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No. 5 Kentucky beats No. 24 South Carolina despite De’Aaron Fox ankle injury

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Malik Monk scored 27 points and Bam Adebayo added 18 as No. 5 Kentucky rolled over No. 24 South Carolina, 85-69, in Rupp Arena on Saturday evening.

The win kept the Wildcats undefeated in the SEC and set the stage for a battle of top five teams when No. 1 Kansas comes to Lexington next weekend.

South Carolina got 34 points out of Sindarius Thornwell, who was terrific on Saturday, but the rest of the starting lineup combined for 14 points on 6-for-17 shooting.

Here are three things that we can take away from this game:

1. The Wildcats have firm control over the SEC title race: We already knew this entering the year, but after seeing Florida and South Carolina enter this week without a loss in league play, there was reason to think – to hope? – that maybe someone would make the race entertaining.

It doesn’t look like that is going to happen.

On the same day that Florida lost a home game to Vanderbilt, dropping them two games off of the pace atop the conference, the Gamecocks lost the only game that they’ll play against Kentucky this season. South Carolina looked like the only team capable of picking off UK in league play, but without a return game, it’s hard to imagine Frank Martin’s club will be able to make up the ground.

2. Kentucky’s supporting cast stepped up: Monk was awesome on Saturday, but Kentucky’s other two stars – Isaiah Briscoe and De’Aaron Fox – didn’t do much. Fox left the game midway through the first half with an ankle injury – more on that below – and Briscoe was, frankly, atrocious, going scoreless and committing seven turnovers against South Carolina’s overwhelming defense.

But even with their best players struggling, Kentucky was able to breeze to a pretty easy win against the only other undefeated team in the SEC. Adebayo was dominant in the paint, finishing with 18 points, but more important was the performance of Derek Willis and Wenyen Gabriel. Gabriel, who was averaging 12 boards in his last two games entering the weekend, had 11 points and five boards and his three more threes while Willis finished with 12 points, seven boards and one facial.

It’s comforting for Kentucky to know they can beat the second-best team in the SEC by 16 points on a night where two of their three starting guards provide basically nothing.

3. Injuries overshadowed everything else: Unfortunately for South Carolina, they probably never had a chance in this one once news came down that P.J. Dozier would miss the game with back spasms. Thornwell has, unquestionably, been the best player for the Gamecocks this season, but with Thornwell out of the lineup for six games earlier in the year, Dozier stepped in and looked the part of being a McDonald’s All-American. With Dozier, who is the second-best offensive weapon on the roster, South Carolina entered Saturday ranked 175th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency. You cannot expect to compete with Kentucky without having the horses to run with them.

But midway through the first half, Kentucky lost De’Aaron Fox to a right ankle injury. It didn’t appear to be all that serious – Fox didn’t even limp immediately after he rolled the ankle over – but he sat out the second half of the game.

Fox returned to the bench wearing a walking boot. His status going forward will be something to monitor. It would be a shame if he had to miss Saturday’s showdown with Kansas in Rupp Arena.

“It’s not swelled,” head coach John Calipari told reporters after the game. “I think it might’ve been a stinger. I don’t know. But something hit his ankle.”

Report: Texas’ Jones to test NBA possibility

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Both of Texas’ McDonald’s All-Americans from its 2016 class will test the NBA waters.

Andrew Jones will declare for the draft, but will not hire an agent, according to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.

The 6-foot-4 guard joins Jarrett Allen, the Longhorns’ star center, in utilizing the rule change that became available to players last year in which they can declare, workout for teams, attend the NBA combine and still return to school.

Jones averaged 11.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game as a freshman. He shot 42.5 percent from the field overall and 32.8 percent from 3-point range.

Allen seems the likelier candidate to remain in the draft as a potential lottery pick, but Jones came to Austin with similar one-and-done possibilities given his status as one of the class’ top recruits.

Texas, of course, is hoping both return, not just because they’re both big talents, but because incoming and highly-touted recruit Matt Coleman fills the major hole in last year’s lineup – point guard. If the three of them can share the floor together, Year 3 of the Shaka Smart era will be much more interesting.

Morrow announces transfer from Nebraska

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Nebraska was once again hit with a surprising and damaging transfer.

Ed Morrow, Jr., who led the Huskers in rebounding last year, announced his intention to transfer, the school announced Wednesday.

“I support Ed in his decision to transfer schools and wish him well,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said in a statement. “We appreciate his hard work over the last two years. Although I am disappointed, we will continue to recruit young men who are committed to our mission of building Nebraska Basketball with a culture of success in all areas…life, school and winning basketball at its highest level.”

The 6-foot-7 sophomore’s departure is a major hit to the Huskers, who are coming off a 12-19 year in which Miles’ job security was called into question. It almost assuredly will be again this year as Nebraska hasn’t been able to build on its 2014 NCAA tournament appearance, instead putting together three-straight losing seasons.

Morrow’s decision is surprising not only given he’d been a productive member of the team – averaging 9.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game – but because he was born in Nebraska before attending high school in Chicago and both his parents were Nebraska student-athletes his father winning a national title on the football team in 1994 and his mother an all-Big Eight performer on the basketball team.

“I want to say thank you to my teammates, coaches, the fans and the University of Nebraska athletics department for giving me the opportunity to play Division I basketball,” Morrow said in a statement. “It is hard to leave home, and Nebraska is my home. I was born and raised here, it is my parents’ alma mater, and I have a lot of friends here. But sometimes you have to venture out to pursue dreams and aspirations in a career. This is a sacrifice I have to make to better myself.”

Morrow’s transfer comes a year after Andrew White surprised Nebraska with his decision to graduate and transfer to Syracuse, which no doubt impacted the Huskers’ poor 2016-17 record.

Miles was on the hot seat at the end of last season and will assuredly begin this season there as well. A roster hit like Morrow won’t do much to help him improve the situation. Nebraska does, however, have three starters returning while Georgetown transfer Isaac Copeland is eligible, as is Miami (Fla.) transfer James Palmer, Jr.

Lonzo Ball says “I’m better than” Markelle Fultz

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Usually, it’s LaVar Ball that makes news for what he says.

His eldest son is now getting in on the business of generating headlines with something other than his play.

The UCLA star, who said he’ll enter the draft after just one season with the Bruins, claimed he’s the better prospect than Washington freshman Markelle Fultz, who many have pegged as the No. 1 pick in June’s draft.

“Markelle’s a great player,” Ball said, according to ESPN, “but I feel I’m better than him,” “I think I can lead a team better than him. Obviously he’s a great scorer — he’s a great player, so I’m not taking that away from him.”

Not exactly inflammatory stuff – like saying you could have beaten Michael Jordan, that you want a $1 billion apparel deal or a number of things his father has said – bu Ball is certainly projecting confidence. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s quite a bit of money – and pride – at stake with the draft, and Ball put up a season worthy of comparison to Fultz, who had great numbers but played for an abysmal Washington team. Ball, on the other had, had strong numbers while leading UCLA to the Sweet 16.

Both are going to go at the top of a draft that’s stocked full of promising point guards. Which player goes before the other remains to be seen, but it’s likely public pronouncements aren’t going to affect the draft order.

 

UMass hires McCall away from Chattanooga

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UMass has found, once more, the man to take over its basketball program.

The Minutemen have reached an agreement with Chattanooga coach Matt McCall, the school announce Wednesday

“The tradition and resources that are in place not only make this one of the best basketball jobs in the Atlantic 10 Conference,” McCall said in a statement released by the school, “but one of the best jobs in the country. We couldn’t be more excited about becoming part of the UMass family and look forward to building upon the rich tradition that has been established here in the past.”

In McCall’s two years at Chattanooga, the Mocs to the NCAA tournament in 2016 and a 19-12 record this year that featured five-straight losses to end the season.

The move will take McCall out of the southeast for the first time in his career as he previously served as at Florida and Florida Atlantic before getting his first head coaching job at Chattanooga.

McCall wasn’t the Minutemen’s first choice to replace Derek Kellogg after three-straight lackluster seasons. Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey had agreed to take the job before a last-minute about-face that saw him return to the Eagles program just before his introductory press conference was scheduled to begin.

“Matt is a rising star in college basketball coaching who has been a key piece of three successful programs in his career,” UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said in a statement. “He has earned a reputation as a relentless worker, a great teammate and colleague and a confident leader of young men.

“Matt has worked with some of the most respected coaches and administrators in the country, who loudly sing his praises. Coach McCall’s appointment begins an exciting new chapter for our tradition-rich men’s basketball program at UMass.”

Despite being the second choice, McCall’s reputation in the coaching industry makes him a strong hire, having worked under Mike Jarvis and Billy Donovan. He took over at Chattanooga for Will Wade, and brought the Mocs to a 29-6 record and a  12-seed in the NCAA tournament in 2016.

UMass went to just one NCAA tournament under Kellogg (in 2014) during his nine seasons leading the Minutemen.

VIDEO: Frank Martin’s sideline demeanor as a high school coach

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South Carolina coach Frank Martin has the reputation of being rather, shall we say, intense on the sidelines during games.

The coach has a stare that seemingly could bore a hole through his players when they do something that doesn’t reach his level of expectation. Martin’s demeanor, though, didn’t just come into form once he hit the college ranks.

He was plenty intense on high school sidelines as well.

Martin won three titles while at Miami Senior in the mid-1990s, coaching the likes of future pros Steve Blake and Udonis Haslem. Now having reached his first career Final Four, that sideline persona has put him on the precipice of winning yet another championship, this time at the collegiate level.