Slow start, rebounding prove costly in Kentucky’s title game loss

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Throughout the season the Kentucky Wildcats have been one of the nation’s best when it comes to hitting the offensive glass. Rebounding nearly 42% of their missed shots on the season, John Calipari’s team ranked second in the country in offensive rebounding percentage. And with their superior size advantage entering Monday’s title game against UConn, the expectation of some was that Kentucky would be able to hurt the Huskies on the glass.

However that didn’t turn out to be the case and while the Wildcats’ free throw shooting (13-for-24) and the struggles of Aaron and Andrew Harrison didn’t help matters, their incredibly slow start and the fact that Kentucky couldn’t get those second-chance points were the real issues.

UConn led the game by as much as nine in the first ten minutes, and an 11-2 run would expand that lead to 15 with 5:59 remaining in the half. The guards struggled to get anything going with their ball screen action, and defensively the Wildcats had trouble containing UConn off the dribble. And that hole, which came as a result of the Huskies being the aggressors, proved to be too deep for Kentucky to climb out of.

MORE: UConn wins fourth national title | Harrison twins struggle

“Well you could say that, but the way we started the game probably cost us the game,” Calipari said when asked if Kentucky’s poor free throw shooting was the biggest issue. “Somebody said, ‘Well, why do you think you started that way?’ They’re all freshmen. They’re scared to death again. We tried to settle them down and we were rattled early. Then we settled down and started playing.

“But I have to give Connecticut credit now because the way they were aggressively picking up the ball. We told the guys, ‘If you don’t play with energy they’re going to.'”

That energy carried over to the 50/50 balls that can be so important in big games, with UConn getting the majority of those battles. And with this being the case, Kentucky was unable to take advantage of a statistical category that led to them being one of the most efficient offenses in the country this season (ranked 10th in adjusted offensive efficiency per kenpom.com).

Kentucky finished the game rebounding 27.8% of its misses, and they converted their ten offensive rebounds into just seven second-chance points. Dakari Johnson and Julius Randle, Kentucky’s two best offensive rebounders from a percentage standpoint, combined to grab three offensive rebounds on the night. Get a few more of those 50/50 balls and offensive rebounds, and maybe Kentucky makes up for the poor foul shooting and the slow start.

But that wasn’t the case, and UConn certainly deserves the credit for that. Throughout the NCAA tournament the Huskies have managed to take away the opposition’s “bread and butter,” with their Round of 64 win over Saint Joseph’s being the notable exception. Against Iowa State the Huskies neutralized Melvin Ejim, and in their Elite Eight win over Michigan State they limited the Spartans to just six points in the paint.

Clearly the plan of attack Monday night was to do whatever it took to keep Kentucky out of the lane and off the offensive glass, and UConn was able to do so for much of the night. While Kentucky hasn’t defended particularly well throughout the NCAA tournament, their offensive skill and the ability to make plays when needed carried them through to the national title game.

But when faced with an opponent that proved more than capable of taking away what they do best, the Wildcats were unable to muster enough offense to win their program’s ninth national title.

Aaron Holiday’s value on full display as No. 23 UCLA beats Wisconsin

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With the trio of Lonzo Ball, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton starting on the perimeter, UCLA point guard Aaron Holiday was forced into a supplementary role as a sophomore last season. With all three of those players gone and another highly-regarded freshman class on campus, Holiday is in a position of leadership for a UCLA program that saw its depth vanish due to the suspensions of three players who were caught shoplifting in China earlier this month.

Holiday’s been the leader the Bruins needed at this point in the season, with Tuesday’s 72-70 win over Wisconsin (2-3) in the third-place game of the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City being his best outing of the season to date. Holiday capped the game with a layup with eight tenths of a second remaining to give UCLA (4-1) the win, but it was his play throughout that afforded the Bruins the opportunity to avoid suffering a second defeat in as many nights.

Holiday was efficient throughout, scoring 18 points (14 in the second half) on 7-for-12 shooting from the field and dishing out five assists without committing a turnover. The junior led five Bruins in double figures, and on a night in which a few of his teammates struggled to take care of the basketball — Prince Ali and G.G. Goloman were responsible for 11 of the team’s 19 turnovers — Holiday’s work with the ball in his hands was critical.

