Kentucky v Michigan

Kentucky feels good making the Final Four, but the Wildcats aren’t done yet

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INDIANAPOLIS — As Kentucky knocked off three consecutive opponents from last year’s Final Four en route to the 16th Final Four in program history, the young Wildcats went through different stages of emotions after holding on for three close victories.

After Wichita State, it was relief.

Kentucky might have been the preseason No. 1 team in the country — with aspirations of a 40-0 season — but after beating a team that was still legitimately going for that undefeated mark in the 35-0 Shockers, the Wildcats felt like they finally began to live up to the enormous hype placed on them.

“It feels like five million pounds off your shoulders when the buzzer went off,” sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein said after the Round of 32 win in St. Louis. “It was just a good feeling. Everyone was yelling and super hype and it was just a good win.”

After Louisville, it was exhaustion.

MOREKevin Ollie’s revival of UConn | Michigan State’s trying season ends | Aaron Harrison tho

The Sweet 16 game at Lucas Oil Stadium on Friday night was an emotional roller coaster for both rivals from the Bluegrass State. 35,000-plus screaming blue-and-red fans that ultimately helped the Wildcats knock off the defending national champions with a 74-69 victory.

Kentucky only led for 68 seconds of that win over Louisville and it felt like an old-school 15-round heavyweight fight.

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

After Michigan, it was excitement.

John Calipari’s team had run the gauntlet that was the Midwest Regional and made it out alive, cutting the nets down after Aaron Harrison’s game-winning three-pointer with 2.3 seconds remaining. The shot vaulted the Wildcats into a place nobody thought possible after a bad road loss to South Carolina: Arlington, Texas for the Final Four.

But for all of the excitement over this insanely talented group of players finally coming together, for Aaron Harrison’s clutch shooting in Indianapolis and for Marcus Lee’s surprise performance, Kentucky still has business they want to finish off heading into next weekend in North Texas.

Teams with talk of a 40-0 season don’t play for Final Fours, they play for national championships.

“Every team takes tough losses. Everybody (on our team) believes that we’re going to win. We’re in a war, still, so we have to keep on battling,” sophomore forward Alex Poythress said. “We never doubted ourselves.”

Others certainly had their doubts. As Kentucky struggled at times to mesh and play cohesively during the regular season many became vocal critics of a team filled with “one-and-done” players and McDonald’s All-Americans. But during this four-game run to the Final Four, different players have taken turns stepping up and making plays.

Kentucky has a toughness and cohesiveness about them we haven’t seen all season.

​”I started reading what everybody was writing. I’m thinking, ‘this is going to be easy,'” Calipari said. “​This was very difficult for all of us. It was difficult because my choice coaching them was to allow them the body language, the effort less than it needed to be, the focus less than it needed to be, at times selfishness. And now I became a little mean because we had to get it changed.”

Aaron Harrison might be most remembered for his cold-blooded shooting — “Stone-cold killer right there,” Poythress said. — as he knocked in go-ahead three-pointers against both Louisville and Michigan in the final minute of play to help give Kentucky victories.

“I knew he was clutch, I didn’t know he was that clutch,” freshman center Dakari Johnson said.

Aaron’s twin brother Andrew has also stepped up his play throughout the tournament, playing through an injury that nearly kept him out of the Wichita State game and playing solid overall floor games on both ends of the floor throughout the tournament.

Julius Randle has four consecutive double-doubles to open the 2014 NCAA Tournament. His 24 double-doubles on the season make him second all-time in NCAA history for a freshman season behind only Michael Beasley’s 28.

James Young has been up-and-down at times, but his big shots down-the-stretch helped carry the Wildcats past Wichita State and he also had some momentum-killing three-pointers against Michigan.

And the “other” McDonald’s All-Americans — Dakari Johnson, Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee — stepped up at various times throughout the tournament as well.

Even without Willie Cauley-Stein, who many view as a first-round pick, Kentucky was able to throw talented players on the floor to top Louisville and Michigan.

“It just shows how talented we are. We go eight (or) nine deep if we really need to. With having such great players it’s hard to play eight or nine people a game so sometimes Coach has to shorten his rotation,” Poythress said. “There were probably two or three people that could have stepped in this game that didn’t play (and made a difference). It just shows how talented we are and how we have great players here.”

