No. 8 seed Kentucky overcomes adversity to topple No. 4 seed Louisville

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INDIANAPOLIS — With Big Blue Nation and Louisville’s very red and very vocal fan base taking up much of Lucas Oil Stadium’s capacity crowd on Friday, both Commonwealth State teams received louder eruptions taking the floor for warm-ups than the entire exciting finale of the previous Michigan and Tennessee game.

The matchup of the last two national champions — that double as hated rivals — was a unique and memorable experience as No. 8 seed Kentucky won a heated back-and-forth contest with a 74-69 victory over No. 4 seed Louisville in a Midwest Regional Sweet 16 thriller.

Aaron Harrison’s go-ahead three-pointer with 38 seconds remaining gave Kentucky a 70-68 lead as it was the Wildcats’ first lead of the game since holding a 2-0 advantage the first minute of the game. Louisville junior wing Wayne Blackshear was fouled by Kentucky freshman forward Julius Randle with 14.2 seconds left and split the pair of free throws to cut it to 70-69.

Randle was fouled on the ensuing possession for Kentucky with 13 seconds left and made both free throws to give Kentucky a 72-69 advantage. Louisville senior guard Russ Smith missed the tying three-point attempt with five seconds left as Aaron Harrison rebounded the ball and sealed the game with two free throws.

Kentucky trailed for nearly the entire second half, but prevailed despite missing sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein for much of the game after the center sprained his ankle. Freshman wing James Young also fouled out with 5:32 remaining in the game and the Wildcats had to get contributions from its bench in order to get past the defending champion Cardinals.

Before the season, Kentucky was touted by some as having the best collection of talent that college basketball had ever seen. The Wildcats and their seven McDonald’s All-Americans stepped up that hype on Friday as Kentucky is one game away from playing in the Final Four.

Randle stepped up with his third straight double-double of the NCAA Tournament, scoring 15 points and grabbing 12 rebounds and becoming only the third player in NCAA history to have three straight double-doubles in the tournament in his freshman year.

Playing for the injured Cauley-Stein, freshman center Dakari Johnson had 15 points and six rebounds and gave Kentucky a huge life on the interior.

Andrew Harrison played a tremendous overall floor game with 14 points, seven assists and five rebounds while his twin brother Aaron hit the clutch shot and also had 15 points.

In a game where Kentucky needed its young and talented team to overcome adversity, the Wildcats passed another big test with flying colors. Suddenly, Kentucky is incredibly dangerous heading into Sunday’s Elite 8 contest against Michigan.

Russ Smith led Louisville with 23 points on the night while senior Luke Hancock added 19 points. Sophomore forward Montrezl Harrell fouled out with 15 points an eight rebounds.

Kentucky defeated Louisville, 73-66, in the matchup of the two teams earlier in the season on December 28th in Lexington.

No. 8 seed Kentucky moves on to face No. 2 seed Michigan in the Elite 8 at 5:05 p.m. on Sunday night for the right to represent the Midwest Regional in the Final Four.

Washington’s Thybulle returning for senior season

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Matisse Thybulle will return to Washington for his senior season after contemplating declaring for the NBA draft following a junior campaign in which he was named the Pac-12 defensive player of the year.

“The NBA is really enticing and it was definitely something that I seriously considered when the season was over,” Thybulle told the Seattle Times. “I talked it over with my family and we came to the conclusion that it would be in my best interest to stay and get my degree (in communications) and grow as a basketball player and take this last year to mature and fine tune everything so I can be fully prepared to take that next step when it’s time.”

The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 11.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 3.0 steals per game last season. He shot 44.5 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from 3-point range.

“I talked to coach (Mike Hopkins) and he gave me some good advice that was honestly something that helped in the grand scheme of things,” Thybulle said. “He told me that if I do it (enter the draft), then I should be all in because that’s what I’m going to be up against is a whole bunch of guys fighting for their lives. He thought it would be a better idea for me to stay in school until I’m at that point.”

