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Kentucky outlasts UNC; ‘Game of the Year’ lives up to hype

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source: Getty Images

I want more.

Seriously, let’s run that back. I’m sure I’m not the only one that feels that way. We can do it right now. I don’t think any of the fans in attendance would mind. Its still early in the afternoon, Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg have nothing else to do today. As we speak, CBS is airing a preview of “A Game of Honor”. I’m pretty sure they can push that back.

More than anyone, I think No. 5 North Carolina wants a second shot against No. 1 Kentucky after losing to the Wildcats 73-72 at Rupp Arena on Saturday afternoon. After Marquis Teague missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 21 seconds left, UNC took possession of the ball with a chance to steal a win in Rupp. The Heels dumped the ball into Tyler Zeller, who promptly had it knocked out of his hands. The ball happened to bounce right to a seemingly wide-open John Henson, but Henson — who has probably never had a jump shot blocked in his career — had a 12-footer blocked by Anthony Davis, who came out of nowhere to make a game-saving defensive play.

But where the real bitterness for UNC isn’t a result of the block, its the result of what happened after the block.

The shot left Henson’s hand with about six seconds left on the clock, but instead of fouling Davis, who came down with the loose ball, Henson backed away. As Henson’s teammates ran at the UK freshman, he threw the ball to Marquis Teague, who dribbled the final few ticks away.

If Henson has the awareness to foul Davis, he sends a freshman big man that is a 53% free throw shooter to the line with enough time to go to the length of the court for the tie or the win.

This had been the most highly-anticipated matchup of the college basketball season, and there isn’t even a close second. The two most talented teams in the country. The two favorites to win the national title. A half-dozen lottery picks and a dozen potential pros on the court. John Calipari and Roy Williams.

It had everything you could ask for, and that’s why every college hoops fan — not just Big Blue Nation or the folks on Tobacco Road — had been salivating over this game ever since Coach Cal had reeled in yet another loaded recruiting class and Ol’ Roy got confirmation that his trio of talented front court players would be back for another year in Chapel Hill.

And up until that final possession, this game had completely lived up to the hype.

UNC used some hot-shooting from beyond the arc — they were 6-9 from long range in the half — to build up a lead and could have taken complete control in the first half had they been able to keep Kentucky off of the offensive glass. The Wildcats grabbed 12 offensive rebounds in the first half and had 16 second-chance points.

While the first half brought us end-to-end action, like two feather-weight fighters catching each other with jab after jab, the second half was a heavyweight brawl, as the UNC and Kentucky traded haymakers.

Every time the Wildcats would put together a spurt to get back into the game, UNC had the answer. Kentucky scored seven of the first nine points in the second half, tying the game at 45, but back-to-back threes from Kendall Marshall pushed the lead back to six. Michael Gilchrist — who had game-highs of 17 points and 11 boards — scored seven straight points to give Kentucky a 52-51 lead, their first lead since the score was 11-9. But the Heels again answered, with a deep PJ Hairston three and a short jumper from Marshall.

It wasn’t until the eight minute mark that Kentucky finally took control. Down 60-56, Darius Miller used a three-point play to spark a 13-4 run that was capped by back-to-back threes from Doron Lamb, putting UK up 69-64 with 3:49 left. Harrison Barnes and Reggie Bullock both hit tough, clutch threes down the stretch to set up the underwhelming finish.

If the anti-climatic ending did anything, it created a national desire to see a rematch.

And if the NCAA Tournament wasn’t exciting enough already, we will now all be able to root for the same thing come March: running back the Game of the Century in New Orleans.

What We Learned

Kentucky:

– Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is the truth, and this game was his coming out party. He’s a terrific athlete and relentless attacking the rim, whether its off the bounce or on the offensive glass. He defends and he can create off the dribble. He is going to be such a weapon for UK this year.

– Just as important was the play of Darius Miller, who finished with 12 points in 23 minutes off the bench. He made a number of big plays in the second half.

– Terrence Jones still doesn’t understand quite how to use his physical tools. With his combination of perimeter ability and physical strength, he’s an impossible matchup at the college level. He took advantage of that early in the game, as he was aggressive getting to the rim. But he spent the second half floating around the perimeter. That has to change for him to live up to his potential.

