Kentucky won the first four games of the Big Blue Bahamas Tour by an average margin of 24 points. On Saturday afternoon, the Wildcats struggled, but eventually prevailed in the tightest game of their eight-day stay in the Bahamas, with a 77-72 win over Champagne Chalons-Reims from France.
The Wildcats were clinging to a one-possession lead for the final minutes of the game. Kentucky had a chance to extend the lead, but Andrew Harrison’s alley-oop pass to Dakari Johnson was deflected, followed by a missed layup by Johnson with 90 seconds left.
Tyler Ulis, who has been pressing opposing ball handlers all week long, forced a turnover, which led to his breakaway layup with 1:06 remaining. The hustle play earned a standing ovation from John Calipari, who was once again sitting in the top row of the Sir Kendal Isaac Gym, as Barry ‘Slice’ Rohrssen took over head coaching duties on Saturday. That play made it a two-possession game, and would serve as the last bucket of the afternoon, as Charlons-Reims failed to convert on several opportunities in the final minute.
The 5-foot-9 freshman point guard was out the on the floor with both of the Harrison twins. This is worth noting because while Kentucky has plenty of talented big man, a lineup which includes Ulis and the Harrison twins will likely been seen this season.
Saturday marked the first time Kentucky trailed at halftime, with Champagne Chalons-Reims taking a 44-43 lead into the break. The Wildcats defensive intensity was lacking, as Charlons-Reims were able to getting easy looks through the first 20 minutes. Charlons-Reims connected on 19 of its 26 (73 percent) first half attempts.
Kentucky defeated Charlons-Reims 81-58 in the second game of this tour. The Wildcats finish this tour on Sunday against the Dominican Republic, a team that Kentucky defeated by 13 on Friday afternoon. The sixth and final game tips at 1 p.m.
Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.
After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.
Video credit: Wyoming Athletics
Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.
Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.
Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.
Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.
Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.
But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.