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I guess it’s time for us to take the UCLA Bruins seriously.
Isaac Hamilton scored a team-high 19 points and Lonzo Ball shook off a horrid start to the game to finish with 14 points and seven assists as the No. 11 Bruins picked up the biggest win of the Steve Alford era, beating No. 1 Kentucky in Rupp Arena, 97-92.
It’s the second-straight season that the Bruins have beaten Kentucky. The Wildcats lost to UCLA in Pauley Pavilion last season.
The Bruins dug themselves a hole early, as Ball committed five of his six turnovers in the first nine minutes of the game. UCLA’s biggest and brightest star struggled early in his first true road game as a collegian. He looked rattled, making uncharacteristically bad decisions and getting lit up by De’Aaron Fox on the defensive end of the floor, and the result was that Kentucky was able to get out in transition, get some easy baskets and get themselves an early 23-14 lead.
Sophomore guard Aaron Holiday changed the game. He had all of his 13 points and each of his four assists in the first half, Ball grew into the game and the Bruins eventually took a lead going into halftime.
UMKC isn’t generally a known commodity in the college basketball world, but if you’re a fan of high-level alternate uniforms, you might want to become aware of the ‘Roos.
During the UMKC basketball doubleheader on Dec. 10 at Municipal Auditorium, both the men’s and women’s teams will wear special uniforms to honor “Kansas City Day” and the jerseys look sick.
The skyline on both the jersey and the shorts is a great touch and fans can snag these uniforms exclusively by going to the UMKC game on Dec. 10.
If you’re a fan of UMKC, or the city of Kansas City in general, this is some gear that you need to have on your radar as these are some of the best college basketball alternate uniforms that I’ve ever seen.
(H/t: Kansas City Star)
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) Indiana coach Tom Crean doesn’t have a timetable for OG Anunoby’s return from a sprained ankle.
For now, the 13th-ranked Hoosiers are going to have to step up and even overcompensate on some nights to make up for the absence of one of their biggest playmakers. On Friday night, it was Juwan Morgan who answered the call.
“Juwan rebounded for two tonight,” Crean said. “He came out and brought it. When you take OG (Anunoby) out of the lineup, you take so much athleticism, versatility, you take shooting, take the rebounding, the defense out. I thought our guys tried to do a really good job of making up for that. And Juwan did even more there.”
Morgan scored a career-high 18 points on 8-for-8 shooting and finished with 10 rebounds, De’Ron Davis scored 14 points and Indiana rolled to an 83-60 victory over SIU-Edwardsville.
The Hoosiers didn’t start the game firing on all cylinders. Indiana (6-1) didn’t make its first basket until 16:12 remaining in the first half, missing its first eight attempts. Trailing 4-0, the Hoosiers shook off the slow start when Zach McRoberts hit a 3-pointer from the corner that ignited Indiana. The Hoosiers would finish the final 15 minutes of the half outscoring SIU-Edwardsville 40-17.
Led by Morgan, the Hoosiers’ efforts on the glass eliminated opportunities for SIU-Edwardsville (4-4) to score second chance points. Indiana grabbed 30 defensive rebounds. Indiana’s 15 offensive rebounds led to the Hoosiers outscoring the Cougars 17-5 in second-chance points. But the Hoosiers’ second chance points opportunities were non-existent if Morgan was shooting the ball. The sophomore didn’t miss all night, making each of his eight shot attempts and the only 3-pointer he attempted.
“I feel like I’m scratching the surface,” Morgan said. “I think just mentally I’ve been thinking too much about shooting, things like that. My teammates look to give me the ball. And I look to have big games. But it was just a good night for us as a team.”
Indiana molded the rest of the basketball game around an aggressive rebounding effort, ball movement and its depth. The Hoosiers dominated the glass, outrebounding the Cougars 45-31. Indiana’s offense revolved around ball movement, as 15 of Indiana’s 28 field goals came by way of an assist with nine Hoosiers recording at least one assist.
And the Hoosiers bench outscored SIU-Edwardsville’s 34-12.
