California v UNLV

Front court contributions help California oust 5-seed UNLV


UNLV entered Thursday’s East Region game against 12-seed California with more NBA-caliber talent in the front court, led by freshman Anthony Bennett, sophomore Khem Birch and junior Mike Moser.

But they were outplayed by Cal’s Robert Thurman and Richard Solomon, who combined for 23 points and ten rebounds to help lead the Golden Bears to the 64-61 victory in an East Region matchup. As a team Cal (21-11) outscored UNLV 34-18 in the paint, and their early second half move to a zone defense seemed to confuse the Runnin’ Rebels.

Bennett and Bryce Dejean-Jones scored 15 points apiece to lead UNLV (25-10), but Dave Rice’s team shot just 32.2% from the field and far too often failed to get the ball into the high post against Cal’s defense. Shooting 6-of-20 from beyond the arc was something UNLV could have survived had they shot better than 33.3% (13-of-39) from two.

Allen Crabbe (19 points, nine rebounds) and Justin Cobbs (13 points, six assists) are going to lead the way for the Golden Bears offensively, and that’s to be expected at this stage in the season. But Cal will also need performances from supporting cast members like the ones supplied by Solomon and Thurman on Thursday if they’re to remain in the NCAA tournament.

Thurman’s 12 points (all on dunks) are the most he’s scored in a game since posting 14 points in a win over UCSB back in mid-December. But while that’s evidence of his improved play it’s also a major indictment of UNLV’s interior defense.

Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year Khem Birch played just 15 minutes, and his absence played a role in UNLV’s struggles with interior defense. With the forms of resistance essentially being Bennett and Moser, Thurman was able to find openings at the rim for multiple dunks.

Next up for California will be either Syracuse or Montana, and while much was made of the Golden Bears’ supposed “home-court” advantage with their Berkeley campus being about 50 miles away that wasn’t the deciding factor.

The performances of Solomon and Thurman are what got the job done. And if those two can duplicate their performances (or come reasonably close to doing so) on Saturday, the Golden Bears can advance to the Sweet 16.

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

Boise State loses guard Harwell to torn ACL

Leon Rice
Associated Press
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Expected to be one of the favorites in the Mountain West this season, Boise State’s perimeter ranks have shrunk by one player due to injury. Thursday it was reported by the Idaho Statesman that freshman guard Malek Harwell will redshirt after suffering a torn ACL in practice. Along with fellow freshman Paris Austin, Harwell is expected to be a key part of the Broncos’ future beyond the upcoming season.

Now, instead of competing with an experienced backcourt that includes four redshirt seniors, Harwell will work to get his knee back to full strength for the 2016-17 season.

Among the guards who will play significant minutes this season are Anthony Drmic, who took a medical redshirt last season, Montigo Alford, Mikey Thompson and grad transfer Lonnie Jackson (Boston College). Chandler Hutchison, who started in Boise State’s final 18 games of the 2014-15 season as a freshman, will also compete for playing time.

Knee injury sidelines Illinois forward Leron Black

Josh Hart, Leron Black
Associated Press
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Illinois will be shorthanded in its front court for the time being, as during the team’s media day Thursday head coach John Groce announced that sophomore forward Leron Black is out due to injury.

Black will undergo surgery Friday to repair a meniscus tear in his knee, and he’s expected to miss anywhere from four to six weeks. A return after four weeks would have Black back on the court just before the Fighting Illini open their season November 13 against North Florida. Any longer and the Memphis native would wind up missing some game action.

Black averaged 5.0 points and 4.3 rebounds in just under 15 minutes of action per game as a freshman. He’s one of the players expected to contribute in the front court for the Fighting Illini, who lost their best interior defender and second-leading rebounder in Nnanna Egwu at the end of last season (guard Rayvonte Rice, who led the team in rebounding, is also gone).

In addition to Black and junior Maverick Morgan, Illinois adds redshirt freshman Michael Finke and grad student Mike Thorne Jr. (via Charlotte) to their front court rotation.