No. 15 Kentucky survives LSU 92-85

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) The so-called “reboot” that Kentucky coach John Calipari suggested for his struggling team might take more work than he expected.

He made clear that a long practice is in store after the 15th-ranked Wildcats nearly blew a big lead against LSU and threatened to overshadow a breakout game for freshman forward Wenyen Gabriel.

Gabriel scored a career-high 23 points, Malik Monk also had 23 and Kentucky withstood a late LSU rally for a 92-85 victory Tuesday night.

The Wildcats (19-5, 9-2 Southeastern Conference) won for just the second time in five games and had to withstand the Tigers’ rally from a 25-point deficit over the final 8:47, a charge led by Antonio Blakeney’s 22 second-half points. His 3-pointer with 14 seconds remaining made it a two-possession game.

Monk’s free throw with 8 seconds left sealed that hard-fought win that followed Kentucky’s 22-point loss at No. 17 Florida on Saturday and came a day after the coach hinted at the restart on his radio show.

The outcome was the upside of a contest that suggested there’s plenty of room for improvement for the Wildcats.

“You saw what I wanted, and I thought we did some good stuff,” Calipari said. “Eight minutes to go, I don’t know we were tired or reverted back (to bad habits). It might have been a combination of both. If I could practice tonight, we would (go) three hours until people puked. … That’s the old days, I can’t do that.

“But we will go three hours (on Wednesday) and if anybody says they can’t go, they won’t make the trip to Alabama.”

Calipari’s praise of Gabriel also included examples that he can grow as well.

Gabriel provided the initial offensive boost and finished 7 of 11 from the field including three 3-pointers to beat his previous career best of 15. He also grabbed eight rebounds, including three offensive, as Kentucky controlled the boards 40-26.

“I’m a lot more confident,” said Gabriel, who fouled out with 19 seconds left. “Especially once you make a couple and know yourself and know you can shoot and just get more comfortable. That boosted my confidence.”

Monk bounced back from an 11-point outing to make 8 of 15 from the field with four 3s. De’Aaron Fox had 16 points and Isaiah Briscoe 14 for Kentucky.

Blakeney made 12 of 19 shots for a season-high 31 points and Brandon Sampson added 17 for the Tigers (9-14, 1-10). LSU shot 63 percent in the second half and 50 percent overall but lost their 10th straight for the first time since 2011.

Said Blakeney, “I just wanted to make some buckets or some plays for my teammates.”

BIG PICTURE

LSU: The Tigers made several runs at the Wildcats thanks to Blakeney and Sampson, who combined to make 18 of 31 from the field and 5 of 11 from 3-point range. In fact, Blakeney’s eight straight points in the final minute included two 3s and made things interesting when the game seemed in hand for Kentucky. Perimeter shooting was key for the Tigers, who made 8 of 11 after halftime and 10 of 23 overall (44 percent).

“Some shots went down for us in the second half that did not fall for us in the first half when we had some looks,” coach Johnny Jones said.

The Tigers were no match on the glass against Kentucky, allowing 14 offensive rebounds alone.

Kentucky: The Wildcats bounced back from shooting a season-low 38 percent at Florida by hitting 49 percent and controlling the boards after the Gators outrebounded them 54-29. At times the reboot showed promise as they committed just four first-half turnovers and played solid defense. But every time the Wildcats seemed in control, mistakes and defensive breakdowns followed.

“We reverted a little bit and it cost us some points,” said forward Bam Adebayo, who had 9 rebounds and 8 points.

ENCOURAGING NUMBERS

Kentucky made 21 of 26 free throws to tie a season-best percentage (81). The Wildcats also improved to 38-8 under Calipari in bounce-back games after losses.

THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS

Jones opened his postgame interview expressing concern for southeastern Louisiana residents after tornadoes there injured about 20 people and damaged or destroyed property.

“A lot of people have been affected,” he said, “and I just want them to know we’ll be praying for them tonight.”

UP NEXT

LSU: Hosts Arkansas on Saturday night, seeking its third series win in four meetings.

Kentucky: Visits Alabama on Saturday. The Wildcats have won the last six against the Crimson Tide.

More AP college basketball at http://collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

This corrects time of score to 14 seconds left and Monk’s free throw to 8 seconds left.

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!”