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In the end, the injury to Georges Niang was the death of Iowa State’s tournament run

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NEW YORK — No. 7 UConn didn’t have an answer for Dustin Hogue.

He was 15-for-19 from the floor, finishing with a career-high 34 points while spending the majority of the first 30 minutes being the sole reason that No. 3 Iowa State remained within striking distance of the Huskies. The Huskies made the decision to use whoever was guarding Hogue as a help defender, and Hogue made them pay. Rim cuts, offensive rebounds, he was even rewarded with a number of isolations in the second half.

The problem was that he didn’t get help until UConn was up 49-32 midway through the second half, and while Melvin Ejim finally hit some jumpers late and DeAndre Kane finally looked like more than a senior that was trying to do just a little bit too much in the second half, the Cyclones till lost, 81-76.

“UConn had a very good game plan I thought defensively,” Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg said after the game. “They got us standing around a little bit.”

MORE: A DeAndre took over Friday in the Garden, just not the one we thought

In the first half, it was obvious how much the Cyclones missed Georges Niang. Kane spent the first 20 minutes trying — but not succeeding — to go into takeover mode. He was just 2-for-7 from the floor in the first 20 minutes while Melvin Ejim hit just 1-for-11 from the field before hitting a pair of jumpers in the final 30 seconds. The length of Amida Brimah was just too much for the Cyclones inside, and while he was only credited with one block, he changed six or seven shots around the rim, shots that the Cyclones normally.

“They did a good job in packing in the paint,” Hogue said. “We really didn’t move the ball too much and we got real stagnant in our iso.”

The other thing that UConn did was take the air out of the ball offensively. They didn’t allow the Cyclones to get out and run, and they did it the easiest way possible: they made shots. It’s possible to turn a made shot into a fast break, but it’s not an easy thing to do, and as a result Iowa State was forced to try and attack UConn’s set defense. There’s a reason the Huskies were in KenPom’s top ten in adjusted defensive efficiency this past season.

What Niang provided the Cyclones was a matchup nightmare. There aren’t many power forwards in the country with Niang’s offensive repertoire: he can score with his back to the basket, he can score facing-up from 15 feet and he has enough handle to bring the ball up the floor and get the Cyclones into their sets.

But more importantly, he would have forced Kevin Ollie into a nearly impossible personnel decision.

With Niang on the floor, the Cyclones would have had three forwards that stood at least 6-foot-7 with the ability to play on the perimeter, meaning that not only would one of UConn’s bigger guards — Niels Giffey or Lasan Kromah — would have had been forced to guard Hogue or Niang instead of Kane.

The difference that would have had was evident down the stretch. When Kane got hot, when he started scoring late, it was when the Huskies went to a three-guard lineup and Shabazz Napier was forced to guard him.

Injuries are a part of sports, and every athletes and coach will freely admit that.

But it’s a shame when, five months into a season, loses a player that is so integral to what they do.

“To lose a guy like Georges niang and still go out and beat a North Carolina and have an opportunity, after being down 17 [to UConn], tell you everything you need to know about this group of guys,” Hoiberg said.

“I’ve been a fan of Iowa State basketball since I was a little kid, and seeing this program taken to new heights because of guys like [this]. … Couldn’t be more proud of this group.”

VIDEO: Kris Dunn wills Providence to win over No. 11 Arizona

Kris Dunn, Elliott Pitts
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Kris Dunn spent the first 35 minutes of Friday night’s game against No. 11 Arizona in foul trouble, splitting his time between sitting on the bench and trying to avoid finding himself, again, on the wrong side the whistle.

With 11 minutes left in the game, and with Dunn yet to find a rhythm, the all-american point guard was whistled for his fourth foul as he battled for a rebound with Arizona’s Mark Tollefsen. Head coach Ed Cooley say his superstar beside his for six game minutes, time enough for Arizona to turn a 49-47 deficit into a 58-54 lead.

There were just over five minutes left when Dunn reentered the second semifinal of the Wooden Legacy, and he proceeded to show everyone in the country why he was named the NBCSports.com Preseason Player of the Year. Providence had nine possessions after he reentered the game. Dunn scored 11 points and had a pair of assists on those eight possessions, and if Ben Bentil had stuck a wide-open three — that was setup by Dunn — the Friars would have scored on all nine.

In total, Dunn was responsible for all 15 Friar points in a game-changing, 15-7 run in the final 4:30. It was capped off by this Kobe-in-his-prime-esque game-winner:

The win for Providence is huge for a couple of reasons:

  • Dunn showed a killer instinct against a marquee opponent, something that we didn’t necessarily see out of him a season ago. He wasn’t going to let his team lose, and given that Providence doesn’t have anyone else that can consistently create good shots, they are going to need that from him a lot this year.
  • It makes a statement for the Friars. Arizona is overrated at No. 11 in the country, yes, but going out on national television against an elite program and getting this kind of performance from Dunn is a confidence-booster and a tone-setter. Providence hasn’t been accustomed to winning in recent years. This is a way to set a trend.
  • Ben Bentil continues to play like a star. Dunn had 19 points and eight assists on Friday, but Bentil followed up a 24-point performance in the win over Evansville with 21 critical points on Friday.

This win sets up a matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence on Sunday night, which means that Denzel Valentine and Kris Dunn — the two best players in the country, sorry Ben Simmons — will be going head-to-head.

Oh. Hell. Yes.

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

Jaylen Brown
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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.