Arizona v UCLA

No. 1 Arizona survives late UCLA rally despite free throw, turnover issues

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Nick Johnson finished with 22 points on 9-for-15 shooting and Kaleb Tarczewski added 16 and eight boards as No. 1 Arizona survived a furious UCLA comeback, winning 79-75 in Pauley Pavilion on Thursday night.

Johnson’s work wasn’t limited to the offensive end of the floor, either. The 6-foot-3 shooting guard spent a lot of time locking horns with Jordan Adams, UCLA’s leading scorer that finished just 4-for-15 from the floor. He doesn’t get the publicity that some of the other players across the country — or even in his league — get, but Johnson is very much a candidate for first-team all-america.

And Arizona continues to play like arguably the nation’s best team.

But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some flaws that need to be addressed.

The biggest concern is obviously their free throw shooting. The Wildcats are hitting just 68.1% of their free throws and missed a number of big ones down the stretch that allowed UCLA to erase a 13 point lead in the final ten minutes. Aaron Gordon is the biggest offender, as he’s hitting just 44.9% from the charity stripe, struggling enough that opponents have started fouling him intentionally to make him earn the points.

Turnovers also could end up being a problem down the road. The Wildcats aren’t awful when it comes to protecting the ball, but teams that can force turnovers do force turnovers against Sean Miller’s club. Arizona had 17 on Thursday night.

I’m not concerned about UCLA’s offensive rebounding effort on Thursday night — UCLA had 16 of them — because the Wildcats are one of the nation’s best rebounding teams. I’m not all that worried about their depth, either, because good college teams don’t need to go more than seven deep. And the concern about their perimeter shooting? Johnson, Gordon, Brandon Ashley and Gabe York are all shooting between 36.5% and 43.4% from three. They’ll survive.

But those turnovers and those free throws are issues that Sean Miller will want to address.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.

Tyler Ulis injured as No. 1 Kentucky beats South Florida

Tyler Ulis, Ky Howard
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MIAMI (AP) Jamal Murray had 21 points and No. 1 Kentucky scored the final 15 points of the first half on the way to beating South Florida 84-63 in the HoopHall Miami Invitational on Friday.

Skal Labissiere added 17 points for the Wildcats (6-0), who led by as many as 31. Charles Matthews scored 11 points and Isaiah Briscoe finished with seven assists for Kentucky, now a winner of 37 consecutive regular-season games and 39 in a row against unranked opponents.

Chris Perry scored 14 points for USF (1-5), which has lost 18 consecutive games against teams ranked in the Top 25. Jaleel Cousins added 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting, and Jahmal McMurray scored 11 points for the Bulls.

Kentucky played the second half without starting guard Tyler Ulis, who departed with a right elbow injury after getting hurt while fighting for a ball loose on the floor.

Kentucky announced after the game that the injury was a hyperextension of the elbow and that he will be day-to-day.

The Bulls were within 27-21 with 6 minutes left in the first half after McMurray banked in a 3-pointer only a few feet away from where John Calipari was standing, and the look of anguish on the Kentucky coach’s face was clear.

It didn’t last long.

The Wildcats scored on seven of their next nine possessions and the game was over by halftime, Kentucky going into the break with a 42-21 lead.

It was a reunion for plenty of people on both benches. Calipari squared off with his former assistant Orlando Antigua, now in his second year leading USF. Antigua’s staff includes another former Calipari assistant in Rod Strickland, plus former Kentucky basketball staff members Mike Malone and Dominic Lombardi.

So the staffs have plenty of familiarity. On the court, there was plenty of disparity. Kentucky finished with a commanding 23-6 edge in points off turnovers and finished with 16 assists to the Bulls’ six.