Kentucky continues to fight with its Sweet 16 win over Louisville

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INDIANAPOLIS — The intense rivalry game between No. 8 seed Kentucky and No. 4 seed Louisville came down to the final minute in Friday’s Sweet 16 thriller at Lucas Oil Stadium.

But despite never leading since a 2-0 advantage in the first minute of the game, Kentucky was able to use a go-ahead three-pointer from Aaron Harrison with 38 seconds remaining to take a 70-68 lead that they wouldn’t relinquish in holding out for a 74-69 win.

In a season full of finger-pointing and failing to overcome adversity, John Calipari’s Wildcats once again showed that they’re starting to put things together as Kentucky enters Sunday’s Elite 8 contest with No. 2 seed Michigan.

Despite missing sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein to a sprained ankle and freshman wing James Young fouling out with 5:32 remaining, Kentucky continued to fight despite trailing their rival and the defending champion Cardinals for nearly the entire game.

Freshmen like center Dakari Johnson and guard Dominique Hawkins played key minutes down the stretch for Kentucky as Andrew Harrison continued to be the Wildcats’ vocal leader in the game’s final minutes. Aaron Harrison hit the go-ahead basket and Julius Randle recorded his third consecutive double-double to open the NCAA Tournament — only the third time a freshman has ever done that.

Kentucky stayed unified despite losing two key players in the biggest game of the Wildcats’ lives and now they are one game away from playing in the Final Four.

“(Andrew) told us we were going to fight and win, that’s his two biggest words that I kept remembering coming out of his mouth,” Hawkins said. “In the huddles and on the court. We were going to fight and win and find a way to win.”

Indeed Kentucky — who lost 10 regular season games including losses to Arkansas and South Carolina — outfought the defending national champions in the Sweet 16. The Wildcats have outfought previously-unbeaten Wichita State and defending champion Louisville in back-to-back games. A team composed mainly of freshmen and sophomores came together and beat two of last year’s Final Four teams in the last week. Kentucky is finally realizing its scary upside at precisely the right moment.

​”We just kind of had to put the past behind us and leave it where it was. It’s a new season, the postseason,” Randle said. “That’s really all we can worry about, survive and advance, and we’ve gotta take one game at a time. We carry momentum from the SEC Tournament and brought it to the NCAA Tournament. We’re just taking it a game at a time.”

The dejected Cardinals locker room was filled with tears and frustration in what amounted to getting out-played by their rival in the game’s defining moments. Kentucky had 18 second-chance points against Louisville and won despite shooting 28 percent from the three-point line (4-for-14). The Wildcats trailed by seven points with 4:11 left.

It wasn’t pretty, but Kentucky clawed its way back by cleaning up misses and hitting the glass as hard as possible. Kentucky needed maximum effort from all five players on the floor to get past Louisville.

“They wanted it more than us. Obviously you can see that on the backboards,” Louisville junior Wayne Blackshear said. “That was the key thing for us and we didn’t come away with it.”

Although sophomore forward Alex Poythress only scored six points and grabbed four rebounds in 14 minutes of play, he was a key reason why Kentucky won on Friday. Poythress’ three-point play tied the game at 66 with 2:13 remaining and the sophomore was finally making winning plays after struggling the entire game.

After getting yelled at on the bench for much of the game, Poythress woke up and along with him, Kentucky.

“To see what he went through the whole game — he was struggling the whole game — in the final five minutes just the plays he made, the rebound and the and-one putback and the free throws, that just shows what kind of kid he is. Those plays are the reason we won the game,” Kentucky senior guard Jarrod Polson said.

“​I will say this because he’s not up here, Alex Poythress won the game for us,” Calipari said. “We were begging him the whole game to start playing, and he played at the right time. It was unbelievable how he finished. That’s who he needs to be for us as we finish the year out.”

With the Harrison twins and Julius Randle continuing their consistent start in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, Kentucky has used other players at different times to complement their three key freshmen.

Young stepped up and made big plays down the stretch against Wichita State last weekend and on Friday, Johnson, Hawkins and Poythress continued to make unsung contributions that helped lead Kentucky to a win.

The Wildcats appear ready to fight anyone in their path and right now they’re a dangerous team since they’re playing together.

Michigan will be the third consecutive Final Four opponent from last season that Kentucky will face in the 2014 NCAA Tournament as they attempt to make their own trip to the third weekend with a win on Sunday.

Can the Wildcats make it 3-for-3? With they way they’re fighting, it certainly seems possible.

“(I) told them before the game, you’ll get punched in the mouth and you’re going to taste blood. You’re going to fight or brace yourself for the next shot. They fought. They never stopped playing,” Calipari said.

Diallo withdrawing from draft, returning to Kentucky

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It took plenty of time for the news to make its way public, but it was a wait that proved welcome for Kentucky fans.

Wildcat freshman Hamidou Diallo will withdraw his name from the NBA Draft and return to Kentucky, the school announced

Diallo’s situation was one of the more interesting in college basketball as he became an incredibly intriguing pro prospect despite being on a college roster and never playing a minute.

The five-star recruit enrolled at Kentucky in January after attending a semester of prep school with the plan to redshirt the season and then play for the Wildcats in 2017-18. There were rumblings and rumors about Diallo potentially playing for John Calipari’s group last year, but ultimately they stuck to the plan to keep him on the bench and preserve his eligibility. Throughout it all, there was always the specter that Diallo could just decide to go the professional route anyway.

That possibility moved fully into the forefront earlier this month when Diallo showed off a 44.5-inch vertical leap at the NBA Draft combine in Chicago. The 6-foot-5 guard also recorded a wingspan that nearly measured 7-feet. With those types of physical traits, he makes for an awfully interesting professional prospect, regardless of refinement or experience.

Given Diallo’s lack of high-level experience, though, there was no guarantee he’d be a first-round selection as teams would be wary of drafting solely on potential, rather than the mostly they typically do.

“I hope to play in the NBA one day — just not this season,” Diallo said in a statement. “Based on the information I received by testing the waters, I believe it’s in my best interests to return to school. Although I was a part of the team last season and trained with my teammates, I never fulfilled another one of my dreams, which was to play for a major college program and win a national title.

“I am excited about returning to Kentucky for the 2017-18 season. I can’t wait to play in a Kentucky jersey for the first time.”

Going back to Lexington to play college basketball gives Diallo a chance to showcase his skills against competition the NBA will be able to evaluate him against. It also makes Kentucky – surprise, surprise – extremely formidable this season as they, once again, restock the roster with potential lottery- and first-round picks. With Diallo officially in the fold, Kentucky is a no-doubt top-five team that will be among the favorites to cut down the nets in April 2018.

“I’m really proud of Hami,” Calipari said in a statement. “He took in all the information, asked a lot of questions, including questions to the NBA teams. I love the fact that he wants to put himself in a better position and help lead this new team to a championship.
“I can’t wait to get him on the court and have all of you fans see what I know.  He’s a special player and a special person.”

LaVar Ball selling “Stay In Yo Lane” shirts

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Create controversy. Profit from controversy.

It’s not an especially new or original strategy, but it’s one that LaVar Ball continues to try to exploit.

The infamous basketball dad is at it again, looking to capitalize on the uproar/kerfuffle/news cycle/debate/ickiness he created when he belittled FS1’s Kristine Leahy, telling her to “stay in your lane” on multiple occasions when claiming the Big Baller Brand didn’t need to market to women.

Well, they are now, with a nod to Ball’s proclamation, selling “STAY IN YO LANE” tees, for both men and women.

Marketing misogyny. Isn’t that nice.

It’s clear that LaVar Ball isn’t going to shy away from the public spotlight anytime soon, especially with eldest son Lonzo looking destined for the Lakers and middle son LiAngelo set to join UCLA, and he’s going to do his best to use that light to push the BBB franchise that scared away the world’s biggest apparel companies.

This plan has no mystery, subtlety or taste. Which might as well be the Big Baller Brand slogan.

Mykhailiuk returning to Kansas for senior season

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Kansas’ attempt for a 14th consecutive Big 12 title, and run for Bill Self’s second national title, got a shot in the arm Wednesday.

