calipari

No. 18 Kentucky’s young backcourt shows signs of progress in win over No. 6 Louisville

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With their best player sidelined due to serious cramping issues, No. 18 Kentucky trailed No. 6 Louisville 52-51 with 11:01 remaining. And given how young John Calipari’s team is, and their lack of a signature victory to date, that moment represented a major point in the Wildcats’ season.

And Kentucky’s young backcourt rose to the challenge, with the Harrison twins combining to score 21 points and James Young adding six in the second half as the Wildcats beat their in-state rivals, 73-66.

With Randle on the floor in the first half there were issues in regards to shot selection in the first 20 minutes, but without the big man that trio had to take over offensively. And they did, playing a more efficient brand of basketball in the process. After combining to shoot 6-for-24 in the first half with Randle going 7-for-8, the Harrison twins (Andrew: 18 points; Aaron: ten points) and Young (18 points, ten rebounds) shot a combined 10-for-21 in the second half.

Was this a watershed moment for the young Wildcats? That remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt that their second half performance is a step in the right direction.

To limit the progress to those three would be a mistake however, as Kentucky limited Louisville to 32.1% shooting in the second half and 39.7% for the game. Sure Louisville has its own issues to address, especially when it comes to what their front court provides offensively, but Kentucky did a good job of limiting the Cardinals’ quality looks. And there’s also the offensive rebounding, with Kentucky rebounding 41.5% of its missed shots on the afternoon.

This is an area in which Kentucky’s been good all season, as they entered Saturday’s game as the nation’s best offensive rebounding team, and they took advantage of the second chances in the first half (11-0 first-half edge in second chance points; 17-6 for the game) to overcome Louisville’s hot start.

Looking forward there are still issues to address, most notably making sure Randle’s taken care of offensively when he’s in position to score. Louisville had no answer for him when he was on the floor, and that will continue to be the case in most of the games left on Kentucky’s schedule.

He wasn’t available for much of the second half and without one of the nation’s best players in the second half Kentucky could have wilted, but instead they rose to the challenge. And that’s just as important for the Wildcats moving forward as the result.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Some conference matchups play out before football

Oregon forward Dillon Brooks, left, reacts after scoring a basket against Utah during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Salt Lake City, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016. Oregon defeated Utah 77-59. (AP Photo/George Frey)
(AP Photo/George Frey)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Utah at No. 16 Oregon, 4:00 p.m.

From Rob Dauster’s Weekend Preview:

Utah suffered one of the worst losses I’ve seen in a while on Thursday night, when Brandon Taylor, for some unknown reason, decided to foul an Oregon State player firing up a half court prayer at the buzzer. The Utes, who are arguably the second-best team in the Pac-12, will look to bounce-back on Sunday against the best team in the Pac-12, No. 16 Oregon at 4:00 p.m.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1. No. 12 SMU will attempt to stay atop the American standings as they travel to South Florida. While the Mustangs won the first matchup between these two teams at home by 14, they’ve dropped their last two games on the road.

2. A few more American contests are going down as East Carolina travels to UConn and Houston heads to Tulsa. The game between the Cougars and Golden Hurricane is especially interesting because both teams are sitting two games back of SMU and trying to make a move on the postseason.

3. No. 5 Iowa continues the soft part of the schedule as they face Illinois on the road. The Hawkeyes posted recent easy victories over Northwestern and Penn State and will be heavily favored again on Sunday.

4. Could be an intriguing game as No. 17 Miami travels to Georgia Tech. Although the Yellow Jackets aren’t a major contender in the ACC, they’ve been tough this season, especially at home. The Hurricanes fell victim to Georgia Tech last season while they were ranked by Marcus Georges-Hunt has to get back on track after a recent slump for that to happen.

5. There is an Atlantic 10 game that will be featured on NBCSN on Sunday: Saint Louis at St. Bonaventure (2:00 p.m.).

CLICK HERE to watch these games on NBC Sports Live Extra Sunday afternoon.

Illinois State ends No. 21 Wichita State’s 12-game win streak

Fred VanVleet
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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Having won 12 straight games, No. 21 Wichita State entered the weekend one of the hottest teams in the country. And with a four-game lead atop the Missouri Valley standings, clinching the regular season title was more a matter of “when” as opposed to “if.” But none of that mattered Saturday night at Illinois State, as the Redbirds managed to hand the Shockers their first conference loss by the final score of 58-53.

In addition to the 12-game win streak, which was second to Stony Brook (15 straight wins), Wichita State also saw its 19-game win streak in Valley regular season games come to an end. Illinois State was the last Valley team to beat Wichita State, eliminating the Shockers in the Arch Madness semifinals last March, and they played with the confidence of a team that believed it could win.

And after a rough first half the Redbirds found a way to come back, erasing a 16-point second half deficit in the process.

Wichita State’s issue in the second half was the fact that they couldn’t make shots. The Shockers shot just 26.7 percent from the field and 1-for-14 from three in the second half, with Fred VanVleet going scoreless and Shaq Morris scoring just one point. And just two players, Ron Baker and Conner Frankamp, managed to make multiple field goals in the game’s final 20 minutes. Illinois State certainly deserves credit for that, as they took away the quality looks Wichita State was able to find in building its lead.

And on the other end of the floor Paris Lee took control of the game during Illinois State’s comeback, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the second half with Deontae Hawkins adding 11 second-half points. Illinois State was even worse from the field, finishing the game shooting just over 27 percent from the field. But they were able to attack the Wichita State defense and get to the foul line, outscoring the Shockers 22-9 from the charity stripe. And in a game in which neither team could get much going offensively, the ability to get points from the line proved to be the difference.

This defeat doesn’t help Wichita State, but did anything really change? Maybe the margin for error when it comes to an at-large bid gets a little smaller with the loss in the eyes of some. But when considering injuries to the likes of VanVleet and Anton Grady in non-conference play, those early season losses are understandable. Saturday was a rough night for Wichita State, but given the maturity and talent on at Gregg Marshall’s disposal the Shockers will be fine moving forward.