Jason Washburn, Abdul Gaddy

Struggles on both ends doom Washington in home loss to Utah

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In opening Pac-12 play 4-0 the Washington Huskies defended far better than they did during the non-conference portion of their schedule. In conference games entering their home tilt against Utah the Huskies ranked second in the conference in field goal percentage defense, limiting teams to 37.4% shooting from the field.

For a program that’s had some great scorers over the years, it’s expected that the Huskies uphold their end of the bargain on the defensive end as well.

“I think there’s some pride here. I think the culture here, the way we go about things, eventually someone wants to be one of those guys that they want to defend,” head coach Lorenzo Romar said on Friday.

Unfortunately for the Huskies (12-6, 4-1) they got away from defending at the level established in their first four games on Saturday night, and the end result was a 74-65 loss to Utah. Brandon Taylor provided a spark off the bench for the Utes with 19 points and six assists, and as a team the Utes shot 60.4% from the field.

Before Saturday’s defeat Washington hadn’t allowed a single team to shoot better than 50% from the field, but Utah’s patience proved to be too much to overcome with leading scorer C.J. Wilcox going scoreless in the first half.

“We just weren’t determined enough early. Throughout parts of the game, we just weren’t determined enough,” said Romar following the defeat. “We’ll go back and look at the film. We’ll be embarrassed at times about our lack of coverage.”

Utah (9-9, 1-5), who picked up their first conference road victory since joining the Pac-12, was able to consistently find quality looks either for Taylor at the end of the shot clock or for forwards Jason Washburn (18 points, seven rebounds) and Jordan Loveridge (17 points, five rebounds and four assists).

Given how well Washington defended leading up to last night’s loss, the more important aspect of the outcome is their perimeter scoring. Averaging 19.1 points per game, Wilcox is one of the Pac-12’s best scorers and still managed to finish with 14 points after going scoreless in the first half.

Utah essentially face-guarded him and forced Abdul Gaddy (2-of-9 FG, five points) and Scott Suggs (4-of-16, 12 points) beat them, and those two were unable to do so despite getting 17 off the bench from Andrew Andrews. As the conference season wears on Washington should expect similar defensive strategies.

“They did a nice job on C.J. I would have to say it’s pretty close to [how they guarded] Brock Motum,” said Romar. “They just kind of face guard and try to take the guy. They seemed to make a decision as to who they’re going to allow to shoot the ball and who they’re not.”

Washington will bounce back defensively. But if they’re to be a contender for the Pac-12 title they’ll need better offensive performances from Gaddy and Suggs to go along with the dependable Wilcox.

Quotes courtesy of University of Washington Athletics

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Arizona lands first commitment in 2017 class

Alex Barcello (Jon Lopez/Nike)
(Jon Lopez/Nike)
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Arizona landed their first commitment in the Class of 2017 on Friday night as point guard Alex Barcello pledged to Sean Miller and the Wildcats.

Barcello is a 6-foot-2 point guard from Tempe who plays his high school ball for Corona del Sol. He committed to the Wildcats on an official visit to the Tucson campus.

Barcello is a borderline top 100 prospect who sits at No. 123 in the Rivals top 150. He’s known for his ability to shoot, and he’s more of a combo-guard — i.e. shoot-first — than a point guard at times, but he’s a nice pickup and projects as a solid four-year player for the Wildcats.

Virginia, Indiana, Stanford and Butler were the other four schools on Barcello’s list.

Duke lands first commitment in 2017 class

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Alex O’Connell knew exactly where he wanted to play his college ball, which is why, just two days after picking up an offer from Coach K and the Blue Devils, he became Duke’s first recruit in the Class of 2017.

O’Connell announced the on twitter on Friday afternoon:

O’Connell is a four-star prospect from Georgia that had a terrific summer, going from being a borderline top 75 prospect to a player that caught the interest of Duke, who, along with Kentucky, sit atop the college recruiting hierarchy. He’s an explosively athletic and lanky 6-foot-6 wing with three-point range on his jumper. He needs to add some weight and some strength — he’s listed as a crisp 175 pounds — but he has the tools, and the swagger, to develop into a very effective player in the ACC.

Is he a one-and-done prospect?

Probably not. In fact, since 2010, Duke has landed just two players that were rated lower than O’Connell: Antonio Vrankovic and Jack White. If you know who both of them are, you’re probably either Jon Scheyer or lying.

But what O’Connell is is a kid who put in the work to get better this past year and who has the skill set, the physical tools and work ethic to continue to improve. He may not be on Grayson Allen’s trajectory, but O’Connell has the makings of being an impact player for the Blue Devils for three or four years.

Alex O'Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)
Alex O’Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)

Shaka Smart lands contract extension at Texas

Texas head coach Shaka Smart instructs his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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Shaka Smart has already landed himself a contract extension at Texas.

The school, according to the Austin American-Statesman, has given Shaka a one-year extension — through the 2022-23 season — and bumped his salary up to a cool $3 million, a raise of $100,000 annually.

Smart’s Longhorns went 20-13 last season and lost on a half court buzzer beater from Northern Iowa’s Paul Jespersen. It will be tough for Smart to match the success that he had last season, specifically because he lost senior point guard Isaiah Taylor to the professional ranks.

That said, the former VCU head man has been reeling in quite a bit of talent from the state of Texas — namely, Andrew Jones and Jarrett Allen — and is not all that far from turning the Longhorns back into a relevant member of the Big 12 title race.

Arizona and Texas headline Lone Star Shootout

PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 17:  Head coach Sean Miller of the Arizona Wildcats reacts in the first half against the Wichita State Shockers during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
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Another marquee, early season event is on the books for the college basketball season as four potential tournament teams will be squaring off at the Toyota Center in Houston on Dec. 17th.

The highlight of the double-header, which has been dubbed the Lone Star Shootout, will probably end up being Arizona vs. Texas A&M. The Wildcats are a Pac-12 contender and a borderline top 10 team as we enter the season, and while the Aggies will have work to do replacing the seniors they lost off of last season’s roster, they’re a borderline top 25 team.

The other matchup will feature a pair of former Southwest Conference rivals facing off in Texas and Arkansas. Texas will be talented but young while Arkansas may actually have the best player on the floor in Moses Kingsley. What will make this matchup interesting is that both Mike Anderson and Shaka Smart are known for being coaches that prefer a full court pressing system.

“We are extremely excited about the opportunity to play in front of our fans at the Toyota Center in Houston,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said in a statement. “It is one of the most important areas in this state as it relates to our recruiting and fan base.

Five-star 2017 guard Lonnie Walker cuts list to five schools

Men's U18 trials head shots and team photo on 6.15.16
Bart Young/USA Basketball
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Five-star shooting guard Lonnie Walker is coming off of a very good summer as he trimmed his list to five schools on Thursday night.

The 6-foot-4 native of Reading, Pennsylvania is still considering Arizona, Kentucky, Miami, Syracuse and Villanova, he announced on Twitter.

Regarded as the No. 26 overall prospect in the Class of 2017, Walker played with Team Final in the Nike EYBL this spring and summer as he averaged 16.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Walker shot 45 percent from the field, 39 percent from three-point range and 72 percent from the free-throw line.

An efficient scorer who is learning to drive with both hands, Walker is very talented and the type of guard who might also be able to handle a bit as well.