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No. 8 Kentucky dealing with first losing streak of season

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Coach John Calipari might feel worse about his Wildcats’ two-game losing streak that dropped Kentucky four spots in the Top 25 to No. 8 if his young team had been beaten soundly in those contests.

Not that he feels good about Kentucky letting two winnable games slip away by making mistakes at crucial moments.

Nonetheless, Calipari believes Kentucky (17-4, 7-1 Southeastern Conference) will make the necessary adjustments as it enters the midpoint of its conference schedule with Tuesday night’s game against Georgia (13-8, 4-4) before heading to No. 24 Florida on Saturday. But the coach said the Wildcats must be tougher and more focused than they’ve shown in losses last week to No. 3 Kansas and at Tennessee.

“I’m not panicked,” Calipari said Monday. “After watching the tape, I walked away and thought it’s all fixable. But when you watch the tape, I did less coaching last year than I’m having to do now and that’s a big (difference). Until they’re doing this off one another and understand what each of them has to do, they can’t be the team they can be.”

Midseason growing pains aren’t uncommon for a Kentucky. The Wildcats annually face a roster makeover of highly touted freshmen and last year they also lost back-to-back games to the Jayhawks and Volunteers – but in reverse order.

Three years ago, they lost four of seven entering the SEC tournament before regrouping to reach the NCAA championship game. Even the Final Four team that began 38-0 two seasons ago endured SEC challenges that threated their perfect start.

Calipari’s yearly task seems to be making sure the Wildcats’ composure improves with more SEC challenges looming.

Better decision making is a good starting point after Kansas scored 21 points off 17 Kentucky turnovers in Saturday’s 79-73 loss in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. The Jayhawks’ mixture of zone and man defenses slowed down the Wildcats and kept the ball away from leading scorer Malik Monk and 6-foot-10 Bam Adebayo for stretches.

“Sometimes we make harder plays for the team instead of easier plays,” sophomore guard Isaiah Briscoe said afterward. “In that stretch, we didn’t touch the ball and that’s something we’ll work at and just get better with over time.”

The end result is often forced perimeter shots or turnovers, not to mention slowness getting back on defense. Even when the Wildcats set up on the other end, Kansas outscored them 44-34 and was nearly even on the boards (35-34).

Calipari said that Kentucky can’t allow drives to the basket and not winning the 50/50 balls to Georgia, which beat Texas 59-57 in the Challenge to end its own two-game slide.

The Bulldogs feature an impressive scoring tandem in 6-8 junior forward Yante Maten (19.7 points per game) and senior guard J.J. Frazier (15.5), who combined for 35 points against the Longhorns. Kentucky counters with the nation’s fourth-ranked offense (91.3), but its coach also wants the Wildcats to reclaim the mental and physical edges that made them hard to beat not long ago.

“This is all stuff that when you’re coaching young kids, you have to go through and reinforce,” said Calipari, who showed players video of every turnover against Kansas to drive home his point.

He added, “I’ve still got the same guys that if we had won (those) two games we would have had votes for No. 1. And I would have said, `We’re not No. 1 because we still have these issues.”‘

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More AP College Basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org

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.

South Carolina fans raise money to send “Gamecock Jesus” to Final Four

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South Carolina fans are sending one of their most recognizable compatriots to represent them this weekend.

Gamecock Jesus is heading to the Final Four.

South Carolina super fan Carlton Thompson is following the Gamecocks to Glendale as his fellow fans have raised over $7,500 to send the man known as “Gamecock Jesus” to Arizona for the team’s Final Four meeting with Gonzaga on Saturday night.

Thompson’s long hair, beard and presence at South Carolina games, even in lean times, earned him his nickname and apparently a following fervent enough to foot the bill for quite the trip.

“I’ve always dreamed it would be like this,” Thompson said last week about fan support at Gamecock games to the Post and Courier. “For years and years, it was so sparse with the crowds at the games. But once they started winning, the crowds started coming.”

Thompson is a 63-year-old VA hospital nurse, and has been attending South Carolina games for nearly 50 years.

Maryland’s Melo Trimble declares for the NBA Draft

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Melo Trimble’s career as a Maryland Terrapin is coming to an end. The junior guard is declaring for the NBA Draft and will sign with an agent.

“I am confident and excited to pursue an opportunity to play in the NBA,” Trimble said in a release. “I am proud of what my teammates and I were able to accomplish these past three seasons at Maryland. I developed many great relationships and friendships and together we able to create some very special moments for Maryland basketball. I want to thank Coach Turgeon for all of his support. He always believed in me. He challenged me and really helped in the development of my overall game. I am a more complete basketball player because of Coach Turgeon and the coaching staff. To stay at home and attend the University of Maryland is the best decision that I ever made and it was truly special to play in front of my family, friends and our amazing fans. Maryland will always be home.”

There was no better winner in college basketball the last three years than Melo. He changed the trajectory of Mark Turgeon’s program, winning 79 games in three years and ending his career 30-8 in games decided by six points or less. As a junior, Trimble and the Terps earned a No. 6 seed to the NCAA tournament, but they lost in the first round to Xavier. It was the only time in Trimble’s career that he didn’t reach the Sweet 16.

“Melo Trimble is a winner,” Mark Turgeon said on twitter. “Humble, hard-working, dedicated. Words can’t express what he’s done for our program. Always #StayMelo!”