Air Force Boise St Basketball

VIDEO: Boise State-ment: We belong in the Big Dance!

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This has been an epic season for the Mountain West. Today was no exception, as Boise State took down Steve Fisher and the SDSU Aztecs 69-65, making a statement that should carry them to the MWC tournament and beyond. The league may get five teams into the NCAA tournament this year – the same total number of berths as are predicted for the likes of the Big 12, ACC and Pac-12, and far more than the SEC is likely to manage.

Of the five tourney-worthy programs, Boise may have flown the farthest beneath the national radar. San Diego State, UNLV and New Mexico got press from day one of the season, and have long-standing basketball history to fall back on. Colorado State came along during the season, and has a well-known coach in Larry Eustachy.

But who are these Broncos, with their blue-and-orange floor? We knew they were good at football, but hoops?

For starters, let’s look at Derrick Marks, who poured in 38 points to lead his team over Colorado State, but got himself overshadowed by Doug McDermott. Marks, along with three other players, was suspended earlier this season. How well the Broncos play with him is impressive. More impressive, for a team that hopes to maintain momentum going into the postseason, is what they did without him: they went into Wyoming and won in a tough road environment.

Marks is a great player. Boise State has had great players before, but the program is 0-5 in NCAA tournament games. Let’s talk about this being a great team, and why.

That, we can lay at the doorstep of Leon Rice, the little-known (for now, at least) head coach who has led Boise State since 2010. If you wonder how a quiet guy can go to a remote mountain location and win a bunch of games, the template is right there: Rice was Mark Few’s assistant at Gonzaga for eleven years. Rice showed his mettle on that tough day in January, when he suspended four crucial players for a league road game: he’s running a team – not a loose group of players who happen to wear the same shirts – and he’s building for March success, not a single league win.

Beating San Diego State was a big statement win for the Broncos. If you don’t know Marks, Watkins, Elorriaga, Rice and friends yet, you will very, very soon.
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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.