Burak Eslik finished with 18 points for SIU-Edwardsville. SIU-Edwardsville coach Jon Harris was familiar with Crean having played for and coached with Crean while he was at Marquette. Harris called Friday night’s loss, where the Hoosiers led by as many as 33 points, disappointing.
“There’s a reason why they are ranked No. 13 in America,” Harris said. “(Indiana is) a great team. I really think they’re a high level offensive team. We let them get going and that was the difference and the separation early (in the game).”
BIG PICTURE: Anunoby watched the Hoosiers’ victory from the bench, where he sat in a walking boot. He used crutches when he entered and exited the court from the locker room. He sprained his right ankle during the Hoosiers’ 76-67 win over No. 3 North Carolina on Wednesday. On Friday night, Crean told reporters he does not believe the ankle sprain is a long-term injury that could keep Anunoby out well into Indiana’s conference schedule, despite not having a definitive timetable on Anunoby’s return.
POLL IMPLICATIONS: After a thrilling victory over No. 3 North Carolina on Wednesday night, Indiana will have two weeks before it plays a ranked opponent, when Indiana takes on No. 18 Butler at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
SIU-Edwardsville hosts Stetson on Wednesday.
Indiana hosts Southeast Missouri State on Sunday.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) For a team that annually turns over its roster of talented individuals, top-ranked Kentucky is playing like a group that has worked together for a while.
The Wildcats’ unselfish play is reflected in a No. 3 ranking in assists (21.3 per game), helped by a season-best 33 on 44 baskets in Monday night’s 115-69 pasting of Arizona State in the Bahamas. That was Kentucky’s highest total under coach John Calipari, who has emphasized sharing the ball to every crop of heralded freshmen.
While that’s better than he might have expected this soon, Calipari doesn’t seem too surprised.
“There’s a couple reasons,” Calipari said Friday. “They’re really skilled, so you can share. When you’re not skilled, you put your head down and you bounce it and you run people over.
“Second thing is, their minds think quick. So, they can see stuff and recognize quickly. . And it’s hard to figure that out until you coach a guy, so there are guys that I’ve had that you have to know that that’s who they are. OK, they’re going to play a little different. But when you put five guys with nimble minds and are skilled, that’s what you get.”
Selflessness could be in play often when Kentucky (7-0) hosts No. 11 UCLA on Saturday in a matchup of college basketball’s marquee programs featuring similar strengths.
The Bruins (8-0) lead the nation in assists (24.8 per game) and field goal percentage (55.3) and are third in scoring average (97 points), just ahead of Kentucky (95.6). UCLA also features the country’s top distributor in freshman guard Lonzo Ball, who averages 9.6 assists including a school freshman-record 13 on Wednesday against UC Riverside.
Kentucky features several facilitators with freshman guard De’Aaron Fox drawing raves after posting Kentucky’s second triple-double (14 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists) and first since 1988. Fox ranks fourth nationally with 7.6 assists per game and appears to have inherited the floor general role handled last season by Tyler Ulis.
But other Wildcats have willingly fed their teammates, with the freshmen in particular arriving in Lexington with some playing history together.
“We know how we played a little bit, so we were comfortable with each other,” said guard Malik Monk, Kentucky’s scoring leader (19.3 points). “We just came here and put the work in. .
“We share the ball naturally. I don’t think he (Calipari) knows that we’re going to share the ball the whole game. When I said we just play basketball and we have fun together, that comes with sharing the ball.”
Monk has two highlight-reel examples of how much the Wildcats enjoy giving.
His off-balance effort to keep a ball inbounds against Arizona State culminated in a one-handed pass to forward Wenyen Gabriel for a two-handed reverse dunk, one of several signature moments besides Fox’s milestone. Last week against Cleveland State, Monk followed up his steal by bouncing the ball off the glass to a trailing Fox for a dunk that brought the house down.
Monk ranks third in assists behind Fox and senior guard Dominique Hawkins (22 assists, two turnovers), a reserve who’s known more for defense. Calipari noted that as proof of the Wildcats’ willingness to share, a trait that could be demonstrated by both teams on Saturday.
Said Monk, “It’s working for us good, so we’re going to keep it rolling.”
More AP College Basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org
The most impressive team in college basketball through the first three weeks of the season has been the Kentucky Wildcats.
They’re ranked No. 1 in the country for good reason. They’ve won by at least 21 points in every game they’ve played, they’ve scored at least 87 points in every games except one, they’ve cracked triple-digits in each of their last three games and they just so happen to have one of the best defenses in the sport.
What else do you need?
Critics will say they need to do this against a team with comparable talent, and it’s not unfair. Kentucky’s beaten up on five mid-major teams, Arizona State and a Michigan State team that is currently 4-4.
On Saturday, we get that matchup. The Wildcats will host No. 11 UCLA, who has an electric freshman guard of their own leading an offense that is lighting up scoreboards out west.
It will be the most-anticipated matchup on a day filled with terrific games, not only because it’s between two blue-blood programs playing elite-level basketball, but because the way these two teams play should turn this into a fast-paced, highlight-laden shootout.
Let’s break the matchup down.
If you looked solely at the box scores of Kentucky’s games, you’d probably assume that the Wildcats are the second-coming of the Golden State Warriors, an offensive juggernaut with a roster full of players that are unguardable.
That’s not necessarily the case.
What makes this Kentucky team so special happens on the defensive side of the ball. Simply put, they are a nightmare to play against. De’Aaron Fox is one of the best on-ball defenders in the country. Isaiah Briscoe isn’t all that far behind, and Malik Monk has assuaged fears about whether or not he was a guy that cared about that side of the ball.
And I haven’t even mentioned the size and versatility along their front line yet.
Cal isn’t doing anything all that fancy with them on the defensive end, either. He isn’t reinventing the wheel. He’s not playing gimmick defenses or using any kind of full-court pressure. All he’s doing is asking his guys to play aggressive, pressuring man-to-man defense, often-times picking up the primary ball-handler for 94-feet, and his team has bought in.
Their best defensive lineup, the one that Cal has used to start three of the last four games, features Wenyen Gabriel at the four and Bam Adebayo at the five. Both Gabriel and Adebayo are athletic enough to cover point guards, so Cal will switch every exchange 1-through-5.
Kentucky plays with an unbelievable amount of effort and energy on defense. Everyone on the roster plays like they’re the walk-ons, like the only way they can get minutes is if they lead the team in floor-burns. But they’re not. They’re lottery picks, and in the case of Fox and Monk, more athletic than anyone they’re going to face this season. They make running offense a nightmare, and once they get the ball back – whether it’s off a missed shot, a turnover and, oftentimes, even a made shot – it’s off to the races.
And it’s that transition game that kills you.
Briscoe, Fox and Monk are all interchangeable. They can grab a defensive rebound and lead the break coast-to-coast. (Part of the reason that Fox is averaging such a high number of rebounds is that he doesn’t have to worry about point guards crashing the glass, so while the other four guys on the floor go find a body, Fox heads to the rim and grabs the board, the quickest way to ignite their break.) If that doesn’t work, all three of them can throw outlet passes 94 feet and drop them in the bucket like Aaron Rodgers throwing a fade route. They can be the guys running the lanes, catching those passes and finishing acrobatic layups with two guys draped all over them. They can throw the alleys and finish the oops.
But the key to their transition game?
They read each other so well. If Fox sees Briscoe is in a spot to get an outlet pass, he’s gone. If Monk is corralling a rebound, he knows Fox and Briscoe will be running the floor already. That’s why you see “possessions” for Kentucky that so often look like this:
On the year, 28.7 percent of Kentucky’s offensive possessions come in transition, according to Synergy’s logs, which is second nationally only to a Savannah State team that has yet to record a win over a Division I opponent.
One of the criticisms of Coach Cal is that he’s only a recruiter. He doesn’t coach, he just rolls the ball out and lets the talent on his team takeover. Frankly, that’s what he’s doing this year, and it’s brilliant. He doesn’t need to micro-manage this group. All he had to do as devise a system that would play to their strengths and let their instincts takeover.
