Bill Self, Elijah Johnson

For Elijah Johnson, Monday’s comeback was about more than just one win

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Iowa State, playing in one of the toughest home-court environments in the country, hit 17 threes and scored 90 points in regulation against No. 6 Kansas and still managed to lose, 108-96 in overtime.


Elijah Johnson.

*(Before I get any further here, the referees were terrible down the stretch in this game. They gave Jeff Withey’s fifth foul, which was clearly on Withey, to Kevin Young. They also blew a charge call and then gifted Kansas a loose ball foul on the final possession that led to the game-tying free throws. Oh, and after the blown charge call, Withey kept the offensive rebound alive to create the opportunity for the loose ball foul. Just a terrible, terrible job down the stretch.)

The Jayhawk’s senior guard finished with 39 points, on 13-22 shooting, and seven assists. But what was more impressive than the numbers he finished with was how he finished the game.

After Iowa State’s Georges Niang hit a three to put the Cyclones up 87-82 with less than a minute left, Johnson answered with a three of his own with 32 seconds on the clock. After two free throws from Korie Lucious, he hit another three 17 seconds left. After Lucious went 1-2 from the line, Johnson forced overtime when he knocked down two free throws with 4.9 ticks left.

And he wasn’t done. He kicked off overtime with a layup and a jumper. After finding Travis Releford for a wide-open three on the next possession, Johnson came down and buried another three, giving Kansas a 100-92 lead. ISU would score four straight points to make things interesting again, but with just over a minute left in the extra period, Johnson drilled a fadeaway, 25-foot three as the shot clock horn sounded, all but ending any hope of Hilton Magic.

All told, Johnson scored eight points in the final 32 seconds of regulation and 10 points in the first four minutes of overtime. Throw in his assist to Releford, and the oft-maligned senior guard accounted for all 21 Jayhawk points in a 21-9, game-winning run.

What makes this performance all the more impressive is that, while playing better over the last three games for the Jayhawks, Johnson has really struggled this season. Bill Self has tried to convert him to the point full-time, and it’s been somewhat of a disaster. His confidence was completely shot during the Jayhawk’s three-game losing streak, and he not only looked like he was completely lost on the court, he simply didn’t look like a kid that was having any fun.

For a senior, that’s a shame.

But it was never a talent issue for Johnson. He’s got the ability to be an effective player for the Jayhawks, whether he’s handling the ball or playing alongside Naadir Tharpe. The Jayhawk’s situation at the point is not ideal, but it’s far from a worse-case scenario.

Johnson isn’t a true point guard, but he’s also not as bad as he has been this season.

And that’s why this game is so important.

Just because Johnson took over for a five-minute stretch in a tough road environment doesn’t change the fact that, at practice tomorrow, Self is still going to be without a true point guard running the show. But he will have his most talented option at the point brimming with confidence. With the way that Kansas can defend, they don’t need Trey Burke. They don’t need Phil Pressey. What they need is Johnson — and, for that matter, Tharpe — knocking down open threes, creating off the dribble when there is a lane, and avoiding those soul-crushing turnovers that result in layups at the other end of the floor.

A confident Johnson can be that guy.

And that’s what makes this game — and this performance from Johnson — so important.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

VIDEO: Kris Dunn wills Providence to win over No. 11 Arizona

Kris Dunn, Elliott Pitts
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Kris Dunn spent the first 35 minutes of Friday night’s game against No. 11 Arizona in foul trouble, splitting his time between sitting on the bench and trying to avoid finding himself, again, on the wrong side the whistle.

With 11 minutes left in the game, and with Dunn yet to find a rhythm, the all-american point guard was whistled for his fourth foul as he battled for a rebound with Arizona’s Mark Tollefsen. Head coach Ed Cooley say his superstar beside his for six game minutes, time enough for Arizona to turn a 49-47 deficit into a 58-54 lead.

There were just over five minutes left when Dunn reentered the second semifinal of the Wooden Legacy, and he proceeded to show everyone in the country why he was named the Preseason Player of the Year. Providence had nine possessions after he reentered the game. Dunn scored 11 points and had a pair of assists on those eight possessions, and if Ben Bentil had stuck a wide-open three — that was setup by Dunn — the Friars would have scored on all nine.

In total, Dunn was responsible for all 15 Friar points in a game-changing, 15-7 run in the final 4:30. It was capped off by this Kobe-in-his-prime-esque game-winner:

The win for Providence is huge for a couple of reasons:

  • Dunn showed a killer instinct against a marquee opponent, something that we didn’t necessarily see out of him a season ago. He wasn’t going to let his team lose, and given that Providence doesn’t have anyone else that can consistently create good shots, they are going to need that from him a lot this year.
  • It makes a statement for the Friars. Arizona is overrated at No. 11 in the country, yes, but going out on national television against an elite program and getting this kind of performance from Dunn is a confidence-booster and a tone-setter. Providence hasn’t been accustomed to winning in recent years. This is a way to set a trend.
  • Ben Bentil continues to play like a star. Dunn had 19 points and eight assists on Friday, but Bentil followed up a 24-point performance in the win over Evansville with 21 critical points on Friday.

This win sets up a matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence on Sunday night, which means that Denzel Valentine and Kris Dunn — the two best players in the country, sorry Ben Simmons — will be going head-to-head.

Oh. Hell. Yes.

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.