Jordan Bachynski preserves important weekend sweep for Arizona State (VIDEO)

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After splitting two games in the Bay Area last weekend Arizona State entered this week best served to sweep Oregon State and Oregon at home. Herb Sendek’s program hasn’t reached the NCAA tournament since 2009, and at this point in the season Jahii Carson and company have put themselves in a spot where one of the goals is to simply avoid losing games they’re expected to win.

And after squeaking out an overtime win over Oregon State on Thursday night the Sun Devils put together one of their best halves of basketball this season against the reeling Ducks. Arizona State shot 68.2% from the field in the first half and 7-foot-2 center Jordan Bachynski took full advantage of a size mismatch in the paint, accounting for 18 points and five rebounds. Closing the half on a 20-5 run, Arizona State held a 20-point lead at the half and looked well-positioned to not only win but deliver a crushing blow as well.

Then, Oregon’s Joseph Young got hot. Scalding hot. The Houston transfer scored 27 points in the second half, and the combination of his offensive excellence with Arizona State failing to execute resulted in a stunning comeback. Oregon would take a 61-59 lead, setting the stage for a tight race to the finish. And in the game’s climactic play there was Bachynski, blocking Young’s reverse layup attempt as time expired to give Arizona State (18-6, 7-4) the 74-72 victory.

Bachynski, who became the Pac-12’s career leaded in blocked shots on Thursday night, finished the game with 26 points, nine rebounds and nine blocks. And this is his second “walk-off” block of the season, as he did the same against Marquette back in November. With Carson (2-for-10 FG, 11 points, 12 rebounds and six assists) and Jermaine Marshall (3-for-11, 12 points) struggling from the field, every point provided by Bachynski and fellow senior Shaquielle McKissic (5-for-7, 15 points) turned out to be needed in the end.

While Oregon (15-8, 3-8) suffered yet another defeat, could Saturday’s comeback be the spark this team so desperately needed? At this stage the Ducks aren’t an NCAA tournament team, with their defensive and interior deficiencies being the reasons why. After seemingly masking those flaws during their 13-0 start, the lack of size and defense is proving to be too much against teams better equipped to exploit those issues. But there are still seven games to be played before the Pac-12 tournament, and the talent is there for the Ducks to be anything but a pushover.

But there’s something to be said for a team’s pride, and Oregon displayed that in the second half as they fought back instead of simply accepting the outcome.

As for Arizona State, the Sun Devils have won five of their last six games and can undoubtedly argue that they’re the third-best team in the Pac-12 (remember, they won at Cal last week). And as a result of this weekend sweep of the Oregon schools, Arizona State has set itself up for a great opportunity next Friday when No. 2 Arizona visits Tempe. A ticket to the NCAA tournament is well within Arizona State’s reach, and for that they can thank Jordan Bachynski.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.

Tyler Ulis injured as No. 1 Kentucky beats South Florida

Tyler Ulis, Ky Howard
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MIAMI (AP) Jamal Murray had 21 points and No. 1 Kentucky scored the final 15 points of the first half on the way to beating South Florida 84-63 in the HoopHall Miami Invitational on Friday.

Skal Labissiere added 17 points for the Wildcats (6-0), who led by as many as 31. Charles Matthews scored 11 points and Isaiah Briscoe finished with seven assists for Kentucky, now a winner of 37 consecutive regular-season games and 39 in a row against unranked opponents.

Chris Perry scored 14 points for USF (1-5), which has lost 18 consecutive games against teams ranked in the Top 25. Jaleel Cousins added 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting, and Jahmal McMurray scored 11 points for the Bulls.

Kentucky played the second half without starting guard Tyler Ulis, who departed with a right elbow injury after getting hurt while fighting for a ball loose on the floor.

Kentucky announced after the game that the injury was a hyperextension of the elbow and that he will be day-to-day.

The Bulls were within 27-21 with 6 minutes left in the first half after McMurray banked in a 3-pointer only a few feet away from where John Calipari was standing, and the look of anguish on the Kentucky coach’s face was clear.

It didn’t last long.

The Wildcats scored on seven of their next nine possessions and the game was over by halftime, Kentucky going into the break with a 42-21 lead.

It was a reunion for plenty of people on both benches. Calipari squared off with his former assistant Orlando Antigua, now in his second year leading USF. Antigua’s staff includes another former Calipari assistant in Rod Strickland, plus former Kentucky basketball staff members Mike Malone and Dominic Lombardi.

So the staffs have plenty of familiarity. On the court, there was plenty of disparity. Kentucky finished with a commanding 23-6 edge in points off turnovers and finished with 16 assists to the Bulls’ six.