But the focus continues to be on a title for the Wildcats. Although Kentucky can rest a bit easier knowing their Final Four destiny is fulfilled, they still have their eyes on the ultimate prize.

“I think this might be the sweetest [Final Four] of them all just because everyone was doubting us all year,” senior guard Jarrod Polson said. “We had a lot of low points to the season and no one really gave us a shot to be here. This honestly might be the sweetest one.”

Kentucky might not love playing with each other or ever really get a chance to be as great as they possibly could be, but in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats are talented enough to win the whole thing. And for the first time all season, they’ve come together. And at just the right time.

“This team came together so great, so fast,” Poythress said. “We’re all hanging out with each other and it’s just a family now. But we’re not done yet.”

No. 8 Gonzaga outlasts depleted No. 16 Arizona

ORLANDO, FL - NOVEMBER 27:  Przemek Karnowski #24 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs attempts a shot during the game against the Iowa State Cyclones at HP Field House on November 27, 2016 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
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No. 8 Gonzaga jumped out to a 23-9 lead and held on as No. 16 Arizona rallied down the stretch, beating the Wildcats 69-62 in Los Angeles on Sunday night.

The Bulldogs got 18 points and a pair of blocks from 7-foot-1 center Przemek Karnowski’s whose impact on this game cannot be measured by the box score. Karnowski is an unbelievable passer out of the post, but he’s also a terrific scorer that almost has to be double-teamed. And when that double-team comes, the ball is out of his hands and into the hands of an open teammate.

The big man is also a force on the defensive end of the floor, where his size allows him to take up space in the lane and his length causes all kinds of problems for players trying to finish in the paint.

That’s worth noting because he isn’t anywhere near to being the most-heralded player on that roster. That title probably goes to Nigel Williams-Goss, who was all-Pac 12 at Washington. Or Jordan Mathews, who averaged 13 points the last two seasons at Cal. Johnathan Williams III was a top 50 prospect. Zach Collins was a McDonald’s All-American. Josh Perkins was recruited by Kentucky.

Point being, this is a very good Gonzaga team, one with talent and depth.

And Karnowski is as important as anyone on the roster.

It’s also worth noting here that Arizona put up an impressive fight for a team playing with seven guys right now. Parker Jackson-Cartwright sprained his ankle Wednesday night. Allonzo Trier still isn’t playing. And the Wildcats fought back from 14 points down in the first eight minutes to make this a game down the stretch.

Arizona has a lot of issues right now.

But there’s still talent on this roster and this is still a team of kids that are going to battle every time they take the floor.

SATURDAY’S SNACKS: Big road wins for UCLA, West Virginia

MADISON, WI - DECEMBER 03:  Nigel Hayes #10 of the Wisconsin Badgers is defended by Kristian Doolittle #11 of the Oklahoma Sooners during the first half of a game at the Kohl Center on December 3, 2016 in Madison, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 11 UCLA 97, No. 1 Kentucky 92

This one was a ton of fun to watch as UCLA shook off a sluggish start to run past Kentucky at Rupp Arena. CBT’s Rob Dauster has the story on this one and why it was important for both teams.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

No. 25 West Virginia 66, No. 6 Virginia 57: Bob Huggins’ group has a potential signature victory as West Virginia won a big one on the road. I have more about why this one is particularly important for West Virginia here.

No. 9 Baylor 76, No. 7 Xavier 61: The Bears added to what is the best résumé in college basketball with an impressive win over a very good Xavier team. Manu Lecomte was the star of the show, finishing with 24 points and five assists. We went in depth on this game here.

No. 5 Duke 94, Maine 55: It wasn’t the outcome as much as the fact that Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden returned to the floor.

No. 8 Gonzaga 69, No. 16 Arizona 62: The Bulldogs got 18 points from Przemek Karnowski and 16 points from Josh Perkins as they were able to get past a depleted Arizona team dealing with a myriad of injuries. Credit to Arizona, however. They were down 14 points early and managed to make this a game.

Providence 63, No. 21 Rhode Island 60: That’s back-to-back losses for the Rams, and a really nice win for a young Friars team. Kyron Cartwright led the way with 19 points and eight assists.

