biggest basketball stars get a chance to garner even more attention than normal, correct?

A: It does not hurt to have more of a national light shining on the Pac-10 (soon to be Pac-12). As much as the improvement in fortunes in our conference-mates helps draw focus out west, having the avenues for people throughout the nation to actually watch our games is as much of a necessity for the stars of the conference, Bruin or otherwise to get the attention they deserve. After a long period where it looked like the powers that be in the Pac-10 simply didn’t get the importance of leveraging mass media, the Pac-12 under Larry Scott’s leadership really gets it. The massive TV and media rights deal that he negotiated with Fox and ESPN is the big feather in his – and our cap, but even smaller but overlooked changes like allowing networks to reverse-mirror regionally televised games worked to get the (then) Pac-10 brand on more TV’s and in front of more eyes.

Q: How many contributors do you have at Bruins Nation? It’s an absurd amount compared to some other SB Nation blogs. I would assume it bodes well for the site’s future.

A: We have a total of 13 editors and writers on the masthead, though a couple of these folks are on long-term hiatus from writing for the site. That, of course does not reflect the countless members of the community that have joined the blog and contributed over the past 6 years, whether in discussion or writing their own posts for the site. In terms of the official contributors, it is a large number, but not out of line in terms of the other high-traffic college blogs on SB Nation. Being that we do all have regular jobs and careers to balance with writing for the site, the large number of contributors really does help with keeping new content flowing on the blog – if one of our writers goes on vacation, and a couple of others have major projects at work, the rest of us can keep things going without much issue. It really does help us in keeping the site going on into the future.

Another project that the Bruins Nation editors have come up with to help the blog keep growing into the future, which we introduced to our community last week is the Bruins Nation Scholarship. For a touch of background, the front page writers – myself included – have never drawn from the ad revenue derived from the site. We have decided to take a chunk of that money and award a pair of scholarships, one for a current UCLA undergraduate student, and a second to a recent alumni, to members of the BN community who we think can contribute to the site. Ideally, we will end up with a group of fresh writers that will lead to an ever-brighter future for Bruins Nation. At least, we can give a couple of young writers a chance to hone their skills and have their voices heard.

Q: I skipped Greek mythology and writing in college. What’s with all the monikers?

A: The Greek names are a tradition among the site editors, and are a homage to the Greeks of Homer’s Odyssey and the Iliad that fought the Trojan War. You can probably figure out the significance from there…

Q: How long have you been blogging? And how much longer do you think you’ll continue?

A: I have been blogging on the main page at Bruins Nation for about a year and a half, but have been posting (full posts as well as commenting) at the site for five years now, as a way to keep my passion for UCLA going as well as to serve as a welcome distraction from law school.  Working with a large pool of talented bloggers has to help with this – in that I don’t feel the pressure to always have to write, or to have something to say – but right now, I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon.

More of Tyler’s writing can be read here. He’s also on Twitter is @bruinhoo. Follow the whole blog @BruinNation.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Nigel Hayes shines against as No. 17 Wisconsin beats Marquette

MILWAUKEE, WI - DECEMBER 10:  Nigel Hayes #10 of the Wisconsin Badgers is fouled by Luke Fischer #40 of the Marquette Golden Eagles during the first half of a game at the BMO Harris Bradley Center on December 10, 2016 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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What a difference a year makes.

Last season at this time, Wisconsin dropped a home game to a Marquette team that was headed to the NIT.

This year?

The Badgers put six players in double-figures as they went into Milwaukee and knocked off Marquette, 93-84.

Bronson Koenig continued his hot shooting, finishing with 18 points and six assists while shooting 4-for-6 from beyond the arc. Vitto Brown chipped in with 15 points, Khalil Iverson had 16 and Ethan Happ chipped in with 11 despite battling foul trouble all afternoon.

But the really story here – hell, the story of Wisconsin’s season to date – has been the change in the way that Nigel Hayes plays.

