Virginia v Duke

No. 23 Duke wins, but their struggles are still evident

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source: Getty Images

If you’re No. 23 Duke or you’re Mike Krzyzewski, it doesn’t really matter how ugly it was.

At this point, coming off of road losses to Clemson and Notre Dame in the span of a week, winning ugly means, quite frankly, that you won, and at this point, that’s something the Blue Devils are going to take. For them, the 69-65 win over Virginia is just as effective as a 100-0 win.

Coach K pulled out all the tricks in his playbook. shuffling the starting lineup (Matt Jones started at the off-guard spot) and rolling through five-man line changes for the first ten minutes or so of each half. In total, 11 guys got minutes for the Blue Devils, including seldom-used reserves Semi Ojeleye and Marshall Plumlee.

And on a night where Coach K is trying to wake up his team, it would only make sense that the heroes were, in one case, a season-long conundrum and, in the other, of the unsung variety.

Rasheed Sulaimon has spent the entire season working his way in and out of Coach K’s doghouse. He took the dreaded DNP-CD against Michigan (I wrote about it here) before finally seeming to break back into the rotation against Arizona in the Garden (I wrote about that here). But it wasn’t until tonight that we really saw Sulaimon look like the guy that many had pegged as a potential lottery pick entering the season.

He scored 21 points off the bench, providing a massive first half spark to snap Duke out of an offensive funk while hitting a fluky game-winner — his corner three bounced high off of the back of the rim and in — in the final minute. He was active defensively and aggressive offensively, something we haven’t seen Sulaimon do much of this season.

The other hero was Amile Jefferson, Duke’s blue-collar, undersized junkyard dog inside. Jefferson finished with 10 points, 15 boards, two assists, a block and two steals, one of which came when he picked off a cross court pass when Virginia had the ball down just two points with 10 seconds left. He proceeded to get fouled and, as a 41% free throw shooter, step to the line and ice the game.

But as good as those two were, Duke’s issues were still quite evident.

Virginia isn’t the kind of team that has explosive penetrating guards, but the were able to get penetration into the paint way too easily. They struggled finishing around the rim, which is why Duke was able to maintain a double-digit advantage for much of the game. Offensively, the Blue Devils still don’t look quite right. They rely far too much on isolations in the half court and have simply looked out of sync in recent games. Jabari Parker is slumping. Rodney Hood struggled at times Monday night. Quinn Cook, as a result, has tried to force things offensively to try to make up for that lacking scoring punch.

The good news? The body language tonight was better. The Blue Devils had more energy. They may have blown a lead down the stretch playing “prevent offense”, but they still beat a good Virginia team that’s been peaking of late.

And they have Coach K.

If anyone can figure out a way to cure what ails Duke, it’s the man that has the most wins of any college basketball coach.

He better get started on it.

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.