STARRED

Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin: After just missing a triple-double in a big win over Syracuse in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge earlier this week, Hayes dominated in a 90-70 win over Oklahoma with 28 points on 10-for-13 shooting. Hayes made both of his three-point attempts and also added six assists and two rebounds. Hayes is playing like an All-American lately.

Josh Hart, Villanova: Speaking of All-American caliber play, the senior guard put up a triple-double in the Wildcats’ 88-57 win over Saint Joseph’s as he finished with 16 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. Hart was 6-for-10 from the field and 3-for-6 from three-point territory as he had a tremendous outing.

Sebastian Saez, Ole Miss: Underrated nationally, the senior forward had his fourth double-double of the year with 20 points and 16 rebounds in a win over Memphis. Saez also added three blocks as he now has 12 or more rebounds in five games this season.

Anthony Livingston, Texas Tech: The Red Raiders needed three free throws from Livingston with under three seconds left for a one-point win over Rice as Livingston finished with 33 points and seven rebounds.

Collin Smith, George Washington: Also knocking in a huge go-ahead bucket was Smith as his three-pointer with three seconds left gave the Colonials a win over USF. Smith ended up with 22 points and eight rebounds.

STRUGGLED

E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island: Matthews finished 3-for-13 from the floor with just nine points as No. 21 Rhode Island lost their second straight game, this time falling to Providence, 63-60, on the road.

JeQuan Lewis, VCU: Lewis had 23 points and 11 assists in a come-from-behind win over Princeton during the week, but he had just three points and one assists – and turned an ankle – in a 64-46 loss to Illinois in Miami on Saturday.

San Diego State: The Aztecs took a 65-59 loss to Loyola (IL) on Saturday, a loss that puts SDSU is an all-too-familiar hole: Bad losses on their résumé that they won’t be able to make up for in league play.

TOP 25

  • No. 2 Kansas shook off a slow start to knock off Stanford in Phog Allen Fieldhouse, 89-74. Reid Travis was terrific for the Cardinal, finishing with 29 points and nine boards.
  • Using a balanced scoring effort, No. 15 Purdue picked up an easy home win over Morehead State. Freshman guard Carsen Edwards knocked down four triples to finish with a team-high 16 points while Caleb Swanigan and P.J. Thompson both finished with 13 points and six assists.
  • Kelan Martin went for 30 points as No. 18 Butler knocked off Central Arkansas, 82-58.
  • Andrew White hit seven threes and finished with 26 points while Franklin Howard chipped in with 13 assists for No. 22 Syracuse as they held on to beat North Florida, 77-71, in the Carrier Dome.
  • Tyler Dorsey scored 29 points as No. 23 Oregon beat Savannah State, 128-59.

NOTABLE

  • Michigan State avoided a loss at home to Oral Roberts despite playing without Miles Bridges. That’s a positive, I guess.
  • Torin Dorn and Terry Henderson combined for 45 points as N.C. State held on to beat Boston U., 77-73.
  • Solid win for Wake Forest on the road at Richmond as John Collins had 16 points, 13 rebounds.

No. 4 Kansas cruises to 89-74 victory over Stanford

LAWRENCE, KS - DECEMBER 03:  Frank Mason III #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks is reacts after making a basket during the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Allen Fieldhouse on December 3, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) Jerrod Haase received a long, loud ovation upon his return to Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday.

The rest of the cheers were for the Jayhawks.

Frank Mason III scored 20 points, Devonte Graham delivered an early 3-point barrage and fourth-ranked Kansas pulled away late for an 89-74 victory over Stanford, spoiling the return of the Cardinal’s coach to the building where he once starred as a player.

“Certainly an emotional day,” Haase said. “My emotions right now are more frustrated we didn’t play at a higher level, but for me personally, it means a lot – the reception.”

The Jayhawks (7-1) hardly greeted him as warmly, using their speed, depth and outside shooting to turn a 43-35 halftime lead into another rout at a building that has seen its share of them.

“We talked about how they packed the lane and how we were going to have to drive, pitch and drive it again,” Graham said. “We just did a good job of moving the ball, attacking bad close-outs and having the confidence to let them fly.”

Graham hit five 3s and finished with 15 points, and Josh Jackson and Svi Mykhailiuk added 13 points apiece, as the Jayhawks won for the 44th consecutive time in their old barn.