Svi Mykhailiuk announced that he will return to Lawrence for his final season of eligibility. “Senior year going to be fun,” he wrote on his Instagram page.

Senior year gonna be fun😈👌🏼🤘🏼 #KUCMB

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The Jayhawks were already going to be loaded this season with Devonte Graham, a potential All-American, returning for his senior season and Udoka Azubuike healthy after missing last year due to injury along with Malik Newman becoming eligible after a transfer from Mississippi State and recruits Billy Preston and Marcus Garrett bolstering the ranks. The return of Mykhailiuk, though, only solidifies Kansas’ place not only atop the Big 12, but in the country.

Mykhailiuk, a 6-foot-8 forward, had something of a breakthrough season as a junior, posting career highs nearly across the board, including shooting 39.8 percent on nearly five 3-point shot attempts per game. With his size and shooting ability, Mykhailiuk was sure to garner professional interest, even though it would have been more likely than not he would been drafted in the second round of next month’s draft.

Mykhailiuk’s situation is certainly a unique one for college basketball as the Ukraine native enrolled at Kansas in 2014 just after his 17th birthday. He won’t turn 20 until next month, making him the same age as many sophomores and more likely to be viewed by NBA teams in the future as having upside, rather than a typical 22- or 23-year-old senior who scouts look at as having come close to reaching their ceiling.

Mykhailiuk wasn’t going to be the linchpin of Kansas’ success next season, but his decision to return shouldn’t be underestimated. His size, experience, skill and versatility provide the Jayhawks with a real weapon that will help alleviate pressure and expectations from other players up and down the roster. He’s very much a difference-maker for a team that will be contending for a spot in the Final Four.

Caleb Swanigan to stay in NBA draft

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Caleb Swanigan is leaving Purdue and staying in the NBA draft.

The Boilermaker big man held as much sway on the college basketball landscape with his decision as nearly any player who declared for the draft without an agent. After a season in which he became a double-double machine and averaged 18.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game, Swanigan would have been one of – if not the – favorites for National Player of the Year while also making Purdue right at the top of the Big Ten with Michigan State.

Instead, he’ll end his collegiate career after a pair of seasons and one Sweet 16 appearance in West Lafayette. As a professional prospect, Swanigan is an interesting case. He was as productive of player as college basketball has seen in recent years as a sophomore, putting up 20-20 games with ridiculous consistency. He’s got some range, but limited quickness and athleticism. The question will be how his game – and frame – will translate into the new NBA that prioritizes versatility, shooting and athleticism. Right now, not many have him pegged as a sure-fire first-round pick.

The loss for Purdue is hard to overstate given just how good “Biggie” was. There’s just no replacing that type of production in the lineup. Still, Matt Painter and the Boilermakers still have an intriguing group, with Isaac Haas and Vince Edwards both electing to return to school after dipping their toes in the NBA waters. There’s some other intriguing young pieces there that will keep Purdue interesting in the Big Ten race.

Florida State picks up late commit from McDonald’s All-American

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The losses sustained by Florida State have been numerous and significant. Three players declared early for the NBA Draft. Another two contributors were lost to graduation. All in all, the Seminoles haven’t had the greatest of springs.

Wednesday, though, they got some good news.

McDonald’s All-American wing M.J. Walker committed Leonard Hamilton’s program to give Florida State a late, and important, addition to its 2017 recruiting class, beating the likes of Ohio State, Georgia Tech and UCLA.

Walker, a 6-foot-5 guard, gives the Seminoles yet another five-star prospect after landing Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac in the last two recruiting classes. Walker will help Hamilton and Co. reboot after both Bacon and Isaac, along with Xavier Rathan-Mayes, all left school to pursue professional careers after the Seminoles’ 26-9 season that saw them advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Walker becomes the sixth member of Hamilton’s 2017 recruiting class that was previously headlined by four-star 7-footer Ikechukwu Obiagu. That group will be tasked to retool a team losing not only major NBA-level talent, but also major production. The Seminoles won’t return a single player who averaged double-digit points per-game last year and just one who played at least 20 minutes per night.