UCLA trailed by as much as 12 late in the first half, with their 5-0 spurt to finish the stanza giving Steve Alford’s team a boost of sorts heading into the locker room. Holiday’s layup just before the buzzer was the final basket of that run, and he would make one three-pointer and assist on another as UCLA managed to regain the lead before the first media timeout of the second half.

A dogged defender on the perimeter, Holiday’s offensive skill set and poise were incredibly important for UCLA Tuesday night and will continue to be throughout the season. While there are some veterans on the roster in addition to Holiday, most notably Thomas Welsh, UCLA will have to rely on newcomers in key positions as well (Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes, especially).

Having Aaron Holiday to call upon gives UCLA a safety net of sorts; he rarely gets out of control and puts in the work on both ends of the floor night in and night out. That was the case Tuesday night at a time when UCLA needed him most, and thanks to Aaron Holiday’s play down the stretch the Bruins found a way to escape Kansas City with a win.

No. 19 Louisville doubles up Southern Illinois, 84-42

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Three games wasn’t too soon for No. 19 Louisville to enjoy a blowout after winning its first two the hard way.

Jordan Nwora came off the bench to score a career-high 18 points, Deng Adel had 16 points and the Cardinals coasted past Southern Illinois 84-42 on Tuesday night.

After scraping past George Mason and Nebraska-Omaha, the Cardinals (3-0) had a surprisingly easy time against the Salukis (2-1) once they got past the early moments. They turned a 9-6 deficit into a 29-18 halftime lead before putting put it out of reach, leading 65-30 with 6:47 remaining.

Louisville still has work ahead trying to develop chemistry with seven newcomers and a first-time coach. But the Cardinals finally saw how it looked with everyone in sync and focused.

“We wanted to come out and play well for 40 minutes and get a win,” said Louisville interim coach David Padgett, whose team shot 59 percent in the second half and 45 percent overall.

Credit the Cardinals’ youngsters for shifting things into high gear on both ends of the court.

Though the teams combined to shoot just 11 of 47 from behind the arc, Louisville’s freshmen found their mark late to help the Cardinals finish 8 of 26. Nwora had 12 career points coming in but made 4 of 6 shots in the first half for 10 points and set the tone along with Adel (12).

Louisville’s defense created offensive chances in the second half that allowed many to benefit.

“We weren’t shooting the ball well and just let the offense come to us,” said Nwora, who finished 7 of 10 from the field and grabbed eight rebounds.

“We were a little sluggish. We just knew we had to keep playing defense. He (Padgett) just said the offense will come.”

Dwayne Sutton had eight points with two 3s, guard Darius Perry had 10 points and forward Lance Thomas (five points) added one from deep for Louisville.

Louisville held SIU to a season-low 27 percent shooting, including just 3 of 21 from long range. The Salukis’ 42 points tied for their eighth-lowest total all time.

Armon Fletcher had 14 points and seven rebounds for SIU while junior center Kavion Pippen, nephew of NBA great Scottie Pippen, had 10 points.

“Their press was kind of different,” Fletcher said. “Those guys, they’re long and athletic. . We needed to run our patterns that we’d practiced. When we did, we got good shots on the other end. We’ve just got to finish around the basket.”

BIG PICTURE

Southern Illinois: Despite missing their first 11 shots, the Salukis regrouped to grab a 9-6 lead. That didn’t last long as Louisville outscored them 16-2 over 5:17 and 23-9 the rest of the first half. Inside scoring was tough against the taller Cardinals, who won that category 40-24. SIU managed to stay close on the glass for a while before eventually being beaten there 49-40. Sixteen turnovers leading to 19 Louisville points also hurt.

Louisville: The Cardinals still have a lot of rough edges, but showed much more intensity from the first two games. “That’s what our defense is capable of,” Adel said. “The first two games, it wasn’t there. … We are going to need that type of defense the whole season.” They dominated bench scoring 49-10, which they have needed in hopes of finding depth. Adel had another good game against SIU, scoring in double digits with seven rebounds after registering 12 points and 12 rebounds last December for his first career double-double.

BIRTHDAY GIFT

Louisville is 6-0 all time on Nov. 21, the birthdate of longtime sports information director Kenny Klein.

UP NEXT

Southern Illinois faces another Kentucky school on Saturday when it visits Murray State.