Reid Travis had a career-best 29 points and nine rebounds for Stanford (6-3), doing most of his damage at the free throw line. The career 54 percent free throw shooter was 19 of 22, breaking the school record for makes set by Todd Lichti against UC Santa Barbara during the 1987-88 season.

Travis also set records for makes and attempts in a game against Kansas. Rayford Young of Texas Tech hit 18 foul shots in February 1999 and Iowa State’s Craig Brackins attempted 21 in January 2009.

“I felt like my teammates did a great job of establishing me early, getting me in the post,” Travis said. “I knew I had to draw a lot of fouls, get us to the line early and get a rhythm going.”

After falling into an early deficit, Kansas coach Bill Self began going with a bigger lineup to deal with Travis in the paint, and that seemed to open up Graham on the perimeter. He knocked down all five of his 3-pointers in the first half, helping the Jayhawks to a 43-35 lead.

Stanford kept going to Travis inside, and the 6-foot-8 brute kept going to the free throw line. During two separate stretches of the second half, he made four free throws in less than a minute.

“He drew basically 17 fouls on four guys, so that just goes to tell you we didn’t play the scouting report,” Self said. “Our guys just played butt-behind and let him go wherever he wanted to go.”

The Jayhawks showcased their versatility in other areas, though.

Down the stretch, Jackson scored on a nifty dunk off an alley-oop pass, Mason got a tilting runner to go while crashing to the floor, and Mykhailiuk knocked down 3-pointers from the wing that sent the lead ballooning toward 20 late in the game.

BIG PICTURE

Stanford’s first-year coach played three seasons for the Jayhawks under Roy Williams, and later served as their director of basketball operations. Haase then followed Williams to North Carolina, but he was fondly received on Saturday, getting a massive ovation from an appreciative crowd.

“I remember clearly walking into Allen Fieldhouse when I was first recruited,” Haase said, “and I think I’ll remember the feeling at shootaround today, walking into the arena.”

Kansas snapped a two-game skid against the Cardinal that included an NCAA Tournament loss in 2014, when Andrew Wiggins and Co. couldn’t slow down Stanford in St. Louis. The Jayhawks were even able to get their benchwarmers some action for the third straight game.

STATS AND STREAK

Mason led the Jayhawks in scoring for the fifth time in eight games. … Kansas had 20 assists and only nine turnovers. … Travis was just 5 of 14 from the field. … Stanford was 2 of 8 from beyond the arc. … The Cardinal only had seven assists on 21 field goals.

UP NEXT

Stanford gets nearly two weeks off before playing Cal State East Bay on Dec. 16.

Kansas continues its six-game home stand against Missouri-Kansas City on Tuesday night.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25.

PHOTOS: Maine demonstrates against HB2 law in game vs. Duke

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You may not have noticed it if you didn’t know what to look for, but Maine’s basketball team made a point to protest North Carolina’s controversial HB2 law on Saturday evening when they visited No. 5 Duke and Cameron Indoor Stadium.

The Bears got their doors blown off, which is about what was expected to happen once news came down that Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden would be back in the lineup, but the game will nonetheless make – and has made throughout the week – national headlines.

Maine’s statement was simple: To support inclusion and equality in sports by wearing t-shirts with the America East logo in rainbow:

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via Maine Athletics

Earlier this year, both the NCAA tournament and the ACC championship game joined a growing list of events — including, but not limited to, the 2017 NBA All-Star game and a Bruce Springsteen concert — to get pulled from the state due to the discriminatory law. Albany was forced to cancel a game at Duke due to the HB2 legislation, and Maine considered canceling this game as well.

Head coach Bob Walsh opted not to, choosing instead to use the platform that the game gave them to help promote You Can Play, an organization whose goal is to eliminate homophobia and transphobia in sports through social activism. The organization was previously partnered with the America East.

Over the summer, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski condemned the law, calling it “embarrassing“.

POSTERIZED: Dennis Smith Jr. takes flight

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While Lonzo Ball, Markelle Fultz and the Kentucky stars are the freshmen getting all the publicity, Dennis Smith Jr. of N.C. State is quietly sitting as a potential No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft.

Why?

Because’s he’s a point guard that can do things like this: