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Stellar offense, improved second-half defense leads UCLA past Colorado

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Steve Alford’s UCLA Bruins hosted Colorado on Thursday with the winner taking a step forward in the quest to not only determine the Pac-12’s second-best team but also keep pace with an Arizona squad that has some tough road games remaining on its schedule. And thanks to some excellent offensive execution the Bruins were the ones who took that step, as they beat the Buffaloes 92-74 with sophomore Kyle Anderson leading the way.

Anderson is one of the nation’s most versatile players, with his ability to not only score but also rebound and distribute the basketball being one reason why UCLA has been the Pac-12’s most efficient offensive team in conference play. Against Colorado, Anderson accounted for 22 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds on a night that saw the Bruins shoot 56.5% from the field and 11-for-22 from beyond the arc.

Why did UCLA shoot so well? Partly because they shared the ball. 25 of the Bruins’ 35 made field goals were assisted, with Jordan Adams (17 points, seven rebounds) and Norman Powell (ten points) accounting for four assists apiece and David Wear finishing with three assists to supplement the 11 credited to Anderson.

However the biggest difference against Colorado was UCLA’s improved defense in the second half, and that area (along with the consistency of their front court) will determine just how many games this team can win in the NCAA tournament. After shooting 55.2% in the first half, with Askia Booker and Josh Scott getting whatever they wanted offensively, Colorado made just 37.5% of its shots in the second half.

The quality looks Colorado found in the first half weren’t as plentiful in the second, and the combination of that and UCLA playing even better offensively resulted in an 18-point victory for the Bruins.

What also bodes well for UCLA moving forward is the fact that Bryce Alford, who shot 3-for-14 in the three games prior, snapped out of his slump and scored 14 points on 5-for-8 shooting. Alford and fellow freshman Zach LaVine have been key pieces for UCLA this season due to their ability to provide scoring off the bench. This can help on nights when the front court struggles offensively, although the Wear twins and Tony Parker still need to be factors defensively and on the boards.

So how good can UCLA be? There’s clearly plenty of talent at Steve Alford’s disposal, with his 6-foot-9 floor general leading the way. But for all that talent, UCLA’s fate in March will be determined by their commitment to defense and the consistency of their big men. With David Wear struggling, Travis Wear tallied 13 points and seven rebounds with Parker adding six points and five rebounds.

The offensive skills of UCLA’s perimeter rotation, led by Anderson, will continue to receive the headlines and rightfully so. But it’s the “little things” that result in postseason success, and in the second half of Thursday’s win the Bruins did a better job of addressing those areas.

No. 5 Xavier stumbles at Creighton, lose 70-54

Creighton's Cole Huff (13) and Toby Hegner, left, guard Xavier's Jalen Reynolds (1) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Omaha, Neb., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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Mo Watson went for a career-high 32 points, seven boards and five assists as Creighton jumped out to an early 21-4 lead and never looked back, beating No. 5 Xavier, 70-54, in Omaha on Tuesday night.

 

It was a massive win for the Bluejays, who still have an outside shot at earning an at-large bid this season. (We wrote all about that here.)

As well as Creighton played, the bigger story here may actually be Xavier, who lost for just the third time this season; they had been the only top ten team with just two losses to their name.

The issue for the Musketeers tonight was two-fold, but they both are a symptom of what could be an issue down the road for this team: Xavier doesn’t really have a true point guard.

They certainly didn’t have anyone to stop Watson. By the second half, they had essentially asked Reynolds, who was playing the middle of their 1-3-1 zone to matchup with Watson. It was weird but was actually somewhat effective.

The Musketeers also started out ice cold from the floor, missing 11 of their first 13 shots, and those misses led to leak outs from Bluejays, who got layups and open threes in transition to build that 17 point lead. Once Xavier got behind, it turned into scramble mode for Xavier. They forced shots early in the clock and didn’t start pounding the ball into the paint until it was too late. What they needed was someone to be able to settle things, to ensure that offensive would get initiated and sets would get executed when they were able to get the lead down to single digits.

That 1-for-19 shooting performance from beyond the arc certainly didn’t help matters, and neither did the fact that they got just nine field goals all game from players not named James Farr or Jalen Reynolds. The most frustrating part for head coach Chris Mack? They had good shots. It wasn’t like Creighton took away everything that Xavier wanted to do.

The kids just had one of those nights where nothing went down.

Those happen.

And when you combine them with a total inability to contain the opposing team’s point guard, what you get is a 16 point loss on the road against a team that was desperate to get a good win.

Gill’s 16, ‘D’ lead No. 7 Virginia past Virginia Tech, 67-49

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AP Photo/Andrew Shurtleff
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) Anthony Gill scored 16 points and No. 7 Virginia turned the tables on state rival Virginia Tech with a 67-49 victory Tuesday night, the Cavaliers’ seventh straight.

Isaiah Wilkins added a career-best 14 points and Malcolm Brogdon had 12 for the Cavaliers (20-4, 9-3 Atlantic Coast Conference). Virginia avenged a 70-68 loss to the Hokies in Blacksburg on Jan. 4 in what rates as their worst performance of the season, and extended their winning streak at John Paul Jones Arena to 17 games.

Freshman Justin Robinson scored 16 points and classmate Chris Clarke had 11 in his first action for the Hokies (13-12, 5-7) since breaking his right foot in late December. Virginia Tech’s top two scorers, Zach LeDay (16.0 ppg) and Seth Allen (14.5), were limited to seven and six points, respectively, in part because of foul trouble.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett said his team wasn’t ready to play when it lost to the Hokies earlier, but they have been surging of late and were focused from the outset. They were credited with assists and 14 of their first 15 baskets and forced 10 turnovers in the first half; they forced just eight in the last meeting of the teams.

For most of the game, the Hokies had more turnovers than field goals.

The Cavaliers led 32-20 at halftime and extended their advantage to 47-29 on a three-point play by Mike Tobey with 12:11 remaining. It capped an 11-4 run for Virginia, during which LeDay was whistled for his fourth foul. On Virginia’s next trip down court, it got the ball to Gill inside and LeDay basically backed off and let him score, quickly earning a spot on the bench.

The Cavaliers’ lead never dipped into single digits again.

The Hokies had just eight turnovers and outscored Virginia 26-6 off turnovers in their first meeting. This time, Virginia Tech had 10 turnovers by halftime and the Cavaliers had already turned them into 15 points. Virginia Tech finished with 16 field goals and 15 turnovers.

Already leading 9-6, Virginia got scoring from eight players in a 23-8 run that spanned about 8 1/2 minutes.

Gill started it with a dunk, Brogdon hit a 3-pointer, London Perrantes had a four-point play and Wilkins finished it with two free throws, giving the Cavaliers a 32-14 lead with 2:06 left in the half. They didn’t score again, and the Hokies closed within 32-20 by halftime.

TIP-INS

Virginia Tech: The Hokies shot 57.1 percent (15 of 26) from the field in the second half of their 70-68 victory against Virginia on Jan. 4. … Virginia Tech’s starting five totaled four points in the first half.

Virginia: The Cavaliers have held four consecutive opponents to 50 points or fewer.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech plays at No. 12 Miami next Wednesday.

Virginia plays at Duke on Saturday.

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The AP’s college basketball page: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org