Tyler Ulis

AP Photo/James Crisp

No. 16 Kentucky rolls Alabama 85-59 in SEC Tournament

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Despite statistical proof that playing Alabama brought out his best this season, Kentucky forward Alex Poythress summed up his outstanding play against the Crimson Tide as pure coincidence.

Wherever his motivation came from, the No. 16 Wildcats benefited.

Jamal Murray scored 23 points, Poythress made a career-best four 3-pointers and Kentucky had an easy time in an 85-59 rout of Alabama on Friday night in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

Playing about 50 miles southeast of his Clarksville, Tennessee, home, Poythress put on an offensive show in his final SEC tournament with 7-of-8 shooting including 4 of 5 from long range for 20 points. It was his third 20-point game this season and first since posting a career-best 25 at Alabama on Jan. 9.

Not that that meant anything.

“Sometimes it happens, sometimes it don’t, you know,” said Poythress, who averaged 19.6 points in three games against Alabama this season. “Everybody was just great offensively. We played a complete game today.”

Murray added perimeter shots as second-seeded Kentucky finished 13 of 22 from behind the arc to beat the 10th-seeded Crimson Tide (18-14) for the third time this season. The Wildcats advanced to Saturday’s semifinal against the Georgia-South Carolina winner.

Tyler Ulis added 17 points for the Wildcats, who beat the Crimson Tide by an average margin of 22 points this season.

Arthur Edwards had 20 points and Retin Obasohan 18, but Alabama couldn’t keep pace with the hot-shooting Wildcats.

The Crimson Tide certainly had no answer for Poythress, especially when he stepped out behind the arc.

“We came into the game trying to minimize his success in the paint and wanted to contest him at three,” Alabama coach Avery Johnson said, “but we didn’t expect him to shoot the ball like Jamal Murray. He made some shots. He had it going.”

Kentucky’s postseason prospects were already set, and the aim this weekend is to earn the highest possible seeding when the field is announced on Sunday. The Wildcats took an impressive first step toward being high in the bracket with 55 percent shooting from the field.

Alabama’s postseason chances remain up in the air, but the Crimson Tide’s second game in as many nights ended with 42 percent shooting and 13 turnovers. They were also outrebounded 31-27.

Kentucky wasn’t so good at the start, making just 4 of first 11 shots and showing a little rust from having not played because of their double bye. The Wildcats regrouped to hit 10 of their final 15 first-half shots to lead 37-27 at the break and were even better from behind the arc (6 of 10), with Poythress making a couple to help them gain some distance.

The Crimson Tide meanwhile struggled more for baskets than the previous night against Mississippi, making just 10 of 26 from the field. Three-point shooting (5 of 12) provided a bright spot, and Alabama had just one fewer rebound than the Wildcats but needed big games from nearly everybody in order to pull off the upset.

Even at their best, the Tide faced an uphill battle keeping pace with Kentucky’s outside game that stayed hot in the second half. Ulis made back-to-back shots before Murray added one to build a 55-37 lead, and the Wildcats were well on their way toward a semifinal appearance.

“We shot the ball well,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said.

TIP-INS

Alabama: The Crimson Tide finished 9 of 25 from 3-point range.

Kentucky: Dominique Hawkins and Skal Labissiere each added seven points for the Wildcats, who also had 18 assists.

UP NEXT:

Alabama: Awaiting postseason announcement.

Kentucky: Faces Georgia-South Carolina winner in Saturday’s semifinal.

Texas A&M picks up much-needed win over No. 14 Kentucky

AP Photo/Sam Craft
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No. 14 Kentucky and Texas A&M entered Saturday’s game in College Station in far different states. John Calipari’s team was playing as well as any team in the country, as they’d won four straight games with each being decided by at least ten points. Texas A&M, on the other hand, had just ended a four-game losing streak and its chances of winning the SEC diminished as a result. An important game for both teams, it was Texas A&M that needed the momentum boost that can come with a big win.

And in somewhat controversial fashion the Aggies got the win they needed, beating the Wildcats 79-77 in overtime on a Tyler Davis put-back as time expired.

Davis’ shot capped a bizarre final ten seconds of overtime, beginning with Kentucky getting a stop up a point and freshman center Isaac Humphries being fouled. In his excitement Humphries spiked the basketball, but he and his teammates knew almost immediately what a risk that was. Humphries was given a technical foul, resulting in the Aggies getting two free throws themselves.

Danuel House made both of his, and with Skal Labissiere splitting his the game was tied. Now here’s the question: was the decision to give Humphries a technical foul the correct one? In many instances a player spiking the ball occurs in a fit of anger, and it’s generally understood that doing so will result in a technical. But Humphries clearly wasn’t angry, so could there have been a better understanding of the moment by the official?

This will be discussed for quite some time, but of greater importance for Kentucky down the line is what happened on the backboards.

Texas A&M grabbed 20 offensive rebounds, which works out to an offensive rebounding percentage of 40 percent, and scored 22 second-chance points. With the Aggies looking stagnant on offense at multiple points in the game, those extra opportunities proved to be quite valuable for them.

The Wildcats weren’t helped by the fact that Derek Willis, who’s been their best front court player in recent weeks, left the game with a sprained ankle in the second half. The positive for Kentucky was that Humphries produced his best game as a Wildcat, grabbing 12 rebounds with ten of them coming on the defensive end. The negative: the other Wildcat bigs combined for seven defensive rebounds, with Marcus Lee responsible for four of them.

Kentucky’s entire front court combined to grab 17 defensive rebounds. Texas A&M’s tandem of Davis (nine) and Tonny Trocha-Morelos (four) combined to grab 13 of the Aggies’ 30 offensive boards. Add in a game-high 24 points and eight rebounds from Jalen Jones, and Texas A&M was able to win the game despite the fact that Danuel House and Anthony Collins combined to shoot 3-for-20 from the field.

Texas A&M did their best to dare a Kentucky player other than Tyler Ulis (22 points, 11 assists) or Jamal Murray (21 points) to beat them, alternating between man-to-man and triangle-and-2 looks to make the two standouts shoot challenged mid-range shots. But Ulis and Murray still managed to make plays, nearly leading Kentucky to a win that would have preserved their two-game lead atop the SEC standings.

Ultimately, a technical foul and Kentucky’s inability to close out the game’s final possession with a rebound did them in.

NEW PODCAST! Duke/Carolina, top five teams and a weekend preview

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It’s Friday, which means time for another episode of the NBC Sports College Basketball Talk Podcast. Host Rob Dauster and Raphielle Johnson got together to discuss some of the major happenings from this week, most notably No. 20 Duke’s win at No. 5 North Carolina.

How concerned should we be about the Tar Heels, especially their guard play? What can Duke do to keep this run going with another player (Matt Jones) being lost to injury?

Also discussed are the three other losses taken by teams ranked in the Top 5 this week, No. 3 Oklahoma, No. 4 Iowa and No. 5 Maryland. Which one has the biggest issues to deal with in regards to preparing for a run in the NCAA tournament? There’s also chatter about whether or not a certain Kentucky Wildcat deserves to be in the national Player of the Year conversation, which Big East team is best equipped to play deep into March (Villanova or Xavier?), and some of the big games on the schedule for this weekend.

As always, you can subscribe to the podcast on either iTunes or Stitcher. Or if you so choose, just click the “play” button on the audio player below. Thanks for listening!

No. 20 Kentucky lets 21-point lead slip away, falls at Tennessee

AP Photo/Orlin Wagner
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Leading Tennessee 34-13 with 5:46 remaining in the first half, No. 20 Kentucky looked poised to not only rebound from their loss at No. 4 Kansas but do so in impressive fashion. Things didn’t stay that way however, as the Volunteers finished the half on a 23-8 run to close the margin to six. Rick Barnes’ team continued its run of good play in the second half, going on to beat the Wildcats 84-77 in Knoxville.

Just a couple days after playing one of their best games of the season and appearing to have turned a corner even in defeat, the young Wildcats showed that there’s still plenty of progress to be made.

The difference came at the foul line, where Tennessee outscored Kentucky 30-18 with Kevin Punter responsible for 10 of those points. Punter, who adjusted his shooting motion during the offseason, has been one of the nation’s most improved players. And against Kentucky the senior produced 27 points, and while he shot just 7-for-19 from the field Punter’s ability to create plays off the bounce applied pressure to Kentucky’s half-court defense.

Add in a double-double from Armani Moore, the 6-foot-4 forward who more than held his own against the bigger Wildcats with 18 points, 13 rebounds and four assists, and Tennessee was able to change the flow of the game late in the first half and build on that in the second stanza.

This is a big win for Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes, as he looks to provide some much-needed stability for a program that has lacked that in recent years. Beating Kentucky won’t make much of a difference on Tennessee’s résumé; at this point in the season they’ll need to win the SEC tournament to hear their name called on Selection Sunday. But it does provide tangible evidence to the players (not to mention recruits) and fan base that the program is headed in the right direction.

That doesn’t help Kentucky however, and the Wildcats are still having issues when it comes to defending without fouling. Some may be quick to point out the “quality” of the whistle in recent games, but it should be noted that sending opponents to the line has been an issue throughout the year for the Wildcats. Kentucky entered Tuesday ranked 241st in defensive free throw rate (40.1), too high for a team that plays half-court man-to-man defense most of the tim.

Be it defending without fouling or communicating consistently on the defensive end, these are adjustments that have taken longer for Kentucky to work through than some anticipated before the season began.

But how much longer can John Calipari afford to wait for the Wildcats to play with consistent focus, taking care of the “small” details that can be the difference between simply playing in the NCAA tournament and excelling once there? The personnel questions are what they are at this point, with the front court production being inconsistent and the guards led by Tyler Ulis having to do much of the heavy lifting.

But Kentucky had a chance to put their foot on Tennessee’s neck late in the first half, and instead they let the Volunteers back into the game. That proved costly in Knoxville, and as a result the Wildcats dropped to two games behind first-place Texas A&M in the loss column.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR POWER RANKINGS: It’s Buddy Hield and then everyone else

(AP Photo/Eugene Tanner)
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There’s no denying it at this point: Buddy Hield is the favorite to win the Player of the Year award in college basketball this season.

Anyone that says otherwise is being contrarian for the sake of being contrarian, and there are a couple of reasons for that. For starters, Hield is having the most efficient season of any high-usage player in the KenPom era. I explained this in detail yesterday (right here), but for simplicity’s sake, no one in the last 13 years has been as potent offensively as Buddy. Not J.J. Redick or Adam Morrison or Stephen Curry or Jimmer Fredette or Doug McDermott. No one.

He’s also the only player since the 1994-95 season to shoot at least eight threes per game and make more than 52.0 percent of those threes. The closest anyone came to that was Troy Hudson of Southern Illinois, who shot 51.1 percent on 8.7 3PAs per game.

So yes, Hield is having a historically great season.

But he’s not the only guy on this list that’s doing so.

Providence guard Kris Dunn is one of just two players since 1994-95 (that’s the reference point because it’s as far back as this database goes) to average at least 17 points, six boards and six assists in a season, and he’s the only one to do all of that while also notching three steals per night.

The other guy to do that?

Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine, who is the only player to average 18 points, seven boards and six assists in the last 21 years. That would usually lock Valentine in as the hands-down favorite to win, at the very least, the Big Ten Player of the Year award, except Jarrod Uthoff is currently averaging 2.5 blocks and shooting 46.4 percent from three, something that no one has done (while averaging more than two 3PAs per game) since 1994.

Should I mention that Uthoff is also averaging 18.6 points for a top five team that is currently sitting in first place in the Big Ten standings?

And I haven’t even mentioned BYU’s Kyle Collinsworth, who is on pace to be the first player in that database to average at least 15 points, seven boards and seven assists.

In other words, that’s a really long way of saying that Hield is not the only player in college basketball having an unbelievable season. So saying that this is Hield’s award to lose at this point isn’t a shot at anyone else in the field, because he’s one shooting slump away from looking relatively mortal, and shooting slumps can happen to the best of them. (Ask Marcus Paige).

What it is, however, is a sign of just how good Hield — and Oklahoma — have been this year.

Anyway, here are the Power Rankings. You can follow along with the countdown on the CBT Facebook page right here.

No. 20 Kentucky blows out Missouri, 88-54

AP Photo/James Crisp
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Tyler Ulis scored 20 points, Derek Willis added a career-best 18 and No. 20 Kentucky used an early 20-0 run to blow past outmanned Missouri 88-54 on Wednesday night.

The Wildcats (16-4, 6-2 Southeastern Conference) had it easy in improving to 9-0 against the Tigers and winning their third straight overall. Kentucky spotted the Tigers an opening layup by Wes Clark before the big spurt that quickly put the game out of reach, twice stretching its lead to 40 points in the second half.

Good shooting was the key again for Kentucky, which made 52 percent from the field after hitting 55 percent against Vanderbilt.

Willis also grabbed 12 rebounds for his second double-double in four games. Isaiah Briscoe had 15 points, Skal Labissiere 12 and Jamal Murray 11 to round out Kentucky’s double-figure scorers.

Clark had 11 points for Missouri (8-12, 1-6 SEC), which sustained its biggest loss this season.