Hayes was terrific again on Saturday. He had 17 points, nine boards, four assists and three steals. He shot 6-for-10 from the floor and attempted just a pair of threes, making one of them. He had the ball in his hands when Wisconsin was trying to kill off the game, and, more importantly, head coach Greg Gard has seem to start to take advantage of just how good Hayes can be as a facilitator.

There are a couple of points that need to be made here:

  1. When Hayes plays like this, he deserves to be in the all-american discussion. He’s averaging 18.0 points, 7.3 boards and 6.7 assists in the three games Wisconsin has played against high-major competition since the change, and the Badgers have won five straight games while playing easily their best basketball of the season.
  2. And it’s not just because of the numbers he puts up. When Hayes operates as Wisconsin’s de-facto point guard, it makes everyone else on the roster better. For starters, it allows Koenig to play off the ball, where he seems to be more effective. He’s at his best when he’s hunting shots and trying to create off the bounce, but his aggressiveness can be detrimental when he’s the only one touching the ball. It also means offense runs through Happ more often since Koenig isn’t dominating possession, and it lets guys like Brown space the floor because they’re actually able to get rhythm threes.

As of today, Wisconsin is the favorite to win the Big Ten, even if Indiana is far more likely to end up being a No. 1 seed in March.

SATURDAY’S SNACKS: Villanova, Wisconsin earn good wins

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 10: Mikal Bridges #25 of the Villanova Wildcats fights off Martinas Geben #23 and Matt Farrell #5 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish for control of the ball during the first half of a college basketball game at Prudential Center on December 10, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 1 Villanova 74, No. 23 Notre Dame 66

Josh Hart put together one of the best games we’ll see all season as he put up a career-high 37 points and 11 rebounds to will Villanova to the win. I have more on Hart’s performance and Villanova’s win here.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

No. 17 Wisconsin 93, Marquette 84: The Badgers avenged last season’s loss to in-state rival Marquette with a solid road win. Putting up 58 points in the second half, Wisconsin had six players finish with at least 11 players as Bronson Koenig led with 18 points. Another solid outing from Nigel Hayes as he ended up with 17 points, nine rebounds and four assists.

STARRED

Rodney Bullock, Providence: The Friars earned another solid win over UMass as Bullock finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds. Bullock was 7-for-14 from the field and he went 10-for-12 from the free-throw line.

Dedric Lawson, Memphis: The sophomore just missed a triple-double as he finished with 24 points, 10 rebounds, eight blocks and three assists in a Memphis win over UAB. Lawson played all 40 minutes.

Daniel Amigo, Denver: Huge game for the junior center as he had 33 points and 10 rebounds in a win over Air Force. Amigo was 14-for-18 from the field.

STRUGGLED

Demontrae Jefferson, Texas Southern: Making his college debut against Louisville, the exciting 5-foot-7 guard showed his talent but was also very inefficient. Jefferson finished with 27 points but was 10-for-30 from the field with 11 turnovers. Watching Jefferson’s run-and-gun style is going to be fascinating this season.

TOP 25

  • No. 11 Louisville cruised to an easy win over Texas Southern as Quentin Snider led the Cardinals with 13 points.
  • Easy win for No. 15 West Virginia as they beat VMI for a home win. Daxter Miles Jr. finished with 20 points and was 5-for-6 from three-point range.
  • No. 18 Purdue raced past Cleveland State as Isaac Haas had 14 points and Caleb Swanigan had 13 points and 10 rebounds.
  • The freshman duo of Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons each had 19 points to pace No. 20 Arizona to a win over Missouri. The Wildcats overcame foul trouble from freshman big man Lauri Markkanen as they shot 54 percent from three-point range.

NOTABLE

  • Syracuse had a big win over Boston to snap a recent cold stretch. John Gillon led the Orange with 23 points while Taurean Thompson had 22 points.
  • Nice home win for Houston over Rhode Island as Rob Gray scored 30 points and Danrad “Chicken” Knowles added 25 points. The Rams are 0-3 on the road and have lost four of their last six games.
  • Michigan State picked up a home win over Tennessee Tech as Eron Harris led with 20 points. The Spartans struggled from the free-throw line in this one — at one point head coach Tom Izzo sat at the end of the bench in frustration.
  • Pitt was able to outlast Penn State as Michael Young finished with 29 points and nine rebounds.

Gillon, Thompson lead Syracuse over Boston University

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 26:  John Gillon #4 of the Syracuse Orange dribbles up court against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the first half during the Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational at Barclays Center on November 26, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim wants his bench to perform better.

He got his wish Saturday.

John Gillon and Taurean Thompson came off the bench to score a Syracuse career-high 23 points and career-high 22 points, respectively, and the Orange broke open a tight game early in the second half to defeat Boston University 99-77.

Gillon hadn’t scored in Syracuse’s two previous games.

“We want guys to come off the bench to score and that’s what happened today,” Boeheim said. “Thompson is getting better on offense. … John saved the game in the first half.”

Andrew White added 19 and Tyler Lydon 10 for the Orange (6-3). Frank Howard had 11 assists and just two turnovers.

Syracuse had lost three of four entering the game.

Cedric Hankerson led the Terriers (4-6) with 34 points, including 10 of 20 from beyond the arc. Eric Fanning chipped in with 12 points and nine rebounds.

Syracuse led 45-39 at the half but outscored the Terriers 19-5 in the first five minutes of the second half, led by seven from Thompson, to take a 64-44 lead. The Orange breezed the rest of the way, extending their lead to 88-55. Syracuse shot 55 percent in the second half, outscoring the Terriers 54-38 after intermission.

“They just got on a run and we couldn’t really bounce back from that,” said Hankerson. “They were hitting some daggers and we started turning the ball over too much.”

“They had some guys who shot better than they had been, and we helped them,” said BU coach Joe Jones. “We were really bad on offense and made some really bad decisions and you can’t do that.”

Gillon and Thompson scored 14 and 12 points, respectively, in the first half to spark what had been a lethargic Orange effort. Gillon’s first-half points included 4 of 4 from beyond the arc.

“I had a lot going on and wasn’t in the right mindset, not ready to play,” said Gillon. “That’s what happens, you get bad results. I’m getting myself together.”

Both teams exchanged baskets early on, but then the Terriers went on an 8-0 run, led by two 3-pointers by Hankerson, to take a 20-12 lead. Two 3s by Gillon and a jumper by Thompson tied the score at 23 with 8:31 to go in the half. The Orange then outscored BU 22-16 to take its halftime lead.

Hankerson, who averaged 9.3 points a game entering the game, scored 19 in the first half.

The undersized Terriers outrebounded Syracuse for the game.

Despite the win, Boeheim said there’s much work to do.

“It’s foolish for me or anybody to think this was going to happen right away. It’s a long way off,” Boeheim said. “We have glaring weaknesses and have to get better.”

BIG PICTURE

BOSTON UNIVERSITY: The Terriers hung tough for a half but the Orange’s talent took over in the second 20 minutes. BU was tough on the boards and had 18 second-chance points.

SYRACUSE: It was another decisive victory for the Orange over a decidedly inferior opponent, so you can’t really judge much from the win.

TIP-INS

Hankerson’s game was his best yet since returning from last year’s season-pending ACL. . This was the first game all year that the Terriers had been outscored in the paint.

White has scored in double figures in all nine Syracuse games. . Lydon is 3 of 17 from 3 in his last three games. .. Dajuan Coleman had just two points after two solid efforts.

UP NEXT

Boston University: Hosts New Hampshire a week from Sunday.

Syracuse: Continues its five-game homestand next Saturday against longtime rival Georgetown on what’s been designated “Pearl Washington Day” in honor of the Syracuse legend who died earlier this year.

Alkins leads No. 20 Arizona past Missouri, 79-60

LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 25:  Rawle Alkins #1 of the Arizona Wildcats drives against Sean McDermott #22 of the Butler Bulldogs during the championship game of the 2016 Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena on November 25, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) It’s an old cliché winning on the road in college basketball is no easy task.

