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.

Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament chances take a major blow in loss to No. 16 SMU

SMU guard Nic Moore (11) shoots over Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
(AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
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Nic Moore scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half and added 11 assists as No. 16 SMU knocked off Gonzaga in Moody Coliseum on Saturday night, 69-60.

The Zags got 20 points and 16 boards from Domantas Sabonis, but Kyle Wiltjer scored just four points and shot 2-for-17 from the floor.

It wasn’t pretty.

And it may have been the end of Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament hopes.

Entering Saturday, the Zags had an RPI in the mid-60s, enough to keep them in the bubble conversation but not enough to make them anything more than a team that will be projected to end up on the cut-line.

The issue is a complete lack of quality wins on their résumé. Gonzaga beat UConn in the Bahamas. That’s a borderline top 50 win. They beat Washington, another borderline top 50 win. Beyond that? They swept Pepperdine, beat Tennessee and own a win over Montana. None of those are top 100 wins, and that’s why the SMU game was such a big deal. The Mustangs are a top 25 team. This was a road game. This win was the kind of thing that the Zags could pin at the top of their profile.

But Wiltjer didn’t show up, the Zags had no answer for Moore and they’ll head back to Spokane needing, in all likelihood, to win the WCC’s automatic bid if they want to dance.

POSTERIZED: Cal’s Jaylen Brown has his dunk contest entry

California's Jaylen Brown lays up a shot against Oregon State in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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Cal picked up a big win over Oregon State in Haas Pavilion on Saturday night, and the exclamation point was this emphatic dunk from Jaylen Brown: