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For the first time all season, Kentucky lived up to their potential. Can it last?

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ST. LOUIS — Kentucky has been under a national microscope for John Calipari’s entire five-year tenure as head coach of the Wildcats, but this season’s team might have been the most critiqued group of them all.

With seven McDonald’s All-Americans — six of them freshmen — many college basketball analysts considered the 2013-14 version of Kentucky to be the greatest collection of talent the college game had ever seen. The Wildcats had pros backing up pros and the preseason No. 1 team in the country carried so much hype that some people insanely wondered if they could go 40-0.

Growing pains and a number of tough matchups gave Kentucky a 24-10 regular season record, though, as it quickly became apparent that so many ball-dominant players with dominant personalities was having a tough time gelling and playing together.

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There were the eye rolls and bad body language and the camera shots of Calipari yelling at players that were staring into the distance. Many wondered if this team would ever live up to its vast potential.

None of that matters for now, however, as the Wildcats knocked off undefeated No. 1 seed Wichita State on Sunday to advance to the Sweet 16 to face Louisville. Kentucky played its best game of the season and there’s a sense of relief among some of the players as they head into next weekend’s Midwest Regional matchup with the rival and defending champion Cardinals.

“It feels like five million pounds off your shoulders when the buzzer went off,” sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein said. “It was just a good feeling. Everyone was yelling and super hype and it was just a good win.”

Freshmen have been the talk of college basketball this season, but as elite freshman like Duke’s Jabari Parker and Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins had disappointing early-tournament exits, Kentucky saw its own hyped freshmen take turns carrying the game against Wichita State.

Twin brothers Andrew and Aaron Harrison took turns hitting shots early in the game and forward Julius Randle played his most complete all-around game of the season, as he finished with 13 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Down the stretch, wing James Young hit two critical shots and grabbed a big defensive rebound in traffic. Dakari Johnson made a key offensive rebound off of a missed free throw that kept an important second-half possession alive that Calipari cited as, “the most important play of the game.”

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When Kentucky needed plays, its freshmen took turns making them and after the win over Wichita State they shared a lot of laughs during the postgame press conference. The eye rolls and dropping heads seemed like a thing of the past.

“I know I have great teammates and they have my back out there,” Randle said. “(Our) coaches always say, ‘don’t worry about winning or losing, just go out there and play.'”

Kentucky finally played up to their tremendous capabilities on Sunday and they have the look of a team that could contend for the title. The abundance of talent was always present for the Wildcats, but they’ve come together and gotten through a lot of adversity and they’re finally defending and sharing the ball as a team.

“Early in the season, when we’d get down, we’d get down on ourselves and hang our heads. I don’t think anyone sees that anymore,” senior guard Jarrod Polson said. “We’re just focused. Whether the game is going good or going bad we just stay together and that’s the biggest thing.”

Polson has an interesting perspective. As the elder statesman on Kentucky this year, he’s played with plenty of talented teams that have come through Lexington with high expectations to perform in March. The senior sees this team as coming together at the right time.

“Pretty much every team besides last year, we’ve really come together and it’s been at different times (of the season),” Polson said. “This year, it might have been the latest we’ve ever come together but I think that we really have, especially on the defensive end. We really have each other’s backs and we’re just fighting together and it’s great to see.”

Kentucky might have been criticized by any basketball fan with a pulse at some point during the season, but Calipari has remained patient with this group and it might finally be paying off.

“This team and what people said about this team, all we have done all year is continue to get better,” Calipari said. “We hit some shots, we missed some. Like every team, you hit a hole (where) you don’t play well. But they believed in themselves.”

Kentucky might have aspirations for bigger and better things than a Round of 32 victory over the Shockers, but now its young team can at least sleep a little bit better tonight as they prepare for the rest of the NCAA Tournament.

Earlier this season, Kentucky was seeing red, but now the only red they’ll see this week is the Friday night clash against Louisville in Indianapolis. Kentucky has the potential to still win a title as long as they continue to play together and on Sunday they showed they’re a major threat in the Midwest Regional next weekend.

SUNDAY’S SNACKS: No. 7 Oklahoma, No. 23 Xavier roll

Ryan Spangler
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This will be updated throughout the evening.


No. 7 Oklahoma 65, Wisconsin 48: One team returned most of its rotation from a season ago and has its roles (for the most part) defined, while the other is still figuring out how its pieces fit together. That was one of the big differences between the Sooners and Badgers in Norman, as Oklahoma got out to a quick start and won comfortably. Ryan Spangler led four Sooners in double figures with 20 points while also grabbing 14 rebounds. Nigel Hayes scored 20 for Wisconsin but did so on 5-for-17 shooting, and as a team the Badgers shot 23.5 percent.

No. 23 Xavier 90, Dayton 61: The rivals’ first meeting since 2013 lacked drama in the second half, as the Musketeers went on a 21-0 run and led by as many as 29 points. Edmond Sumner led the balanced attack with 14 points, with eight Musketeers scoring eight points or more. More can be read about this game here.

Monmouth 83, USC 73: The Hawks avenged their first loss of the season, beating the Trojans in the third place game at the AdvoCare Invitational. Justin Robinson scored 26 points, setting a record for points in the event (passing Michael Beasley), and Monmouth now has three wins over power conference teams (UCLA, Notre Dame and USC). Given their talent and résumé to this point, Monmouth will be a team to keep an eye on as the season progresses.


Ryan Spangler, Oklahoma: 20 points and 14 rebounds in the Sooners’ 65-48 home win over Wisconsin.

Egidijus Mockevicius, Evansville: Mockevicius scored 21 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in the Purple Aces’ 75-56 win over UC Irvine.

Miles Wright, Dartmouth: Wright scored 39 points (13-for-22 FG) and grabbed six rebounds in Dartmouth’s 79-56 win over LIU Brooklyn.


Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin: Everyone struggled for the Badgers including Koenig, who shot 3-for-18 from the field in their loss at No. 7 Oklahoma.

Anthony Drmic, Boise State: In the Broncos’ loss to No. 11 Arizona, Drmic scored eight points but shot 1-for-12 from the field and committed six turnovers.


  • Grayson Allen scored 22 points and Luke Kennard added 22 off the bench as No. 6 Duke handed Utah State its first loss, 82-52.
  • No. 20 Wichita State completed its trip to the AdvoCare Invitational with an 84-61 loss to Iowa. The Shockers are shorthanded with Fred VanVleet, Landry Shamet and Anton Grady all sitting out, but the losses make upcoming opportunities for quality wins even more important.
  • Keith Frazier scored 23 points and freshman Jarrey Foster tallied 15 off the bench as No. 25 SMU took care of Brown, 77-69.
  • No. 11 Arizona beat Boise State for the second time in ten days, winning third place at the DirecTV Wooden Legacy by the final score of 68-59. Kadeem Allen and Allonzo Trier scored 13 points apiece, with Allen also grabbing seven rebounds.


  • Haanif Cheatham scored 24 points and Duane Wilson added 16 as Marquette beat Jackson State 80-61 in Milwaukee.
  • Four McGlynn scored a career-high 27 points in Rhode Island’s 82-57 win over Rider. He and freshman Christion Thompson, key players with E.C. Matthews out for the season, combined to shoot 9-for-15 from three.
  • Yale played without star forward Justin Sears due to illness and Albany took advantage, blowing out the Bulldogs 88-54. Evan Singletary scored 21 for the winners.
  • Josh Scott led the way with 18 points, eight rebounds and five blocks as Colorado moved to 5-1 on the season with an 82-52 win over Northern Colorado.
  • An Eric Jacobson basket with two seconds remaining gave Arizona State a 70-68 win over UCSB. Jacobson finished with ten points and eight rebounds, and UCSB’s Michael Bryson led all scorers with 23 points to go along with five rebounds and six assists.
  • Justin Edwards finished with 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists as Kansas State hung on for a two-point win over South Carolina State.

No. 23 Xavier makes statement, blows out Dayton

Chris Mack
Associated Press
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With in-state rivals No. 23 Xavier and Dayton meeting for the first time since 2013, there was a lot of anticipation for Sunday’s AdvoCare Invitational title game in Orlando. But after 20 competitive minutes the Musketeers removed any doubt, blowing out the Flyers by a final score of 90-61.

The depth, talent, experience and toughness of Chris Mack’s team was on display throughout the event, most especially Sunday evening. Eight players scored at least eight points against Dayton, and as they had throughout the tournament Xavier dominated on the boards. The Musketeers grabbed 37.1 percent of its offensive rebound opportunities and limited Dayton to just four offensive rebounds, turning that into a 17-2 edge in second chance points.

Add in 27 Xavier points off of 22 Dayton turnovers, and it was clear who dictated the terms of engagement in this much-anticipated meeting.

The offensive rebounding and turnovers issues took their toll on the Flyers, who managed to keep the game close until late in the first half. But Xavier was able to stretch out the margin to eight by the intermission, and a 21-0 run pushed the margin out to 29 with just over 12 minutes remaining in the game. Dayton’s gotten off to a good start, despite not having the suspended Dyshawn Pierre, and they’re going to win a lot of games this season.

But there was a clear difference between these two teams Sunday night, with the deep Musketeers looking like one that can not only build on last season’s Sweet 16 run but exceed it.

On the season six players are averaging at least 9.7 points per game, which makes it hard for the opposition to focus its defensive efforts on one or two players. Jalen Reynolds and James Farr can take control of games in the paint. Trevon Bluiett has the ability to score from just about anywhere on the floor, and this team doesn’t lack for perimeter shooters either. Add in a redshirt freshman point guard in Edmond Sumner who’s hit the ground running in filling the role left vacant by the graduation of Dee Davis, and this is a team capable of being a factor nationally.

Xavier’s reached the Sweet 16 in five of the last eight seasons, so success is to be expected from this program. And if their start to this season is any indication, this group of Musketeers is more than capable of not only challenging Villanova atop the Big East but adding to that recent run of success.