As a visiting opponent, having only seven players on scholarship doesn’t make it any easier.

It didn’t seem to faze No. 20 Arizona, which looked polished and poised as it defeated Missouri for the third consecutive season, cruising to a 79-60 victory Saturday in its first true road game of the season.

Rawle Alkins led the way for the Wildcats with 19 points and nine rebounds. Kobi Simmons had 19 points on 8-of-15 shooting, and Kadeem Allen added 17 points, seven rebounds and four assists.

“We’re going through a lot right now,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “How we practice and every game, it’s just really crucial for us. I think that in short time, I’m hopeful we can get some guys back, but in the meantime, this was a meaningful game. … I’m proud of our guys’ effort and approach tonight.”

The Wildcats (8-2) jumped out to an 8-0 lead in the first 3:12, eventually taking a 25-8 lead with 10:29 remaining in the first half. From that point, Missouri outscored Arizona 28-16 in the half, including a 7-0 run to end the opening 20 minutes.

The Tigers (5-4) continued to chip away at Arizona’s lead, eventually cutting the deficit to 45-41 early in the second half. However, the Wildcats responded with a 26-4 run that included a Missouri scoring drought of 6:59, halting any momentum the Tigers had mustered.

“I thought we did great job of coming back,” Missouri coach Kim Anderson said. “I was really proud of our guys and the way they competed. In the second half early, we had some chances, and then they went on a great run and for all practical purposes, put the game out of reach.”

Kevin Puryear had a team-best 11 points and seven rebounds. Leading scorer Frankie Hughes was held in check by the Wildcats’ backcourt, scoring 10 points on 2-of-13 shooting. Russell Woods had eight points and six rebounds, and Cullen VanLeer added eight points, all in the first half.

A reported crowd of over 10,000 was on hand for the only currently ranked opponent on Missouri’s home schedule.

VanLeer attributed the Tigers’ comeback efforts to the home crowd energy.

“The magnitude of the crowd was really nice to have. We appreciated everyone that came out. We were upset we couldn’t get the win today, but hopefully we can continue to get bigger crowds and it’ll help us get rhythm and flow in the game,” VanLeer said.

Arizona dominated the glass, outrebounding Missouri 46-28, its worst rebounding margin of the season.

The Wildcats led wire-to-wire despite nearly doubling Missouri’s turnovers, 15-8, and committing 22 fouls to the Tigers’ 11. Missouri shot 66.7 percent from the free throw line, including 9 of 17 in the second half.

BIG PICTURE

Arizona: The Wildcats entered the game shooting 36.6 percent from 3-point range, but caught fire early against the Tigers, shooting 54.2 percent. Missouri made just 1 of 8 3-point attempts in the second half while the Wildcats made 6 of 10. Missouri was coming off a season-high 3-point output against Miami (Ohio).

Missouri: A tenacious on-ball defender, Missouri point guard Terrence Phillips has struggled with foul trouble in recent games. In Monday’s 81-55 win over Miami (Ohio) Phillips played only 10 minutes in the second half, finishing with four fouls. He picked up his third foul 3:56 into the second half, limiting him to just 16 minutes against the Wildcats.

PIVOTAL MOMENT

Woods received a bounce pass in the lane on a fast break and gathered for a two-handed slam in front of the Missouri student section that would have cut the deficit to 45-43, but missed the dunk. On the ensuing Arizona possession, Woods was whistled for a foul, leading to two free throws by Arizona forward Dusan Ristic, who finished with 12 points and six rebounds.

LET DOWN

Freshman 7-footer Lauri Markkanen entered the game as Arizona’s leading scorer and rebounder, averaging 17.8 points and 7.2 rebounds. Against Missouri, the native of Finland had a season-low eight points to go with six rebounds, and fouled out with 2:53 remaining.

Puryear discussed his approach to defending Markkanen.

“Just being physical with him,” Puryear said. “Not letting him get comfortable with where he was on the floor with the ball. He likes to operate in the mid-post area, so I tried to eliminate that.”

UP NEXT

Arizona: hosts Grand Canyon on Wednesday.

Missouri: hosts Eastern Illinois next Saturday.

Short-handed Boilermakers crush Cleveland State, 77-53

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 13: Isaac Haas #44 of the Purdue Boilermakers shoots against Gavin Schilling #34 of the Michigan State Spartans in the championship game of the Big Ten Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 13, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) No. 18 Purdue currently has only eight healthy scholarship players. At this point in the season, it hasn’t been a problem.

Isaac Haas scored 14 points, Caleb Swanigan had 13 points and 10 rebounds and Dakota Mathias added 12 points on four 3-pointers, leading the Boilermakers to a 77-53 victory over Cleveland State on Saturday.

Fifth-year graduate student point guard Spike Alnrecht (back) and sophomore forward Jacquil Taylor (foot surgery) are out indefinitely. However, Purdue is getting balanced scoring and solid defense from its eight healthy scholarship players.

The Boilermakers (8-2) finished the first half on a 12-0 run to lead 41-20 and never were threatened thereafter, leading by as many as 27 points in the second half.

“That run to close the first half was huge, especially since they had started to make shots right before that and had a little momentum going,” Mathias said. “Coming out of that last media timeout, we had to close out the first half strong, so we did. We were aggressive and got into the passing lanes.”

It was a 5:15 stretch Cleveland State would like to forget.

“The run to close the first half was big for (Purdue) after we cut it to nine,” Cleveland State coach Gary Waters said. “We made some errors, they started hitting some shots and they picked up their defense. They are a great team, and that’s what great teams do.”

Bobby Word had 14 points to lead Cleveland State (3-6), which shot only 26.7 percent (8 of 30) during the pivotal first half. Vikings leading scorers Word, Rob Edwards and Demonte Flannigan scored only 24 combined points on 9-of-35 shooting from the field.

Vince Edwards added 11 points, six rebounds and four assists for the Boilermakers, who have won each of their past three games by at least 24 points. Mathias finished with six rebounds, seven assists and no turnovers to go with his 12 points in 26 minutes.

“Vince Edwards had a lot to do with that 12-0 run to close the first half, and right now, having the balance that we have is a really good thing,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “Our guys were ready to play today, including Dakota, who really did a nice defensive job on Edwards. We relaxed a little bit once we got a 20-point lead, but sometimes that happens.”

Edwards liked the way Purdue limited the Vikings to 31.3 percent shooting (20 of 64).

“Guys did a really good job on defense and with help defense,” Edwards said. “We were really helping each other out by scrambling on the floor. I think that made a big difference. We were active, and we also were getting on the glass.”

The Boilermakers outrebounded the Vikings, 44-34.

BIG PICTURE

Cleveland State: The Vikings, who came to Purdue having won two in a row, stayed close for a while by making seven 3-pointers in the first 24:04 but had no answer for Purdue’s 7-2 Haas and 6-8 Swanigan.

Purdue: The Boilermakers once again featured a solid blend of interior and perimeter scoring to win for the seventh time in the past eight games. Purdue entered this game shooting 44.8 percent from 3-point range – second best nationally – and shot 43.8 percent from beyond the arc in the first half Saturday.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Having won three in a row by 34, 33 and now 24 points, Purdue likely has positioned itself to move up from No. 18 in the next AP Top 25. Purdue has been a Top 25 team in 24 consecutive polls.

UP AND DOWN DAY

Swanigan added another double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds but was not happy after making eight of the Boilermakers’ 15 turnovers.

“It’s not on the team, it’s on me and Vince Edwards because the last game we had a lot of turnovers, but Vince cut his down to two, and I have to try to do that,” Swanigan said.

UP NEXT

Cleveland State: The Vikings play on Dec. 17, at Ohio University.

Purdue: The Boilermakers will play No. 23 Notre Dame on Dec. 17 in Indianapolis’ Bankers Life Fieldhouse.