Louisville hosts Saint Francis (Pennsylvania) on Friday night to conclude its season-opening, four-game home stand.

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For more AP college basketball coverage: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_Top25

No. 16 Aggies win Progressive Classic behind Williams

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NEW YORK (AP) — Robert Williams had 21 points and 10 rebounds to lead No. 16 Texas A&M to a 98-87 victory over Penn State in the championship game of the Progressive Legends Classic on Tuesday night at Barclays Center.

Duane Wilson led the Aggies (4-0) with 22 points while Tyler Davis chipped in 15, Admon Gilder had 14 and Tonny Torcha-Morelos finished with 11.

Despite getting a career-high 31 points from Tony Carr, Penn State (5-1) lost its first game of the season. Lamar Stevens added 25 points for Penn State.

The Aggies took a 42-40 lead into halftime due to Williams’ two-hand follow jam with 4 seconds left in the half. Seven of the eight players who got into the game in the first half for Texas A&M scored, led by Williams’ 12.

And the Aggies needed every point, as Carr was a one-man offensive onslaught for the Nittany Lions. Carr had 21 points in the opening half on 7-of-8 shooting including 2 for 2 from 3-point range. He made 5 of 6 free throws.

Texas A&M took a 63-51 lead on Wilson’s scoop layup 6:41 into the second half. Wilson’s layup was the culmination of a stretch in which the Aggies outscored the Nittany Lions 21-11.

Following Wilson’s layup, Penn State coach Pat Chambers called time out. DJ Hogg hit a 3 for the Aggies, Gilder made two free throws and Williams finished a 2-on-1 break with a two-handed jam off an alley-oop pass which pushed the lead to 70-53.

Penn State used an 8-0 run to cut the deficit to 70-61.

After a layup by Gilder pushed the lead to 72-61, the Nittany Lions scored the next five points on a layup by Carr and three free throws from Stevens. That was as close as they would get.

Williams was named tournament MVP, and was joined on the all-tournament team by Wilson, Carr, Stevens and Oklahoma State’s Jeffrey Carroll.

BIG PICTURE:

PENN STATE: The positive for Penn State is that Carr and Stevens combined for 56 points. The negative? The rest of the Nittany Lions totaled 31.

TEXAS A&M: The defensively stout Aggies were able to flex their offensive muscle against Penn State. Texas A&M made 33 of 54 shots (61 percent) from the field and knocked down 26 of 29 (89.7 percent) free throws.

NOTABLE:

PENN STATE: In the Chambers Era, the Nittany Lions are 4-3 all-time in games played in New York City, and 2-2 at games held at Barclays Center.

TEXAS A&M: The Aggies improved to 4-0 all-time against the Nittany Lions. Texas A&M is 2-0 at neutral site venues against Penn State.

UP NEXT:

PENN STATE: Hosts Oral Roberts on Friday.

TEXAS A&M: Hosts Pepperdine on Friday.

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For more AP college basketball coverage: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_Top25

Trayvon Reed ends up on wrong end of Udoka Azubuike dunk

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Listed at 7-feet, 280 pounds, Kansas redshirt freshman Udoka Azubuike is an imposing figure on the basketball court. If he gets his defender pinned underneath the basket, there’s a good chance that Azubuike is going to finish things off with a powerful dunk.

That’s exactly what happened in the first half of Kansas’ home game against Texas Southern, with 7-foot-2 center Trayvon Reed being on the receiving end of a vicious poster-worthy dunk. Had this been on a fast break maybe Reed has the opportunity to make a “business decision.” No such luck in a half-court set, however.

Jalek Felton serves up first poster dunk of collegiate career

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The final seconds of No. 9 North Carolina’s 96-72 win at Stanford Monday night proved to be far more eventful than many anticipated, thanks to freshman guard Jalek Felton. The nephew of former Tar Heel point guard and 2005 national champion Raymond Felton, Jalek drove towards the basket with Stanford’s 6-foot-11 sophomore big man Trevor Stanback standing in the way.

The attempt to stop Felton at the rim did not work out well for Stanback. And someone on the North Carolina bench was so fired up about the dunk that he broke into a full sprint towards the baseline.

North Carolina played the game, with Stanford being coached by one of Roy Williams’ former players in Jerod Haase, ahead of its trip to Portland for the inaugural PK80 event.