Washington is awaiting the decision of Noah Dickerson, who declared for the draft but has not hired an agent. The 6-foot-8 averaged 15.5 points and 8.4 rebounds last season.

Koby McEwen transferring to Marquette

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Steve Wojciechowski added a significant piece to his 2019-20 team over the weekend.

Koby McEwen announced his intention to transfer to Marquette from Utah State late Sunday evening.

“I would like to thank God, my family, inner circle and all the schools/coaches that recruited me during this process!” McEwen tweeted. “With that being said, I’m proud to announce that I’ll be furthering my college career at Marquette University.”

McEwen picked the Golden Eagles over fellow finalists Creighton and Grand Canyon after he decided to transfer when the Aggies announced South Dakota coach Craig Smith was taking over the program last month. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged 15.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game while shooting 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3-point range as a sophomore.

After sitting out the upcoming season, McEwen will have to years of eligibility remaining. Marquette went 21-14 last season, but missed the NCAA tournament for the third time in Wojciechowski’s four years in Milwaukee.

Minnesota adds Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis

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Minnesota has added some depth for the future.

The Golden Gophers received a pledge from Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis over the weekend, giving him a guard with two seasons of eligibility remaining starting in 2019-20.

Willis will sit out the upcoming season under NCAA transfer rules.

The 6-foot-4 guard played a limited role in two seasons in Nashville, never averaging more than 18. 5 minutes or 5.2 points per game. He scored in double figures in three games as a sophomore.

Willis was a top-150 prospect in the Class of 2016 coming out of Fayetteville, Ark. with offers from the likes of Tulsa, Rice and Dayton. Vandy and Minnesota were his two high-major offers.

After being ranked in the top-15, Minnesota was beset by injury and suspensions last season as they limped to the finish line in a 15-17 season that featured losses in 12 of its last 13 games.

Richard Pitino still has two available scholarships for the 2018-19 campaign.

Report: Quade Green returning to Kentucky

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John Calipari just landed a critical recruit for 2018-19, and he was already on the roster.

Quade Green, who averaged 25 minutes per game last season, is returning to Kentucky for his sophomore season, his mother told the Lexington Herald-Leader on Monday.

Given that six Wildcat players have entered the draft (Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hami Diallo are signing with agents), getting the 6-foot point guard back for a second season is a massive deal for Calipari and Co. The Wildcats have always been at their best under Calipari with returning players as the cornerstones of the roster with talented one-and-dones providing the extra boost. Getting one such returner at the point guard position is even more critical.

Green, who came to Kentucky as a five-star recruit last year, averaged 9.3 points and 2.7 assists per game while shooting 45.1 percent from the field and a respectable 37.1 percent from 3-point range, an area where Kentucky continually needs help.

With Green back in the fold, Kentucky will now await the decisions of PJ Washington, Wenyen Gabriel and Jarred Vanderbilt, who are all going through the pre-draft process without hiring agents, which will potentially allow them to return to school and bolster a Kentucky roster has the look of a top-five team.

CBT Podcast: NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline: Winners, losers and who has the most on the line?

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The NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline came and went on Sunday night, meaning there are now roughly 60 college players that have signed with an agent and another 100 or so that have declared for the draft while retaining their college eligibility. Who were the winners? Who were the losers? Who has the most on the line? Sam Vecenie of the Game Theory podcast joined Rob Dauster to talk through all of it. The rundown:

OPEN: What do NBA teams value in players these days?

10:00: Villanova has more on the line during this testing the water process than anyone

19:00: Just how important was De’Andre Hunter’s decision to return to Virginia

25:25: Gonzaga getting Rui and Killian Tillie back makes them a title favorite

32:10: Nevada has a top ten season on the line with the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline

36:15: #RANTALERT – The decision to turn pro is so much more complicated than “is he a first round pick”

48:30: Rapid fire: Maryland, Kansas, Syracuse, Nebraska, Purdue and Michigan. What do they have on the line?