Marcus Lee

No. 11 Kentucky bounces back, surviving on the road against Missouri

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Julius Randle finished with 18 points, nine boards, three assists and three steals and Kentucky’s three perimeter players — the Harrison twins and James Young — combined for 55 points, seven assists and just three turnovers as No. 11 Kentucky picked up a huge win on Saturday, knocking off Missouri on the road, 84-79.

The first half was precisely the kind of performance that Kentucky fans wanted to see out of the Wildcats. They played hard, they played together, they defended, they made the extra pass, they pounded the ball into Randle. When Dominique Hawkins hit the floor in the first half, the entire team sprinted over to help him up.

Tuesday’s loss at LSU looked like Kentucky was going through a walk-through at a shootaround. Saturday’s performance brought a completely different level of energy. And that, in the end, may be the key to Kentucky’s season.

There is simply no questioning the talent level on this roster, even if you are in the camp that believes that Aaron and Andrew Harrison are overrated and even if Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress continue to put together an up-and-down career. On paper, the Wildcats can compete with anyone in the country. On the court, that’s not necessarily the case, and the cause often boils down to effort and intensity.

This Kentucky team, at times, can has a distinct lack of toughness, both mentally and physically. That wasn’t the case on Saturday.

I’ll give you an example: at one point in the second half, the Wildcats were up 49-33. But Jabari Brown and Jordan Clark both got into a rhythm in the second half, routinely dissecting the Kentucky defense off the dribble. Brown finished with 33 points. Clarkson had 28. They put on a show, one that will once again raise serious question marks about Kentucky’s perimeter defense.

With two minutes left, Brown hit a 26-foot three and drew a foul on a questionable call. The ensuing free throw cut the Kentucky lead to 78-75. The Wildcats were on the verge of an epic collapse in a incredibly important game on the road. For a team that has yet to prove capable of thriving in situations like that, this was concerning.

But Kentucky executed in the final three possession, getting a bucket each time they had the ball, and much of the credit should be given to Andrew Harrison. He made the plays that a point guard is supposed to make, finishing with 14 points, four assists and just a single turnover. He made the right decisions and got the ball to the right people.

Kentucky played as well as they can play for the first 25 minutes on Saturday. They survived blowing a lead against a good team on the road.

No matter how you slice it, this was a promising performance from Kentucky.

No. 10 Gonzaga outlasts No. 18 UConn despite late offensive struggles

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No. 10 Gonzaga survived a furious rally from No. 18 UConn to win the third place game in the Battle 4 Atlantis, 73-70.

The Zags were up by as much as 21 points early in the second half, leading 48-27, but UConn slowly chipped away at the lead. Kyle Wiltjer led four players in double-figures with 17 points while Eric McClellan added 15 points, making a number of key plays in the second half when it looked like the Zags were in danger of giving away the lead.

As good as Gonzaga looked in the first 22 minutes of this game — and they looked really, really good — the second half exposed the concerns that many had with this group entering the season. Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr., who both shot around 40 percent from beyond the arc and started for four years, graduated, meaning that Gonzaga’s point guard situation is, more or less, Josh Perkins.

Perkins was terrific in the second half of a loss to Texas A&M on Thursday. He played 17 foul-plagued minutes against UConn. When UConn’s defense ratcheted up during the second half, Gonzaga struggled finding a way to consistently get good shots on the offensive end. Part of that was due to ineffective point guard play and part of it was a result of not really having anyone on the offensive end that can create a look on their own. As skilled as Wiltjer is, his impact can be limited when pick-and-pop actions aren’t working and he’s getting doubled in the post.

Perkins is talented, but this is essentially his first season of college basketball; he was a medical redshirt last season after breaking his jaw last November. There are going to be ups-and-downs, and that’s problematic on a team where he is essentially the only point guard on the roster.

The good news?

Gonzaga beat a good UConn team on a day when their best players struggled in crunch-time. It was McClellan and Kyle Dranginis that made the big plays down the stretch, not the big names on the Gonzaga roster.

Wichita State’s Anton Grady ‘awake, alert’ after getting stretchered off court

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Wichita State big man Anton Grady was stretchered off of the floor in the second half of a loss to Alabama after a nasty collision with Dazon Ingram.

The video can be seen above. There was nothing malicious about the way that Grady was injured. When he turned to run up the floor after missing a shot in the lane, he went face first into Ingram’s shoulder. He neck bent in an awkward directions and, after stumbling a few steps, he laid motionless on the floor.

It took 10 minutes for the training staff to strap Grady to a backboard and wheel him out of the arena.

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A Wichita State spokesman told that Grady was taken to a local trauma center for evaluation and that he is “awake, alert and is answering questions appropriately”.

We will have more updates as they come available.

From a basketball perspective, the No. 20 Shockers lost their second game in a row and are now 2-3 on the season.

While for some the Shockers’ résumé is up for questioning following losses to USC and Alabama, two teams projected to finish in the bottom half of their respective leagues, the team’s health is the biggest concern.

Fred VanVleet has been dealing with a hamstring issue since the season began, and an ankle injury limited him in a loss at Tulsa earlier this month. He won’t play again until at least Dec. 5th. and who knows when he’ll be back to full strength. The same can be said for back up point guard and freshman Landry Shamet, who underwent surgery to address a stress fracture in the fifth metatarsal in his left foot. Their injuries have led to even more being asked of senior guard Ron Baker, and the loss of Grady for any significant amount of time certainly isn’t going to help matters..

These early-season losses won’t help Wichita State when it comes to the NCAA tournament, but it’s important to make note of the circumstances surrounding those defeats. To be shorthanded, with one of the absent players ranking among the nation’s best point guards, has an impact that has to be accounted for when evaluating Wichita State. The Shockers will add Conner Frankamp in mid-December, which will help them on the perimeter.

But with their rotation currently being in flux, it’s tough to make any definitive statements on what Wichita State will have to do in order to make another trip to the NCAA tournament. At this point Gregg Marshall and his staff will look for other contributors, one of whom being Markis McDuffie (14 points, seven rebounds vs. Alabama), to emerge and show themselves capable of picking up the slack.