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Baylor bests Kentucky for second straight season

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After graduation claimed do-it-all point guard Pierre Jackson from last year’s Baylor team, many wondered if Kenny Chery– a Junior College transfer from State Fair Community College in Missouri — could fill the void. Scott Drew was going to give Chery the keys to the car, but could he drive it?

Chery answered that question in Baylor’s season-opening win against Colorado, and his performance tonight in a 67-62 win over Kentucky confirmed he’s more than capable to lead Baylor.

He led all scorers with 18 points on 8-15 shooting from the field, to go along with five assists to two turnovers. Moreover, he picked his spots well — nothing was ever forced. In the final minute, with Baylor clinging to a 63-61 lead, the Kentucky defensed sagged on Chery, and he drilled a 15-footer to make it a two-possession game and all but put the Wildcats away.

Chery aside, who would have thought Baylor could have realistically come away with a win tonight if Brady Heslip and Royce O’Neale would combine for a mere eight points on five shots? Heslip looked like he was in a funk the entire night. The cast up front consisting of Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson, and Rico Gathers were instrumental in the win, and neutralized Kentucky’s frontcourt.

The trio tallied 32 points and 27 rebounds between each other, and Austin turned aside five shots by himself. Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress were dominated by Gathers on the boards as he had 13 total rebounds, eight of which were offensive. For Kentucky to get out-rebounded 41-25 is simply inexcusable. For Alex Poythress to barely even show up — he picked up three fouls in six minutes — and John Calipari to receive all of two points from his bench is of serious concern.

Baylor will seemingly always have their skeptics. There is a stigma surrounding Scott Drew that he is a first-class recruiter, but still very much developing as a game coach. Things looked bleak for Drew and Baylor midway through the second half as Kentucky had a 50-41 lead after a Julius Randle dunk, but the Bears closed the game on a 26-12 run to earn the win.

Things don’t get much easier for Kentucky as their final four game of the non-conference portion of their schedule come against Boise State, North Carolina, Belmont, and Louisville. It’s hard to say Kentucky is in trouble, but there are holes in this team that Cal needs to fill — he has made this known several times during the first month of the season.

As for Baylor — a team that was a fringe Top 25 team in the preseason — they are looking like a legitimate Top 15 team with their only blemish a 74-67 loss to Syracuse at the Maui Invitational. They have the pieces with Chery running the show, and Isaiah Austin seemingly coming into his own as a force on the defensive end and improved offensive player.

While Drew has had considerable success at Baylor — he did make it to the Elite Eight in 2010 and 2012, this is arguably the best win in Drew’s career. There have always been questions about his in-game abilities, but he had Baylor more ready and prepared for the game tonight than Kentucky, and it showed. With wins over Kentucky, Dayton, and Colorado; that’s a pretty good looking resume for early December.

VIDEO: Duke’s Grayson Allen beats No. 7 Virginia at the buzzer

Duke's Grayson Allen (3) and Marshall Plumlee (40) react during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Louisville in Durham, N.C., Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. Duke won 72-65. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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Notre Dame’s Steve Vasturia sparks come-from-behind win over No. 13 Louisville

Notre Dame’s Steve Vasturia (32) goes up for a shot over Boston College’s Idy Diallo (4) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
(AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
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Demetrius Jackson scored 20 of his 25 points in the first half and Steve Vasturia scored 15 of his 20 points in the final 20 minutes as Notre Dame landed a 71-66 win over No. 13 Louisville on Saturday afternoon.

The Fighting Irish trailed by as many as 11 points early in the second half, but Vasturia’s hot shooting combined with Notre Dame holding Louisville to just 15 points in the final 15 minutes made all the difference.

The Fighting Irish are not as good as they were last season, but they are built in a similar mold. Jackson, as we expected, as become one of the nation’s most dynamic point guards, impossible to slow-down in isolation and ball-screen actions. Steve Vasturia emerging as a legitimate secondary option offensively and Zach Auguste is one of the nation’s most underrated big men and one of the most dangerous as the roll-man in ball-screens.

Combine all of that with a handful of shooters creating space and Bonzie Colson’s emergence as a force on the offensive glass, and Mike Brey once again has one of the nation’s most lethal offensive attacks.

Where they struggle is on the defensive end of the floor, which is what makes the end of Saturday’s win so meaningful. The Irish entered the day ranked 232nd in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric, which more or less means they’re as good as a bad mid-major program at keeping their opponents from scoring.

But they don’t have to be great to be able to win games.

They have to be good enough and they have to get important stops.

That’s precisely what happened on Saturday.

Whether or not that actually becomes a trend for this group will be something to monitor — it happened for Duke during last year’s NCAA tournament — but the bottom-line is this: Notre Dame does something better than just about anyone else in college basketball, and that’s score the ball.

On the nights they are able to gets some stops, they are going to be able to win some games. In the last eight days, they’ve proven that, beating North Carolina, Clemson on the road and Louisville.

And that makes them dangerous in March.