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Interior play pushes No. 14 Kentucky past Vanderbilt

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Given how young No. 14 Kentucky is, with just one upperclassman (Jarrod Polson) part of the playing rotation, there were bound to be growing pains during non-conference play. And there are still some lessons to be learned by this group as the move deeper into SEC play with an eye towards the NCAA tournament. Saturday’s 71-62 win at Vanderbilt likely provided another lesson, one that focuses on where the Wildcats need to get the ball if they’re to be at their best offensively.

On an afternoon that saw the Wildcats shoot 6-for-22 from beyond the arc, Kentucky won due to their work in the paint and on the offensive glass. With Andrew Harrison (four offensive rebounds) and Julius Randle (six; all in the first half) combining to grab ten of Kentucky’s 18 offensive rebounds, the Wildcats corralled nearly 44% of their missed shots. And while they only scored 15 second chance points the impact of those extra opportunities can add up for a team if they lack depth as Vanderbilt does.

Add in 36 points in the paint and 12 more free throw attempts, and Kentucky was able to win despite shooting poorly from beyond the arc and the foul line (13-for-22). With Randle, a center in Willie Cauley-Stein (15 points, six rebounds) who seems to improve by the game and a forward in Alex Poythress (nine points) who played with an intensity that he struggled to produce earlier this season in the front court, the Wildcats can be a very difficult team to slow down in the painted area. And that’s before mentioning the penetration ability of the Harrison twins and James Young.

But they can only take advantage of this if they become “greedier” offensively. By that I don’t mean guys going for theirs at the expense of their teammates, but rather being attack-minded and not settling for perimeter jumpers. That was still an issue at times on Saturday, and for a team that entered the game shooting just 29.8% from beyond the arc it may be best to limit those shots despite the presence of players who have the ability to make three-pointers. Why? Because they’re much tougher to slow down when aggressive looking to get into the middle of the floor by way of the pass or dribble penetration.

It should also be noted that there were also stretches in which Kentucky did a better job of not simply taking what was dictated to them offensively, and their three primary perimeter options (the Harrison twins and Young) combined for ten assists to just three turnovers. Already among the nation’s best when it comes to hitting the offensive glass, there’s still room for Kentucky to grow on that end of the floor. And if they can take those steps, the Wildcats will improve their chances of winding up where many projected them to before the season began.

USC athletic director Pat Haden to step down in June

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LOS ANGELES (AP) University of Southern California athletic director Pat Haden says he will retire on June 30.

USC President Max Nikias made the announcement Friday.

Haden has run the athletic department for 5 1/2 years, leading the Trojans through a multiyear stretch of NCAA sanctions against its vaunted football program. He created a large NCAA compliance program and improved graduation rates and grade point averages across the athletic department.

The former USC quarterback also received criticism for the football program’s relative underachievement and for his handling of coach Steve Sarkisian, who has sued the school over his termination last year.

Nikias says Haden’s department also raised over $400 million during his tenure.

Nikias says Haden will start a one-year job guiding the renovation of the Coliseum after he retires.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Ivy League’s best meet in New Haven

Columbia guard Maodo Lo, right, steals the ball from Northwestern forward Aaron Falzon, left, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, in Evanston, Ill.  (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Columbia at Yale, 5:00 p.m.

The two best teams in the Ivy League, with matching 4-0 league records, meet for the first time this season. The Lions were close to suffering their first loss last weekend, but an Alex Rosenberg jumper as time expired gave the Lions the win at reigning champion Harvard. Rosenberg’s one of four players averaging at least 12.2 points per game for Kyle Smith’s team, with senior guard Maodo Lo leading the way at 15.8 per contest.

They’ll face a Yale rotation led offensively by point guard Makai Mason (15.7 ppg, 4.1 apg), and the front court tandem of Justin Sears and Brandon Sherrod has been outstanding. The winner get a leg up in the Ivy race, with the rematch scheduled for March 5 in New York City (regular season finale).

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: Central Michigan at Akron, 8:00 p.m.

Two of the top teams in the Mid-American Conference meet at the JAR, as Akron looks to extend its win streak to six straight. The Zips’ balanced offensive attack has been led by forward Isaiah Johnson (12.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg), who currently leads the team in both scoring and rebounding. As for the visiting Chippewas, guards Braylon Rayson and Chris Fowler combine to average 32.7 points per game, with Fowler also responsible for a MAC-best 6.3 assists per contest. CMU’s had some struggles on the defensive glass in league play, ranking 11th in that category, but they’ve done a better job defensively than they did in non-conference play.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES

  • MAAC leader Monmouth is back in action, as they host a Fairfield team led by one of the conference’s best players in senior forward Marcus Gilbert. The Hawks have a deep lineup led by junior guard Justin Robinson, who at this point in time is the likely frontrunner for MAAC Player of the Year honors.
  • Looking to catch Monmouth is Iona, which is a game behind the Hawks at 9-3. A.J. English and the Gaels visit Canisius in a matchup that should not lack for offense. Iona’s more inclined to run, but Canisius doesn’t lack scorers either with guard Malcolm McMillan leading four players averaging double figures.
  • Given the fact that they’re 1-3 in Ivy League play, Harvard’s essentially in the spoiler role unless some chaos breaks out at the top end of the standings. The Crimson can help in that regard with a win at Princeton, with the Tigers (2-1) a game behind Columbia and Yale in the loss column. Princeton’s been the better offensive team this season, thanks in large part to junior forward Henry Caruso who leads the team in both scoring and rebounding.