– Anthony Davis needs to get stronger. But he’s as young and as raw as any prospect we’ve seen this decade. Three plays stood out to me: the lob he caught midway through the second half against Zeller, the rebound he grabbed — stretch-armstrong style — with four minutes left and, of course, the block to seal the win.

– I get on Marquis Teague as much as anyone does, but he deserves some credit here. While he struggled shooting the ball (3-11 from the floor for just seven points), he only turned the ball over once while adding four assists and controlling the pace down the stretch. The reason UK won this game was that they turned the final eight minutes into a half-court game. That credit goes to Teague.

North Carolina:

– The Heels are still getting beat up inside. The biggest issue I have is that John Henson and Tyler Zeller go to the defensive glass like they do the offensive glass. They aren’t able to use their body to box out on the defensive glass.

– UNC was better in the half court tonight, especially on the offensive end of the floor, but they still run into trouble when teams are able to execute their sets offensively. They simply have too many defensive question marks. Looking at you, Kendall Marshall and Harrison Barnes.

– The one question mark that has been answered is UNC’s perimeter shooting. PJ Hairston and Reggie Bullock knocked down some big threes in this game.

– The question that a lot of people were asking during the game was whether Harrison Barnes or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is a better NBA prospect. I think, without question, the answer is Kidd-Gilchrist, simply because his all-around game is so much better. But anyone that says that Barnes isn’t a terrific prospect in his own right is out of their mind. The kid is a terrific shooter that thrives in the clutch. He may not be the second-coming of Kevin Durant — hell, he may not ever be an all-star in the NBA — but he is going to score a lot of points for a very long time at the next level.

– UNC now has two losses in their last three games. Losing to UNLV was an issue, but don’t read too much into this loss. Kentucky is absurdly talented and was playing in an unreal environment at Rupp. This team will be right there at the end of the season.

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

Eastern Kentucky basketball player charged with rape

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RICHMOND, Ky. (AP) Authorities say an Eastern Kentucky basketball player has been arrested on a rape charge.

Records at Kentucky’s Madison County Detention Center show 23-year-old Jaylen Babb-Harrison was arrested Sunday in Richmond and charged with first-degree rape.

A statement from Eastern Kentucky says Babb-Harrison, a redshirt senior guard, has been suspended from the team. It says the school is cooperating with police.

Local media organizations cited an arrest citation in reporting that police were called to a Richmond hospital when a female reported she was at Babb-Harrison’s home and that he had sex with her against her will.

WKYT-TV reports Babb-Harrison declined to be interviewed at a jail. His first court appearance is set for Wednesday.

Online jail records didn’t list an attorney for the player.

Judge dismisses sex charges against ex-Michigan State star

3 Apr 2000: Mateen Cleaves #12 of the Michigan State Spartans celebrates on the floor as he holds up the trophy after winning the NCAA Men''s Finals Four Game against the Florida Gators at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Spartans defeated the Gators 89-76.
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FLINT, Mich. (AP) A judge has dismissed all charges against former Michigan State basketball star Mateen Cleaves, who was accused of sexually assaulting a woman after a charity golf event.

Judge Cathy Dowd in Flint, Michigan, said Monday there wasn’t enough evidence to send Cleaves to trial. Prosecutors can appeal.

A woman said she twice tried to get away from Cleaves but was pulled back into a motel room and sexually assaulted in September 2015. A witness confirmed that she saw the woman try to escape a room at the Knights Inn near Flint.

But a police officer said the woman never indicated that she was assaulted. Cleaves pleaded not guilty.

The Associated Press generally doesn’t name people who say they were sexually assaulted. Cleaves led Michigan State to the 2000 national championship.

Coaches Poll: Villanova takes the top spot

VILLANOVA, PA - DECEMBER 03: Kris Jenkins #2 of the Villanova Wildcats yells to his team in the first half against the Saint Joseph's Hawks at The Pavilion on December 3, 2016 in Villanova, Pennsylvania. The Villanova Wildcats defeated the Saint Joseph's Hawks 88-57. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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Villanova has overtaken Kentucky as the new No. 1 in the Coaches Poll on Monday.

The defending champions also took No. 1 in the new AP poll thanks to an 8-0 start while UCLA beat Kentucky at Rupp Arena this weekend. The Bruins finished at No. 2 while Kansas and Duke are right behind them.

RANKINGS: AP Poll | NBC Sports Top 25

  1. Villanova (28)
  2. UCLA (1)
  3. Kansas (1)
  4. Duke (2)
  5. North Carolina
  6. Baylor
  7. Kentucky
  8. Gonzaga
  9. Indiana
  10. Creighton
  11. Saint Mary’s
  12. Virginia
  13. Louisville
  14. Xavier
  15. Butler
  16. West Virginia
  17. Wisconsin
  18. South Carolina
  19. Purdue
  20. Arizona
  21. Florida
  22. Notre Dame
  23. Cincinnati
  24. Oregon
  25. Iowa State

AP Poll: Defending champion Villanova is the new No. 1

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 26:  Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats reacts in the second half against the Kansas Jayhawks during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at KFC YUM! Center on March 26, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Josh Hart
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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The defending national champs are back at No. 1.

Villanova is atop the latest Associated Press top 25 poll this week as the 8-0 Wildcats are off to a hot start. With Kentucky’s loss to UCLA and North Carolina’s loss at Indiana there were some major shakeups in the polls this week.

  1. Villanova (57 first-place votes)
  2. UCLA (2)
  3. Kansas
  4. Baylor
  5. Duke
  6. Kentucky
  7. North Carolina
  8. Gonzaga
  9. Indiana
  10. Creighton
  11. Louisville
  12. Saint Mary’s
  13. Xavier
  14. Virginia
  15. West Virginia
  16. Butler
  17. Purdue
  18. Wisconsin
  19. South Carolina
  20. Arizona
  21. Florida
  22. Cincinnati
  23. Notre Dame
  24. Oregon
  25. Iowa State

 

Five things we learned last week: UCLA, Kentucky, the Big 12 and Lagerald Vick

LEXINGTON, KY - DECEMBER 03: Isaac Hamilton #10 of the UCLA Bruins drives to the basket against Bam Adebayo #3 of the Kentucky Wildcats in the second half of the game at Rupp Arena on December 3, 2016 in Lexington, Kentucky. UCLA defeated Kentucky 97-92. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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1. There’s a lot more to this UCLA team than just Lonzo Ball: Entering this weekend, that’s the name that everyone knew on UCLA. Ball is the team’s superstar freshman point guard, a player that has been compared favorably to Jason Kidd and whose ability to spray passes all over the floor is the biggest reason that the Bruins offense is a juggernaut.

But that offense isn’t going to be the difference-maker for the Bruins this season, because the Bruins were able to score last year, too.

No, the reason that UCLA has a chance to win a national title this season is that they can actually defend. They’re not Virginia. They’re not going to hold good teams to 50 points. They’re not going to be forcing 20 turnovers a night. They don’t have to. All they need to do is to be ‘good enough’ on that end of the floor. Limit penetration, protect the rim, clean the defensive glass.

If we learned anything on Saturday, it’s that the Bruins are going to be able to do the latter two things on that list. T.J. Leaf injected a shot of athleticism into the front court while Ike Anigbogu provides a physicality and a toughness they haven’t had in the paint under Alford. Throw in Thomas Welsh, who more than held his own against the Wildcats, and this is a pretty good front line that UCLA is working with.

And given what we already know about this team’s guards, that’s a scary proposition.

RELATED: Player of the Week | Team of the Week | Five Takeaways

LEXINGTON, KY - DECEMBER 03: De'Aaron Fox #0 and Isaiah Briscoe #13 of the Kentucky Wildcats celebrate in the first half of the game against the UCLA Bruins at Rupp Arena on December 3, 2016 in Lexington, Kentucky. UCLA defeated Kentucky 97-92. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

2. Kentucky is going to be just fine: Saturday’s loss was a humbling one for the Wildcats. After steam-rolling through literally everyone they’ve played this season – Kentucky entered the game having won by at least 21 points in every game – the Wildcats got outplayed by UCLA pretty thoroughly. That’s going to happen with young teams, regardless of how well they play against inferior competition, and it may happen again before SEC play starts; Kentucky still have to play North Carolina and Louisville before Christmas.

The Wildcats are an elite defensive team, and they are even better at scoring in transition. Where they struggle, however, is with half court offense. They simply don’t have enough shooters to be able to consistently create high-percentage looks against a set defense, and the way to force them into half court offense is, simply, to score on them. UCLA is one of just a handful of teams that has the guard play and the offensive weapons to be able to do that consistently for 40 minutes, and even then, it took the Bruins a while to grow into the game.

In other words, there aren’t very many teams that can do what UCLA did to Kentucky’s defense.

Thus, there aren’t very many teams that can actually beat Kentucky.

So don’t be worried about the ‘Cats.

They’ll be just fine.

3. Turns out, the Big 12 is really good: The narrative on the Big 12 entering the season was that the league was down outside of Kansas. The Jayhawks were the favorite to win the league just like they always are, but once you got past Bill Self’s club, there really wasn’t much of substance in the league.

That looks to be a dumb narrative.

It starts with Baylor, who has been awesome this season. The Bears picked up yet another excellent non-conference win on Saturday, coming from behind at halftime to beat No. 7 Xavier by 15 points in Waco. It turns out that Baylor actually has the supporting cast around Johnathan Motley to be relevant, and if the tournament was to start today, Baylor would very likely be the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament.

Then there’s West Virginia, who went into Charlottesville and picked up a road win over No. 6 Virginia the same week that they forced 40 turnovers in a 40 minute game. Iowa State is probably still top 25 good, even with that home loss to Cincinnati last week, and we’d be remiss not to mention the play of both Texas Tech and TCU, the latter of whom is one of just two teams in the league and 11 teams in the country that are still undefeated.

Here’s the kicker: As of today, the No. 1 conference in college basketball, according to KenPom.com, is … the Big 12.

LAWRENCE, KS - NOVEMBER 29: Lagerald Vick #2 of the Kansas Jayhawks dunks on a fast break as Javonntie Jackson #35 of the Long Beach State 49ers looks on during the game at Allen Fieldhouse on November 29, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Lagerald Vick (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

4. Is LaGerald Vick the most surprising player in the league?: Baylor’s Manu Lecomte has been better than expected, as has his teammate, Jo Lual-Acuil. Jawun Evans has been a star for Oklahoma State, but we all knew that he was going to be good. Texas A&M transfer Alex Robinson is leading TCU in points, assists and steals, but he was a good player for the Aggies before he left. We knew he would do good things in Fort Worth.

But Vick?

I’m not sure anyone expected Vick to develop into a starter for Kansas just weeks into the season, but here we are. He’s averaging double-figures on the season. He’s made 9-of-11 threes in the last three games, a stretch where he’s averaging 15.3 points. He’s been terrific defensively, and his presence has allowed Kansas to put plus-defenders on the floor at every position while playing small-ball lineups.

Who saw that coming?

5. So maybe the North Carolina hype train got a bit out of control: Yes, North Carolina played well early on this season. Yes, they were impressive in their wins against Chattanooga and in the Maui Invitational. Yes, Joel Berry II and Justin Jackson have both gotten better.

But the fact that the narrative last week somehow turned into North Carolina being the most impressive team in college basketball seemed a little bit weird, a fact that was confirmed by UNC’s loss at Assembly Hall on Wednesday night.

Now let me be clear: There’s no shame in losing in Assembly Hall, not when IU was playing the way they were playing. But UNC dug themselves a 26-9 hole early in the first half that they were never really able to dig out of. They were rattled by the atmosphere. They did not play well at all, and I just don’t think that if this was truly the best team in college basketball, that doesn’t happen that way.

UNC is good, and probably better than many thought entering the season, but before we go anointing them the champs can we take a second to remember these are basically the same dudes we’ve been unimpressed by for a couple of years now?