UCLA lets golden opportunity slip away at Oregon State

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Figuring out the Pac-12 race after No. 1 Arizona, which lost at California on Saturday night, has been a difficult task to this point in the season. While the Golden Bears and UCLA have been locked in a struggle for second place in the Pac-12, there are five other teams within a game of those two teams. UCLA’s game at Oregon State on Sunday afternoon represented an opportunity for the Bruins, with a win giving Steve Alford’s team sole possession of second place and placing them just a game out of first.

Unfortunately for UCLA, the combination of their worst offensive performance in conference play and Oregon State freshman guard Hallice Cooke resulted in a 71-67 defeat. Cooke scored a career-high 20 points (14 in the second half) on 7-for-9 shooting, leading five Oregon State players in double figures.

Craig Robinson’s team hasn’t been the most consistent group but they don’t lack for talent, with Roberto Nelson, Eric Moreland, Angus Brandt and Devon Collier the leaders on most nights. On Sunday Cooke and Moreland (11 points, 14 rebounds and five assists) proved to be especially problematic for the Bruins, who had to navigate an 0-for-9 afternoon from Jordan Adams and 38.6% shooting from the field as a team.

UCLA nearly stole this one too, with their move out of the 2-3 zone and into a trapping defense unsettling Oregon State down the stretch. But they were unable to get over the hump offensively, with Adams’ frustrating day being capped by a dubious offensive foul call with 15 seconds renaming and UCLA trailing by just one point. Much of what UCLA does depends upon the effectiveness of Adams and Kyle Anderson, with Adams being their most productive perimeter scorer and Anderson being the versatile option who can score and make sure his teammates get quality looks as well.

Anderson finished with 18 points and nine rebounds but dished out just two assists, with the struggles of his teammates obviously impacting the assist count. UCLA can adjust on days in which their supporting cast struggles, but this isn’t the case when it comes to Adams and the inconsistency of those other players is the reason why. Adams struggled against Oregon State, and the end result was UCLA’s failure to cement its status as the second-best team in the Pac-12.

And given the unknown status of Arizona’s Brandon Ashley, UCLA entered Sunday with a great opportunity in front of them even without a second meeting between the two teams on the schedule. The Bruins didn’t take advantage of this, and they’ve only got themselves to blame.

Koby McEwen transferring to Marquette

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Steve Wojciechowski added a significant piece to his 2019-20 team over the weekend.

Koby McEwen announced his intention to transfer to Marquette from Utah State late Sunday evening.

“I would like to thank God, my family, inner circle and all the schools/coaches that recruited me during this process!” McEwen tweeted. “With that being said, I’m proud to announce that I’ll be furthering my college career at Marquette University.”

McEwen picked the Golden Eagles over fellow finalists Creighton and Grand Canyon after he decided to transfer when the Aggies announced South Dakota coach Craig Smith was taking over the program last month. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged 15.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game while shooting 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3-point range as a sophomore.

After sitting out the upcoming season, McEwen will have to years of eligibility remaining. Marquette went 21-14 last season, but missed the NCAA tournament for the third time in Wojciechowski’s four years in Milwaukee.

Minnesota adds Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis

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Minnesota has added some depth for the future.

The Golden Gophers received a pledge from Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis over the weekend, giving him a guard with two seasons of eligibility remaining starting in 2019-20.

Willis will sit out the upcoming season under NCAA transfer rules.

The 6-foot-4 guard played a limited role in two seasons in Nashville, never averaging more than 18. 5 minutes or 5.2 points per game. He scored in double figures in three games as a sophomore.

Willis was a top-150 prospect in the Class of 2016 coming out of Fayetteville, Ark. with offers from the likes of Tulsa, Rice and Dayton. Vandy and Minnesota were his two high-major offers.

After being ranked in the top-15, Minnesota was beset by injury and suspensions last season as they limped to the finish line in a 15-17 season that featured losses in 12 of its last 13 games.

Richard Pitino still has two available scholarships for the 2018-19 campaign.

Report: Quade Green returning to Kentucky

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John Calipari just landed a critical recruit for 2018-19, and he was already on the roster.

Quade Green, who averaged 25 minutes per game last season, is returning to Kentucky for his sophomore season, his mother told the Lexington Herald-Leader on Monday.

Given that six Wildcat players have entered the draft (Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hami Diallo are signing with agents), getting the 6-foot point guard back for a second season is a massive deal for Calipari and Co. The Wildcats have always been at their best under Calipari with returning players as the cornerstones of the roster with talented one-and-dones providing the extra boost. Getting one such returner at the point guard position is even more critical.

Green, who came to Kentucky as a five-star recruit last year, averaged 9.3 points and 2.7 assists per game while shooting 45.1 percent from the field and a respectable 37.1 percent from 3-point range, an area where Kentucky continually needs help.

With Green back in the fold, Kentucky will now await the decisions of PJ Washington, Wenyen Gabriel and Jarred Vanderbilt, who are all going through the pre-draft process without hiring agents, which will potentially allow them to return to school and bolster a Kentucky roster has the look of a top-five team.

CBT Podcast: NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline: Winners, losers and who has the most on the line?

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The NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline came and went on Sunday night, meaning there are now roughly 60 college players that have signed with an agent and another 100 or so that have declared for the draft while retaining their college eligibility. Who were the winners? Who were the losers? Who has the most on the line? Sam Vecenie of the Game Theory podcast joined Rob Dauster to talk through all of it. The rundown:

OPEN: What do NBA teams value in players these days?

10:00: Villanova has more on the line during this testing the water process than anyone

19:00: Just how important was De’Andre Hunter’s decision to return to Virginia

25:25: Gonzaga getting Rui and Killian Tillie back makes them a title favorite

32:10: Nevada has a top ten season on the line with the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline

36:15: #RANTALERT – The decision to turn pro is so much more complicated than “is he a first round pick”

48:30: Rapid fire: Maryland, Kansas, Syracuse, Nebraska, Purdue and Michigan. What do they have on the line?

North Carolina’s Luke Maye declaring for NBA draft without hiring agent

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina junior Luke Maye has declared for the NBA draft but isn’t hiring an agent.

The 6-foot-8 forward was a third-team Associated Press All-American after averaging 16.9 points and 10.1 rebounds. He was named the Atlantic Coast Conference’s most improved player after increasing his scoring average by 11.4 points from his sophomore to junior seasons.

Coach Roy Williams says in a statement that it’s ”a great opportunity” for Maye to work out for NBA teams and get feedback on what to improve in his game.

The deadline for college players to declare early for the draft was Sunday night. Players who don’t hire an agent can maintain their college eligibility as long as they withdraw by May 30, which is 10 days after the NBA draft combine.