Rick Pitino, Wayne Blackshear, Peyton Siva

Louisville defends no. 1 ranking, pushes past UConn

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Early in the first half, Louisville, fresh off their newly-minted no. 1 team status on Monday afternoon, looked shaky. And you could hear the pundits on Twitter, wondering how the Cardinals would respond.

The second half was their response.

The Cardinals(16-1, 4-0 Big East Conference) held the Huskies (12-4, 2-2) without a point for over four minutes in the half, surged ahead, eventually making it a 73-58 final margin in Hartford.

The start for UConn was as good as they could’ve imagined, stretching their lead to 29-19 with 4:11 left in the first half. The half concluded with Omar Calhoun taking advantage of a Louisville mistake when, as the shot clock expired, Chane Behanan gave up on a rebound with two seconds left on the game clock. Calhoun laid the ball in for a 34-28 halftime edge.

However, the defensive pressure, the thing the Cardinals are known for, went up in the second half. The Cardinals got it back to a tie at 36-36 just three-and-a-half minutes into the half and, tied at 41-41 with 15:30 left, went on a 19-3 run over the next 7:36 to pull away.

The Cardinals outscored the Huskies 45-26 in second half, shooting 60.7-percent overall and 42.9-percent from three-point range. UConn shot just 16.7-percent from three in the half.

Russ Smith finished with 23 points and kept Louisville in the game early, scoring 15 of the team’s first 24 points. Calhoun had a career night for UConn with 20 points.

The first defense is the hardest, and Louisville did their job, though I’m not sure a start like they had on Monday night will be able to fly on Saturday night, when they play at home against Syracuse.

Unfortunately for UConn, this is the first time this season that I’ve seen a glimpse of last year’s Huskies. They got down during the offensive slump midway through the second half and allowed the Cardinals to pounce. I’m in no way saying this team will revert back to that form, they wont because Kevin Ollie has this team’s total focus, but they did that tonight. Though it’s easy to see why with Smith and Peyton Siva forming possibly the best backcourt in college basketball.

Gorgui Dieng finished with 16 rebounds to go along with six points.

David Harten is the editor and founder of The Backboard Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter at @David_Harten.

UNLV’s Stephen Zimmerman out with a knee injury

UNLV forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr. shoots against San Diego State during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
(L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
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The injury Stephen Zimmerman suffered on Saturday will keep the star UNLV freshman out for at least a week, a source told NBC Sports.

The injury is not thought to be serious, however. Zimmerman may be kept out for longer as a precaution, but that’s a result of the Runnin’ Rebels being in a situation where the rest of their regular season is relatively meaningless.

They’re not getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they finish out league play. With back-up center Ben Carter out with a torn ACL, it’s more important to make sure that Zimmerman, who is averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 boards this season, is totally healthy for the Mountain West tournament.

That tournament, mind you, will be played at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.

So the Runnin’ Rebels, regardless of how poor they’ve played this season, will always have a chance to land an automatic bid.

Anyway, the more interesting aspect of this story is how Zimmerman injured the knee. It was a completely avoidable play that came after the whistle, but I’m not sure it was what you would call a “dirty play”. You tell me:

VIDEO: Buddy Hield is ‘all money’ on game-winning three vs. No. 24 Texas

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) takes a shot over Oklahoma State forward Chris Oliver during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
(AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
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With a little more than three minutes left on Monday night, No. 24 Texas held a 57-51 lead on No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman as Jordan Woodard struggled again and Buddy Hield failed to find the rhythm that he had throughout the first three months of the season.

At that point in the game, Hield was 4-for-14 from the floor with 15 points and four turnovers. He had just missed a pair of wide-open threes

“I couldn’t make a shot,” Hield said after the game. But that changed down the stretch. First, Hield finally got a three to drop. On the next possession, he got all the way to the rim and scored. On the following two possessions, he was fouled on a drive to the rim and hit four free throws. And after missing a pull-up jumper, Hield did this:

“I told coach I wanted the ball,” Hield said, “I saw Lammert coming to bite, so I pulled up.”

“It’s all money.”

Hield is already the favorite to win National Player of the Year, and this performance is only going to help his cause further. Think about it like this: Buddy was not good on Monday night, at least according to his (admittedly lofty) standards. But he still finished with 27 points and shook off a cold shooting night just in time to take over down the stretch.

Now think about this: Hield’s head coach has enough confidence in him to hand him the keys in the final minutes despite the fact that he’s struggling and on a team that has two other players that Lon Kruger trusts on game-winning possessions. Think about it. When Oklahoma beat West Virginia at the buzzer, it was Jordan Woodard that the play was drawn up for. When they beat LSU, it was Isaiah Cousins that got the rock on the final possession while Hield was used as a decoy. .

Want to talk about coaching luxuries?

Kruger has three guards that can shoot, penetrate and score, and penetrate and kick, and one of them is the National Player of the Year that doesn’t mind being used as a decoy.