Selfless play, tough defense result in another win for No. 1 Arizona


One of three remaining undefeated teams in college basketball, No. 1 Arizona was faced with a challenge in the form of the Colorado Buffaloes on Thursday night. Sure Colorado was without the services of guards Spencer Dinwiddie and Tre’Shaun Fletcher due to knee injuries, with Dinwiddie done for the year, but the Buffaloes have held their own with the Wildcats since joining the Pac-12 in 2011.

And while the loss of Dinwiddie was a major blow, there’s still talent on the Colorado roster with Askia Booker, Josh Scott and Xavier Johnson now entrusted with doing much of the heavy lifting. Unfortunately for Colorado, Sean Miller’s team was in no mood for suspense as they scored the game’s first nine points and led by as many as 20 points before coasting to the 69-57 victory.

Arizona may not have shot well from beyond the arc (just 3-for-15 from three) but they made up for it by shooting 59.1% from two and scoring 44 of their 69 points in the paint. The Wildcats can get inside via the pass or dribble penetration, and with four players dishing out three assists apiece it’s clear that they have multiple players capable of making solid decisions with the basketball.

Nick Johnson led three players in double figures with 18 points (Brandon Ashley added 15 points and Aaron Gordon, 12), and what set them apart against Colorado was not only their offensive balance but also their ability to make things incredibly difficult for the Buffaloes on the other end.

Colorado shot just 38.5% from the field and even though Xavier Johnson scored 21 points Arizona was able to neutralize Booker, who is arguably Colorado’s most important player in the aftermath of Dinwiddie’s injury. Booker scored 11 points on 4-for-13 shooting, with T.J. McConnell and the other Arizona guards doing a good job of making life difficult for the junior guard.

Defensively the Wildcats have been doing this all season long, ranking third nationally in both adjusted defensive efficiency (per kenpom.com) and field goal percentage defense and 19th nationally (2nd in the Pac-12) in three-point percentage defense. And even though this is a very athletic group they don’t use that as a reason to gamble, which results in a limited number of unchallenged looks for opponents.

But when teams do turn the ball over Arizona is more than capable of making them pay, and on Thursday they converted 16 Colorado turnovers into 23 points.

Offensively this is a group that shares the basketball and doesn’t seem to care about who scores the points, with there being very few “it’s my turn to shoot” shot attempts. And while some may want to simply attribute that to the presence of T.J. McConnell, who has made a big difference at the point, the credit belongs to all involved. And if that continues, that sole national championship banner could have some company in less than three months’ time.

As good as they’ve been, No. 3 Michigan State has yet to play their best

Bryn Forbes, Ryan Fazekas
Associated Press
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Sunday night’s Wooden Legacy title game matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence was billed as a matchup of the nation’s two best players, and rightfully so. Michigan State senior Denzel Valentine (17 points, six rebounds, five assists), who already has two triple-doubles to his credit this season, and Providence redshirt junior Kris Dunn (21 points, five rebounds, seven assists) have more than lived up to the preseason expectations and more of the same was expected in Anaheim.

And while both had their moments, it was Michigan State’s supporting cast that made the difference in their 77-64 victory. The scary thing for future opponents on Michigan State’s schedule is that Tom Izzo’s team is nowhere near being a finished product.

With Valentine dealing with first-half foul trouble Bryn Forbes stepped up, scoring 13 of his 18 points to help the Spartans take a two-point lead into the half. As for the 11-0 run that Michigan State produced to take control of the game late, a host of players stepped forward in regards to scoring, rebounding and defending.

Freshmen Deyonta Davis and Matt McQuaid combined to score nine points over the final 5:32, with transfer guard Eron Harris adding six of his 12 points during that stretch. The Spartans outscored the Friars, who aren’t as deep, 22-7 during that stretch to close out the game, hunting for quality shots and hitting the offensive glass while making things difficult for Providence on the other end of the floor.

The end result was a final margin that does not indicate just how close the game was. While Providence seemed to run out of steam Michigan State received contributions from multiple players, which is undoubtedly a good sign for this group moving forward.

The Spartans will return the currently injured Gavin Schilling later this season, giving them another big man alongside Davis, Matt Costello and Colby Wollenman. He was a player they missed Sunday night, as he can defend opposing big men both in the post and on the perimeter. His absence was a main reason Michigan State didn’t have an answer for Providence’s Ben Bentil (20 points, seven rebounds) defensively.

The key for this group is going to end up being role definition, which is especially true in the case of Harris. A transfer from West Virginia, Harris came to East Lansing with the reputation of being a big time scorer. He’s struggled through the first two weeks of the season, but he got on a roll on Sunday night, finishing with 12 points, three boards and three assists. He showed he’s capable of doing a variety of things on the perimeter, and fitting into a “Swiss army knife” kind of role would make Michigan State that much more dangerous.

There’s no denying that Michigan State has been one of the nation’s best teams thus far.

But there’s also no denying that the Spartans have yet to hit their ceiling, which is definitely a positive moving forward.

Wichita State’s Anton Grady returns home with team

AP Photo/Willie J. Allen Jr.
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Wichita State forward Anton Grady was released from a hospital in Orlando on Sunday afternoon in time to return home with his Shocker teammates.

Grady suffered a spinal corn concussion on Friday when he collided head-first with an Alabama defender, snapping his head sharply to the side. He lay on the court motionless for 10 minutes after the injury and was taken off the floor on a stretcher.

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“I want to send out a big thank you to Shocker Nation and all of my friends and family for of the love and encouragement that I have received the past few days,” Grady said in a statement on Sunday morning. “I’ve been reading your tweets and posts and appreciate every last one of them. I have a lot of work to do to get back on the court, but with the help of such a great support system, I’m ready for the challenge.”

By Friday night, Grady had feeling in all of his extremities, but he has a long road of rehab ahead of him.