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No. 14 Arizona lands first marquee win, upsetting No. 3 UCLA in Pauley

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Allonzo Trier made his first appearance of the season for No. 14 Arizona but it was Kobi Simmons who was the star for the Wildcats as Sean Miller’s club picked up their biggest win of the season, going into Pauley Pavilion and knocking off No. 3 UCLA, 96-85.

Simmons had 18 points, five boards and five assists, providing the spark at the end of the first half as Arizona opened up a 48-37 lead. Lauri Markkanen, who has been Arizona’s best player on the season, finished with 18 points while Trier chipped in with 10 points, seven boards and four assists.

The win moves Arizona into sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 – at least until No. 11 Oregon plays at USC tonight – at 7-0, a full two games ahead of the Bruins in the loss column. Arizona still gets UCLA in the McKale Center, but their only game against Oregon will come in Eugene.

For the Bruins, Lonzo Ball led the way with 24 points, eight assists and six boards, but he had very little impact on the game in the final 12 minutes. The bigger talking point for UCLA is their defense. They entered Saturday ranked 92nd in the country in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, and giving up 96 points to the Wildcats isn’t going to help that. Arizona was able to penetrate at will on Saturday, and it’s a concern for the Bruins that is glaring.

Here are the four things to take away from that game:

1. Allonzo Trier is back, but this was more than just his return: Getting Trier back into the fold was, unquestionably, a boost for the Wildcats. He finished with 12 points, seven boards and four assists and, for the most part, held his own on the defensive end of the floor. He had a bucket near the end of the first half that pushed Arizona’s lead to 11 points, and when UCLA made a run in the second half, he had a steal and a dunk that felt like a momentum-changing play.

Arizona is a better team with him on the floor.

But this score, this result, was about much more than just the return of a guy that sat out the first 19 games of the season. For starters, Kobi Simmons played the best game that he’s played since he arrived in Tucson. He has lottery-level talent, and while his inconsistency and tendency to coast is the knock on him, when Simmons is locked in, he can do what he did on Saturday. It was about Markkanen, who outplayed T.J. Leaf, the guy that he essentially replaced in Arizona’s recruiting class. It was about the leadership down the stretch of Kadeem Allen and the key stops that Arizona got down the stretch.

In other words, simply saying that Arizona looked like a Final Four contender because Trier was back is a disservice to that performance.

2. This win provided the validation that we needed to take Arizona seriously: Arizona entered Saturday with a gaudy, 17-2 record, but it was hard to take them seriously as a Pac-12 or Final Four contender because of the teams that they had beaten to get to this point. Prior to winning at Pauley Pavilion, the best win Arizona had on the year was a Michigan State team that just got smoked by the O.G. Anunoby-less Indiana Hoosiers or at USC, who was without Bennie Boatwright.

A competitive performance, let alone a win, would’ve been enough to convince us that their record wasn’t a fluke. A win, however, is precisely what Arizona needed to bolster a tournament résumé that still lacks a bit of depth.

3. UCLA’s defense is becoming a major concern: We knew UCLA wasn’t all that good on the defensive side of the ball entering Saturday. They ranked 92nd in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric, which isn’t good but which was the kind of thing that could be overlooked given just how dominant UCLA’s offense can be. They had developed a habit of getting up by 25 points and then slacking off on the defensive end, which isn’t ideal but whatever. They were still winning.

Saturday, however, was a disaster. Arizona scored 1.315 points-per-possession, which is downright unacceptable for a team with their sights set on the Final Four and a potential national title. The Wildcats seemed to target Bryce Alford, whose defensive issues are well-known, and routinely attacked him with dribble penetration. But Bryce wasn’t the only victim here. No one on UCLA’s perimeter seemed capable of being the stopper, and the result was that the Wildcats were able to get to the bucket at will.

4. Can UCLA still win the Pac-12?: After losing on Saturday, the Bruins are now two games behind both Oregon and Arizona in the Pac-12 standings, and they still have a trip to the McKale Center left on their schedule. The Bruins have been the trendy pick to win the national title for a while because of how quickly they can score and how entertaining they are to watch, but at this point it seems unlikely that they’ll be able to make up two games in the standings on two different teams with just 11 games remaining on the schedule.

Does that say more about the Bruins as national title contenders or just how good the Pac-12 is at the top of the conference? I’d lean the latter, but after seeing the way UCLA defended on Saturday, I’m not sure.

Michigan lands four-star 2018 forward Ignas Brazdeikis

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Michigan added to an already strong Class of 2018 recruiting haul on Friday night as four-star forward Ignas Brazdeikis pledged to the Wolverines on Twitter.

The 6-foot-8 Canadian was one of the premier scorers in the Nike EYBL this past spring and summer playing with CIA Bounce as Brazdeikis averaged 21.1 points per game on 49 percent shooting from the floor. Well-rounded outside of his scoring, Brazdeikis also put up 7.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game while also showing a workable jumper that was 26 percent from three-point range.

With the job that Michigan head coach John Beilein has done developing forwards, most recently with the rapid improvement of players like D.J. Wilson and Moritz Wagner, it’ll be fascinating to see how Brazdeikis will look at the college level after some time on campus. Beilein’s offense is favorable for skilled forwards with a penchant for scoring and Brazdeikis could end up being a tremendous fit for the Wolverines.

Brazdeikis becomes the fourth member of Michigan’s Class of 2018 recruiting haul as he joins four-star forward Brandon Johns, four-star guard David Dejulius and three-star forward Taylor Currie.

Sex assault count dropped against ex-Creighton player Watson

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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Prosecutors have dropped a first-degree sexual assault charge against former Creighton point guard Maurice Watson after questions arose about the accuser’s story.

Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine announced Friday that his office had dropped the felony charge, filed earlier this year when a 19-year-old woman accused Watson of assaulting her early Feb. 4 at a party in an Omaha home. Watson has denied that allegation.

The 24-year-old Watson pleaded no contest Friday to misdemeanor assault for an encounter the same night with a different Creighton student, who said Watson touched her thigh and tried to make her touch his genitals. Watson was sentenced to the five days he’d already served in jail.

Watson was a senior when he suffered a season-ending knee injury in January, just days before the party.

Storm damage forces Paradise Jam out of Virgin Islands

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MIAMI (AP) — The Paradise Jam basketball tournament will not be played in the U.S. Virgin Islands this year because of damage caused by Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria.

The tournament will be played in the U.S., with a new site expected to be announced by Sept. 29.

The Paradise Jam field this year includes Wake Forest, Colorado, Drake, Drexel, Houston, Liberty, Mercer and Quinnipiac, and each of those schools was given the chance to bid for the right to host the tournament.

Tournament officials say they looked at multiple other options, such as moving to another island and using a cruise ship for accommodations, before deciding to move the event to the U.S.

For now, the tournament is scheduled to be played from Nov. 17-20.

Kentucky lands commitment from five-star point guard

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Kentucky landed a commitment from Immanuel Quickley on Friday night, a top ten prospect and arguably the best point guard in the Class of 2018.

Quickley picked the Wildcats over Kansas, who he visited earlier this month, and Miami, who he was scheduled to visit before Hurricane Irma struck south Florida.

The 6-foot-3 point guard is the first commitment in the class of head coach John Calipari, and it really comes as no surprise. He’s been considered a Kentucky lean for months, and Quickley played for Calipari on the USA U19 team during the 2017 FIBA World Cup.

While Quickley has the size and the build – he’s 180 pounds with broad shoulders and long arms – of some of Kentucky’s former elite point guards, he’s not the same kind of point guard as, say, De’Aaron Fox or John Wall. He’s more of a smooth athlete than an explosive one, and while his long strides allow him to get out into transition, he’s not the finisher at the rim that those two were. What he is, however, is an intelligent player. He’s good in ball-screens, he’s an excellent passer and facilitator and he is a good enough shooter that he forces defenses to stay honest. He also has the potential to be a plus defender given his physical tools and the fact that he’ll try on that end of the floor.

Where this commitment gets interesting is the current point guard in Kentucky’s back court, Quade Green. Green was a five-star recruit in his own right, but he’s not quite built as a potential one-and-done prospect. Calipari has maneuvered through two point guards in the past, and each of the last five national champions have played major minutes with two point guards on the floor at the same time, but if Green is back next season that will be something to monitor.

That, however, is a long ways away.

What matters now is that Kentucky has gotten this commitment out of the way, and it paves the way for them to also receive a commitment from Zion Williamson. There has long been talk of those two attending college together, and with Quickley on the board, that likely keeps Kentucky in the driver’s seat as they pursue the South Carolina native.

If Kentucky can also wrangle a commitment out of R.J. Barrett, the No. 1 player in the 2018 recruiting class, that would likely be the end of the discussion of whether or not Duke has surpassed the Wildcats on the recruiting trail.

Five-star forward King picks Oregon

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Oregon has nabbed one of the top players in the 2018 class.

Louis King, a top-20 forward, committed to Dana Altman and the Ducks on Thursday via a video on social media.

“It’s been a tough, strenuous process,” King said, “but today makes all of that worth it. I’ve been blessed with great opportunities.”

The 6-foot-8 New Jersey native selected Oregon over other finalists Seton Hall, NC State, Purdue and Kansas.

“I would like to thank each of them for all the time and effort they put into my recruitment,” King said. “I would like to thank my coaches and my teammates that have pushed me and helped get me to this point in my career. My friends for all their love and support, but most of all I would like to thank my family, who has been by my side through it all.”

King is Altman’s second commit in 2018, joining four-star big man Miles Norris, a top-75 recruit in the class. It’s the beginning of what could be an absolutely dynamic class for Oregon, which still has two scholarships remaining.

“Out of all of my schools I felt like it was best for me and my family,” King said to MADE Hoops. “Coach Altman said that I would have the ball in my hands throughout the season. When I get there, it will be an easy adjustment for me with how I handle rock and get my teammates open. Our goal is to win a national championship next year.”