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Improved offensive execution pushes No. 24 San Diego State past Washington

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Just days after surviving a tough test at city rival San Diego, No. 24 San Diego State played arguably its worst half of the season against Washington on Sunday afternoon. While the Aztecs aren’t a team chock full of prolific shooters, they do have multiple athletes capable of finding quality looks both at the rim and in the mid-range game.

But that didn’t happen in the first half, as San Diego State failed to execute offensively and thus struggled with its shooting. As a team SDSU shot 29.7% from the field, 1-for-7 from three and just one of their eight made field goals was assisted, resulting in a 30-21 Husky lead at the break. It was obvious what Steve Fisher’s team needed to do in order to turn things around and to their credit the Aztecs put forth a far better offensive performance in the game’s final 20 minutes.

There was better spacing and passing (ten of their 15 made field goals were assisted), resulting in 60% shooting from the field and 1.36 points per possession. In the end that was enough to hold off Washington 70-63, with C.J. Wilcox scoring 17 to lead three Huskies in double figures. Xavier Thames, who was outstanding during last weekend’s Wooden Legacy, led the way with 19 points and Winston Shepard III added 17 (5-for-6 FT in the game’s final 39 seconds).

SDSU was once again impressive on the defensive end, tying a school record with 11 blocked shots (Skylar Spencer had five) and limiting Washington to 38.6% shooting from the field. By this point in time San Diego State’s ability on the defensive end is a “given,” in that on most nights it’s safe to assume that Fisher’s players will put forth the effort required to make things difficult for the opposition.

It’s on the offensive end where SDSU will determine its standing within the Mountain West. And the difference between merely contending and winning the conference will boil down to how the Aztecs go about finding shots.

If it turns into a “one-on-one” contest like the first half against Washington it’s probably safe to say that they won’t be able to contend with the top teams in the Mountain West. But if San Diego State uses efficient ball and player movement, that combined with their defensive execution should have the Aztecs right in the middle of things in conference play.

VIDEO: Winthrop’s Keon Johnson goes coast-to-coast for buzzer-beater

Winthrop's Keon Johnson (5) shoots a layup while defended by Coastal Carolina's Warren Gillis during the first half of the Big South Conference Championship college basketball game Sunday, March 8, 2015, in Conway, S.C. Coastal Carolina won 81-70. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)
(AP Photo/Richard Shiro)
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Winthop earned a Big South road win at Radford on Saturday afternoon as junior guard Keon Johnson raced coast-to-coast and buried the game-winner at the buzzer.

The 5-foot-7 Johnson erupted for 32 points in the win and he’s been one of the most potent mid-major scorers in the country this season. The win moves Winthrop to 18-7 on the season and their 10-4 mark in the Big South ties them with UNC Asheville atop the conference standings.

(H/T: LiveonASN)

After blowout of South Carolina, is No. 22 Kentucky a Final Four contender?

Kentucky guard Tyler Ulis (3) guards the ball after a rebound during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Auburn, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016, in Auburn, Ala. Auburn won 75-70. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
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It only took 2:26 for official Doug Sirmons to plant two technical fouls on Kentucky head coach John Calipari, and that may have been the worst thing that could have happened to South Carolina.

He poked the bear, and the result was that a ticked off No. 22 Wildcat team proceeded to run the Gamecocks out of their own gym, 89-62.

The star of the show was interim head coach Tyler Ulis, who put together as dominating of a performance as you’ll ever see out of a player that stands 5-foot-9. Ulis finished with 27 points and 12 assists, hitting 4-for-8 from three and turning the ball over just once.

Marcus Lee added 11 points and 13 boards, including six on the offensive end, and Jamal Murray had his customary 26 points on 9-for-21 shooting, but the story of this game was Ulis.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seed a player under 6-foot capable of dominating a game the way that Ulis can dominate. Murray can take over with the best of them — we saw it against Florida and Ohio State — but when it comes to the NCAA tournament, this Kentucky team will go as far as Ulis carries them.

And based on the way that he’s played in the last six weeks, that could end up being pretty far. In SEC play, Ulis is averaging 19.4 points and 7.6 assists. He’s scored at least 17 points in 12 of the last 14 games and has notched as least five assists in all 14. He just orchestrated a total mollywhopping of a Frank Martin-coached team that was tied for first place in the SEC while playing without his head coach and on the road.

The issue with Kentucky is the same today as it was a month ago. They’re a two-man team with an inconsistent supporting cast. When their two studs play like this, they can beat anyone in the country. When they don’t, they can struggle against anyone.

But here’s the thing: When Ulis is playing the way that he’s played of late, they don’t really need all that much from their supporting cast. Derek Willis needs to be able to space the floor. Lee and Skal Labissiere need to be able to hold their own against opposing big men.

And when that happens?

Kentucky is clearly the best team in the SEC and good enough to be able to win four straight in the Big Dance and get to a Final Four.