North Carolina v Kansas

Veterans spark second-half revival in Kansas’ win over North Carolina

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With Ben McLemore playing as he did for the first few months of the season, it seemed as if the freshman wing would be the one expected to lead the Kansas Jayhawks back to the Final Four.

But if the second half of Sunday’s 70-58 win over South Region 9-seed North Carolina reveals anything, it’s that Bill Self’s veterans are both willing and capable of leading the way to Atlanta.

Senior Travis Releford, who Self refers to as “the rock” of this group, scored 22 points and grabbed seven rebounds to lead the way for the Jayhawks, scoring 13 of his points in the second half.

Fellow seniors Jeff Withey (14 points, 16 rebounds and five blocked shots) and Kevin Young (ten points, nine rebounds) weren’t far behind, combining to grab 13 of Kansas’ 20 second-half rebounds. And not to be forgotten is sophomore guard Naadir Tharpe, who added 12 points in 27 minutes off the bench.

Next up for Kansas is 4-seed Michigan on Friday night in Arlington, Tex. P.J. Hairston led the way for North Carolina, which entered the game 2-0 all-time against 1-seeds in round of 32 match-ups (beating Oklahoma in 1990 and Stanford in 2000), with 15 points and nine rebounds.

Turnovers were a major problem for the Jayhawks in the first half, as the combination of 12 turnovers and 25% shooting resulting in a 30-21 Tar Heel lead at the half. McLemore struggled throughout, shooting 0-of-9 from the field and scoring just two points before Self made the decision early in the second half to go with his more experienced perimeter options.

An immensely gifted talent, McLemore is essentially a “reluctant superstar” for Kansas; even if his shots are falling he doesn’t have the temperament of a take-charge player…yet. Is that a mindset he can pick up with more experience? Without a doubt.

But in the one-and-done format that is the NCAA tournament, there isn’t time to wait for such a transformation to occur. Hence the importance of Kansas’ veterans, and on Sunday afternoon they did what championship contenders need their experienced players to do this time of the year.

They led.

As a result Kansas shook off their first half struggles, putting forth an excellent performance in the game’s final 20 minutes.

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

Utah lands top-75 center Jayce Johnson

Larry Krystkowiak
AP Photo
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Utah picked up its center of the future on Monday as four-star center Jayce Johnson pledged to the Runnin’ Utes, a source confirmed to The 7-foot Johnson recently cut his list to Cal, Colorado and Utah with the possibility of reclassifying to the Class of 2015.

Regarded as the No. 67 overall prospect in the Class of 2016, Johnson will look to attend Utah in December as a walk-on who will redshirt. While Johnson likely won’t play this season, he does give head coach Larry Krystkowiak another big man to use in practice to go against sophomore center Jakob Poeltl. A solid long-term prospect, Johnson has a good frame to add weight and he’s also skilled finishing with both hands. Utah now has its replacement for Poeltl if he opts to leave for the NBA after the season and he gets an extra semester to work with the program.

Johnson is coming off of his official visit to Utah this weekend as he joins junior college guard Jojo Zamora in the Class of 2016.


PHOTO: South Carolina gets new uniforms

Frank Martin
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South Carolina debuted some new uniforms early this week as the school is going with a fresh look and three color ways.

They’re also going to with the “Carolina” branding this season, but I think these new uniforms look pretty cool.