Second-half offensive execution does in No. 22 UConn in Cincinnati

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No. 22 UConn entered Thursday’s game at No. 7 Cincinnati shorthanded, with junior forward and second-leading scorer and rebounder DeAndre Daniels ruled out due to a case of back spasms. Without Daniels, and with the Bearcats among the nation’s best when it comes to offensive rebounding, at first glance it seemed as if rebounding would be the Huskies’ biggest concern against the American Athletic Conference’s best team.

Ultimately UConn’s problem would be their work on the offensive end of the floor, as their second-half struggles were a big reason why they dropped a 63-58 decision.

Cincinnati’s impressive senior tandem of Sean Kilpatrick (26 points, 12 rebounds and six assists) and Justin Jackson (15 points, six rebounds) were the biggest factors in the outcome, but the Bearcats’ defense was also an issue for UConn. After shooting 46.2% in the first half UConn made just 32.0% of its shots in the second half, settling far too often for challenged looks from the perimeter.

Senior point guard Shabazz Napier struggled the most in the second half, making just two of his 12 attempts from the field (1-for-8 3PT). Obviously Napier will be the primary decision-maker for Kevin Ollie and to be frank he’s earned that right over the last season-plus, leading the team as a scorer while also being a solid distributor. However the balanced shot distribution that was present in the first half wasn’t there in the second, with no other Husky attempting more than five shots (Lasan Kromah).

In the first half the Huskies were balanced in their shot distribution, with four players attempting between four and seven shots from the field and each of those four players (Napier, Kromah, Ryan Boatright and Niels Giffey) scoring at least six points. UConn has a clear star in Napier and that’s perfectly fine, but in order for the Huskies to be at their best they need to make sure the other scoring options get the ball in advantageous positions as well.

At this point in the season it’s clear that UConn will be a tournament team, and they’ll be better when Daniels returns to full strength. Having one less scoring option impacted UConn in the second half on Thursday night, leaving them with one less player to trust when it came to taking the shots. Cincinnati’s a very good defensive team, and their ability to choke the life out of teams on that end of the floor has resulted in a 15-game win streak.

But to be fair UConn helped them out some on Thursday with their second-half execution, and that’s something the Huskies can’t afford to do as the season moves closer to March.

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.

[RELATED: Can WSU still make tourney?]

“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.