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Memphis got a huge win Sunday, but calling it ‘narrative-changing’ is premature

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On Sunday evening down in Orlando, Memphis head coach Josh Pastner finally picked up that elusive, first top 25 win.

Entering Sunday, his Memphis teams had gone 0-13 against teams ranked in the AP top 25. If you want to quibble with that stat, you can. Technically the Tiger’s do have one top 25 win under Pastner. In the opening round of the 2013 NCAA tournament, the Tigers knocked off St. Mary’s, a team that a) needed to win the play-in game just to reach No. 6 seed Memphis and b) sat at No. 25 in the Coaches Poll.

So yes, Pastner had won a top 25 game before.

But quibbling with semantics belabors the larger point here: the Tigers had made an unhealthy habit of failing to show up in big games. They’d been getting drubbed in marquee non-conferences games and fizzling out of the NCAA tournament too early, their reputation being staked on their dominating performances against mediocre Conference USA competition.

The narrative was, quite frankly, valid.

For all his recruiting success and personability, Josh Pastner’s teams had never proven they could win big games. They couldn’t handle adversity. When the going got tough, Memphis folded. And nothing was more exemplary of that fact than the matchup with Oklahoma State two weeks ago, when Marcus Smart’s 39 points spurred the Cowboys to a 101-80 pasting of the Tigers in which Memphis seemingly rolled over and died.

That’s what makes Sunday’s win so important.

It’s not simply that Memphis beat then-No. 5 Oklahoma State. It’s that they came back from a double-digit deficit, winning a game against a very good team when they didn’t play their best and shot a measly 12-for-24 from the charity stripe.

Memphis showed fight on Sunday, and that’s more important than any stat about the top 25 or any ranking they’ll receive as a result. There’s a mental hurdle to clear when it comes to winning and winning big games. The ability to handle the pressure of the big moment, of a big game, is a learned skill, and Memphis took a huge step in the right direction on Sunday.

But that’s all it is at this point.

It’s a win that Memphis needed to get. It’s a win they got in a way that we haven’t seen out of them in Pastner’s tenure. It’s a win that will absolutely help with their NCAA tournament seeding, one that will provide a measure of confidence heading forward.

But this isn’t a narrative-changing win, as Gary Parrish wrote on Sunday evening, at least not yet. The Tigers play Florida on Dec. 17th at Madison Square Garden. They visit Louisville on January 9th and host UConn a week later. The play Gonzaga on February 8th.

You want to call this a narrative-changing victory? Win two or three of those games and you can.

Until then, the Tigers are just a team that finally broke through against a quality opponent.

Because if this ends up being the high-point of the 2013-2014 season for the Tigers, I’m not sure that anything will have actually changed.

Utah State denies transfer David Collette a release

David Collette Goodluck Okonoboh
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Utah State has denied former forward David Collette a release, saying that his decision to leave the program two days before the start of the season left them without an adequate way to replace last season’s second-leading scorer and was unduly influenced by tampering from other coaching staffs.

“I think there were a lot of factors in play that, unfortunately, have become a trend in college basketball of schools poaching other schools’ players,” head coach Tim Duryea said in a Nov. 11th release announcing the transfer. “I don’t feel good and don’t like how things transpired.”

But that’s not how Collette, who averaged 12.8 points as a redshirt freshman, said things went down. He says he left the team because he and Duryea did not get along. Duryea was a longtime assistant for former head coach Stew Morrill.

The allegations Collette has made range from worrisome to embarrassingly petty. He told Yahoo! Sports and ESPN that the team was told not to tell anyone about a fight in practice, that the school immediately pulled all his athletic aid and that they went as far as to change his measurements on the team site from 6-foot-10, 235 pounds to 6-foot-8, 220 pounds.

Now trying to keep a practice fight off the media’s radar isn’t a huge issue; they happen more than you think and are a bigger deal as a headline than in the locker room. And if Collette is no longer on the team, he is no longer doing the work required to get that aid. Nothing wrong with that, either.

But changing what he’s listed at on the team site? Refusing to release, which prohibits him from being recruited by other coaching staffs and will force him to pay his own way at his new school for two semesters?

Bitter, petty and unnecessary.

This story is now a headline on three of the biggest sports websites. Pretty soon Jay Bilas will be railing against it on twitter, and probably on a broadcast, too; Utah State plays Duke next.

This is going to be a wave of negative publicity for a Utah State program that A) doesn’t make many national headlines, and B) Might actually be pretty good this year.

Is that really worth getting revenge on some college sophomore that doesn’t like playing for you?

Labissiere scores 16 as top-ranked Kentucky beats BU 82-62

Eric Johnson, Isaiah Briscoe
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Freshman center Skal Labissiere scored 16 points to lead top-ranked Kentucky past Boston University 82-62 on Tuesday night.

The Wildcats (5-0) used a big second half to overcome Boston U. in their season debut at No. 1 in The Associated Press Top 25 poll. One day after taking over the top spot, Kentucky struggled to put away the Terriers early but outscored them 42-29 in the second half.

Labissiere finished 7 of 13 from the field and grabbed seven rebounds. Tyler Ulis added 15 points, and Alex Poythress had 14 points and 10 rebounds off the bench for his second straight double-double.

Jamal Murray scored 12 points and Isaiah Briscoe had 11. Kentucky, which spent all of last season ranked No. 1, scored 58 points in the paint and closed with a 22-9 run.

Boston University (2-3) got 15 points from John Papale. Nathan Dieudonne and Kyle Foreman scored 11 apiece.

The Wildcats raced out to a 10-0 lead 3 minutes into the game, but Boston University settled down after making its first basket and kept the score close in the first half by hitting five shots from long range.

The Terriers led 34-33 with 2 minutes remaining in the first half, but the Wildcats scored the last six points of the period to regain the lead.

Labissiere paced the Wildcats with 11 points in the first half, followed by Murray with 10.


Kentucky: The Wildcats improved to 216-28 as the top-ranked team in the country and have won 61 of their last 64 games while holding the top spot. Under coach John Calipari, Kentucky is 63-5 as the top-ranked team in the AP poll.

Boston University: The Terriers fell to 0-5 against Kentucky. … Boston University missed its first four shots and didn’t score its first basket until the 16:55 mark of the first half. … Dieudonne, a graduate of Louisville Trinity, was Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball in 2012.


Kentucky plays Friday against South Florida at the Hoophall Miami Invitational.

Boston University plays Saturday at Binghamton.