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Offensive rebounding, Nick Johnson push No. 1 Arizona past Utah

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Just a couple days removed from a comfortable win over Colorado, No. 1 Arizona was faced with the task of taking care of business against another opponent they were expected to handle. Utah, which has been much-improved thanks to the addition of Delon Wright and the progression of Jordan Loveridge, has the ability to make things difficult on teams (see their home win over UCLA) but this was not supposed to be a game in which the Wildcats faced one of their largest deficits of the season.

That’s the position Arizona found itself a little more than seven minutes into the game, trailing the feisty Utes by a 12-2 score. The biggest culprit: incredibly poor shooting from the field, with Arizona making just five of its first 22 shots from the field and finishing the first half shooting just 31% from the field.

Ultimately the Wildcats would pull ahead for good just past the halfway point of the second half for two reasons: their ability to punish Utah on the offensive boards, and the excellence of junior guard Nick Johnson.

Arizona rebounded half of its missed shots, converting those 20 offensive rebounds (Aaron Gordon was responsible for seven) into 19 second-chance points, and Johnson scored a game-high 22 points to lead the Wildcats to a 65-56 victory. Now 20-0 and 7-0 in Pac-12 play, the Wildcats have a two-game lead in the standings ahead of their road trip to the Bay Area.

Offensive rebounding has been one of Arizona’s calling cards all season long, as they entered Sunday ranked in the top ten nationally in offensive rebounding percentage. And when you’re as athletic as the Wildcats are, this becomes an area that you can take full advantage of on most nights. That’s what did in Utah, which threw multiple defensive looks at Arizona including a triangle-and-2, a matchup zone and even some man-to-man.

Those looks did a good job in regards to limiting Arizona’s rate of success of their first shots, but on far too many occasions the Utes could not finish the defensive possession by grabbing a rebound. Those extra possessions add up, resulting in Utah losing steam in crunch time.

Individually the night was yet another showcase for Johnson, who at this point is one of the favorites (if not the favorite) to win Pac-12 Player of the Year. Johnson may have led the way scoring-wise but he also was the primary defender against Wright, who scored 19 points but did so shooting 5-for-12 from the field. T.J. McConnell’s addition has made Arizona a better team, and so have the arrivals of talented freshmen Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.

But if Johnson weren’t ready to take on the leadership role that was at times left vacant a season ago, Arizona may not be as good as they have been to this point in the season. He’s proven to be that player for Arizona, and that’s the biggest reason why they’re still undefeated.

Seton Hall’s Derrick Gordon won’t pursue pro basketball to become a firefighter

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 12:  Derrick Gordon #32 of the Seton Hall Pirates celebrates after hitting a basket against the Villanova Wildcats during the Big East Basketball Tournament Championship at Madison Square Garden on March 12, 2016 in New York City. Seton Hall Pirates defeated Villanova Wildcats 69-67.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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After a successful career that included stops at Western Kentucky, UMass and Seton Hall, Derrick Gordon, Division I college basketball’s first openly gay player, will not pursue professional opportunities and will instead become a firefighter.

The 6-foot-3 Gordon averaged 8.0 points and 3.3 rebounds per game as a senior for the Pirates, helping the team reach the NCAA tournament during his graduate transfer year. By making the NCAA tournament with Seton Hall this past season, Gordon became the first college basketball player to reach the event with three different teams.

A tenacious perimeter defender who could have earned a pro contract if he stuck with basketball, Gordon will instead pursue a career as a firefighter in San Francisco.

“I’ve had an amazing basketball career and want to thank everybody who has always been there supporting me every step on the way,” Gordon said via his Instagram. “But I’m making a change in my career…I will now be working towards becoming a San Francisco Firefighter!! I’m excited about this and looking forward to having a long career!!”

While Gordon likely would have never made the NBA on talent alone, his defensive prowess would have likely given him a shot overseas or in the D League. It’s hard to say why Gordon is making this decision, but given what we saw with all of the attention surrounding Michael Sam when he tried to play in the NFL, Gordon was probably going to face a lot of scrutiny wherever he decided to play.

Hopefully Gordon finds his calling as a firefighter and brings the same energy and leadership that he brought on the floor to helping other people outside of basketball.

Washington guard Markelle Fultz pulls off sick spin and dunk at FIBA U18 Americas

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Kelly Kline/Under Armour
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Washington incoming freshman guard Markelle Fultz is going to be one of the premier players in the country next season as his unique game is going to be fascinating to watch.

The 6-foot-5 Fultz is currently playing with the USA U18 team in Chile for the FIBA U18 Americas as he’s second on the team in scoring and first in assists as the Americans play Canada for the title on Saturday.

Against the host country, Fultz had an electric spin move in the paint and finished with an easy dunk. If you’re not willing to stay up late to watch this dude play this year, then set your DVRs, because Fultz is going to have some fun moments during the season.

(H/t: Jonathan Wasserman, Bleacher Report)

POSTERIZED: Class of 2016 forward Chris Seeley has a massive dunk on defender

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The Las Vegas AAU events are all going on this week and it’s the final event for rising seniors.

At the Las Vegas Fab 48, forward Chris Seeley of the Splash City 17U team put down one of the best poster dunks of the summer as he skied over a defender for an emphatic finish.

The Class of 2016 forward attends Central High School in Fresno, California as he’s receiving plenty of buzz for his recent play.

 

 

 

Five-star forward Jarred Vanderbilt cuts list to nine

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LAS VEGAS, NV — Five-star Class of 2017 forward Jarred Vanderbilt has been one of the most sought-after recruits in the country since he was a freshman in high school.

The 6-foot-8 native of Houston is beginning to wind things down in the recruiting process as he cut his list to nine schools on Friday. Vanderbilt’s list includes some of the most storied programs in college basketball and plenty of schools from his home state of Texas.

“I just followed my heart. Went with the schools I liked the most and who I have the best relationships with. Thear were the schools I could see myself playing for,” Vanderbilt told NBCSports.com.

Regarded as the No. 13 overall prospect in the Rivals.com national rankings, Vanderbilt is currently recovering from a broken fifth metatarsal in his left foot.

Vanderbilt will see a doctor in three-to-four weeks as he’s currently in a boot to help his foot heal.

Report: Michigan State and Penn State will play at the Palestra

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 10: Head coach Patrick Chambers of the Penn State Nittany Lions looks on against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the second round of the Big Ten Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 10, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo has previously expressed a desire to coach a game at the legendary Palestra in Philadelphia and it appears he’ll get his chance in a Big Ten game this season.

According to a report from Brendan F. Quinn of MLive, Penn State will use the Palestra as its home gym for the Jan. 7, 2017 Big Ten game against Michigan State. It is the only time the two teams are scheduled to play during Big Ten season and Penn’s home gym will offer a unique setting for the game.

Since the capacity of the Palestra is 8,722, it should make for a fun atmosphere for both programs since this will be a game both fan bases will likely want to attend.

With Nittany Lions head coach Pat Chambers making Philadelphia a major recruiting priority for his program, a game like this in Philadelphia makes sense while Michigan State has always been open to playing games in unique settings such as aircraft carriers.

The Palestra has been a college basketball mainstay since it was built in 1927 as it hosts all Penn home games and, in the past, hosted a lot of Big 5 Philadelphia college games between La Salle, Penn, Saint Joseph’s, Temple and Villanova.

Overall, a fun idea that should make for an interesting experience for both programs. It’s not often that a team will change its home venue for a conference game, but it could be the start of something we see other schools look to do.