He did, and it’s working pretty well to date.
The key to beating Kentucky this season is to force them to play offense in the half-court. The closest anyone has come to doing that this season was Michigan State, and they held the Wildcats to a manageable 69 points. Kentucky has a perimeter shooting issue. Fox and Briscoe combined have made just five threes on the season and are shooting 20.8 percent from beyond the arc even after combining to go 3-for-3 against Arizona State on Monday night. Their best defensive lineup doesn’t really have a front court scoring threat while guys like Isaac Humphries and Derek Willis, upgrades offensively, limit how effective that Kentucky defense is.
The easiest way to slow down a team’s transition game is by scoring. Make them take the ball out of the net.
And the good news for Bruins fans is that UCLA not only has one of the nation’s most potent offenses themselves, but they just so happen to be able to do the things that you need to be able to do to operate against that Kentucky defense.
The biggest thing is that the Bruins, like the Wildcats, are terrific in transition. Believe it or not, UCLA actually plays at a faster tempo and has a shorter average length of possession than the Wildcats, according to KenPom.com. The best way to score on a great defense like Kentucky’s? Beat them down the floor and score before they’re set. Get uncontested layups. Get open threes before the defense can locate all of the shooters, of which UCLA has plenty.
Kentucky’s transition game is designed around getting those layups, using their speed to beat teams to the rim. UCLA’s is slightly different, geared towards getting the myriad of shooters on the roster open, rhythm threes. No one in the country is better at making that happen than Lonzo Ball, and I say that for three reasons: (1.) UCLA leads the nation in effective field goal percentage because (2.) they’re second in the nation in three-point percentage and (3.) they’re in the 88th percentile in transition points-per-possession just a year after finishing in the 21st percentile, according to Synergy, while (4.) Ball averages 9.6 assists, leading the nation.
In this case, the effect is two-fold: Not only will UCLA avoid having to run offense in the half court, it will keep Kentucky from getting out in transition at the same time.
It’s not crazy to think that UCLA’s best defense on Saturday will be fast break buckets.
But even if the Bruins are unable to get out and run, this is still a team with weapons that can break down Kentucky’s switching man-to-man defense.
Think back to the NBA Finals. The way the Cavaliers attacked Golden State’s switches was to create the mismatches that they wanted; in other words, they’d have whoever Stephen Curry was guarding set a ball-screen for LeBron James or Kyrie Irving, then sit back and let talent takeover.
You beat a switching defense by identifying the mismatch you want to take advantage of and force that switch.
Part of the reason that Kentucky’s switching has been so effective is that they haven’t run into a team who has guards that are capable of fully taking advantage of those mismatches. Is anyone really that worried about Tum Tum Nairn or Tra Holder? UCLA, however, does. Everyone should know how good Ball is at this point, but the other three pieces the Bruins have on the perimeter – Bryce Alford, Isaac Hamilton and Aaron Holiday – are talented as well. Combined, those three are averaging 46.4 points, 10.6 assists and shooting 44.8 percent from three on nearly 17 threes attempted per game.
They spread the floor with shooters, their perimeter is littered with playmakers and their bigs are skilled enough to be able to slip screens and take advantage of having a smaller guard on them.
The one thing UCLA does not do well is crash the glass, but that has a hidden benefit: keeping two or three guys behind the ball is a really good way to limit how many run-outs Kentucky can get.
Neither Kentucky nor UCLA has truly played a team that appears to be on their level this season, which is what makes this game so intriguing.
Lonzo Ball has played like the potential No. 1 pick in the draft and UCLA has looked like the hands-down favorite to win the Pac-12.
Playing them has been about as much fun as getting your hand caught in a meat grinder.
On Saturday, for really the first time this year, we’ll get a sense for whether or not their early-season hype has been justified. But more than that, we’ll see a game between two of the most entertaining teams in the country, two teams loaded with offensive firepower and future NBA players in a game where the winner will be the team that can run the floor better.
What more can you ask more?