State Farm Champions Classic - Duke v Kentucky

Seth Curry, Duke’s leader despite being hobbled

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ATLANTA – Seth Curry is not healthy right now.

Before we get into the 23 points he scored or the four free throws he hit in the final two minutes to help seal No. 9 Duke’s 75-68 win over No. 3 Kentucky on Tuesday night, that much needs to be stated.

Seth Curry isn’t playing at 100%. He’s got a lower leg injury to his right leg that has kept him out of all but four practices, according to Mike Krzyzewski, “and they’ve been like half practices.” If he’s not practicing, than that means he’s not in playing shape. How can he be if he’s only made it halfway through four practices this year?

And despite all of that, Curry put on one of the most impressive performances of his Duke career against the Wildcats. 23 points. 7-for-14 from the floor. Three threes. No turnovers. In a team-high 34 minutes. Against the No. 3 team in the country.

Not bad for a guy that isn’t practicing, isn’t in shape — Coach K said he’s “shocked at the level of his conditioning” — and isn’t healthy.

“He’s put a lot of work into his game, and that’s why I’m down on the fact that he was hurt,” Coach K said. “He’s primed for an amazing year, and he had an amazing game tonight.”

Perhaps the most frustrating part of the injury for Curry is that no one seems to know what exactly is wrong with him. There’s no name that’s been given for it. He has a pain. In his leg. In the shin area. And it hurts. That’s about all we know, but an undiagnosed shin pain isn’t going to keep Alex Poythress from trying to exploit a mismatch against Curry or prevent Archie Goodwin from putting his head down and trying to beat Curry off the dribble. A limp and a compression sleeve won’t keep Julius Mays from pressuring defensively or Nerlens Noel from trying to block his shot.

And Curry not only thrived, but he played his best late in the game.

“Seth was terrific. I think he was the difference in the game,” Coach K said. “I thought he kind of took control of the game. He wanted the ball in his hands and he made veteran, tough plays down the stretch.”

That’s an important piece of the puzzle for the Blue Devils, as the rest of their rotation seems to be coming together quite nicely. Mason Plumlee was absolutely dominant in the paint before getting into foul trouble and losing some of his aggressiveness. Rasheed Sulaimon struggled with his shot early in the game, but he hit two huge threes in Duke’s game-changing 21-7 run and finished the game with six boards, five assists and no turnovers while playing valiant defense on the wing. Quinn Cook provided a spark off the bench and a steady-hand at the point while Ryan Kelly blocked a few shots and hit a couple of jumpers.

And then there’s Curry, to make the tough, veteran plays down the stretch.

The winning plays.

Now just imagine what happens when he gets healthy.


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.