Rob Dauster

Kentucky's Derek Willis (35) hits an uncontested three point shot during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Tennessee Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016, in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky won 80-70. (AP Photo/James Crisp)
(AP Photo/James Crisp)

Derek Willis scores 25 as No. 14 Kentucky continues winning way

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Jamal Murray scored 28 points and Tyler Ulis finished with 11 points and nine assists despite shooting just 3-for-15 from the floor as No. 14 Kentucky beat Tennessee in Rupp Arena, 80-70, despite a bit of an off-night.

This was just the second time in the last 15 games that Ulis failed to score more than 14 points, but he still was able to make plays off the dribble while committing just two turnovers. Murray continued his terrific play, as he’s now averaging 28.3 points over the course of the last four games, a stretch where’s shot 56.7 percent from beyond the arc.

But the story of this game was Derek Willis.

The story of this Kentucky team is the back court. When Ulis and Murray play the way that they have over the course of the last two weeks, the Wildcats are by far the best team in the SEC and capable of getting to the Final Four.

One of the reasons that those two have been able to take over of late has been the addition of Derek Willis to the starting lineup. Willis is a 6-foot-8 combo-forward from Kentucky. He was, at one point, a top 50 recruit in the country, but when he graduated high school, he was rated as a three-star prospect and had spent his first two years in Lexington as a bit-player, seeing time about as often as the walk-ons.

What Willis can do, however, is shoot, and thanks to his size, length and athleticism, he fits in perfectly with this UK team in a stretch-four role. He can hold his own defensively against bigger opponents, but his ability to shoot spreads the floor in a way that isn’t possible when Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee are on the floor together.

That was perfectly evident on Thursday night, as Willis scored 25 points, hitting 7-for-11 from beyond the arc. The Wildcats don’t need him to do that on a nightly basis, because the threat of that happening will be enough to create space for Ulis to make plays.

US Olympic team expects Krzyzewski to be the coach in Rio

(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
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USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo expects Mike Krzyzewski to lead the Americans this summer, and the coach says he has “every intention” of being in Brazil.

Krzyzewski plans to have left knee replacement surgery following the completion of Duke’s season, and Colangelo told NBA.com during All-Star weekend in Toronto that he was “thinking about what ifs” if Coach K’s health prevented him from returning.

But Colangelo says Thursday in a statement that “at no time” have he and Krzyzewski discussed him not coaching this summer.

Krzyzewski has been the U.S. coach since 2005, leading the Americans to consecutive Olympic gold medals and two straight world championships.

Obasohan helps lead Alabama into NCAA tourney contention

Alabama guard Retin Obasohan, center, scores against Texas A&M guard Admon Gilder, left, and center Tyler Davis, right, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Alabama won 63-62. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) Retin Obasohan’s senior season at Alabama has exceeded even his most optimistic expectations.

The Crimson Tide is rolling and Obasohan is playing better than he ever has, especially during the five-game winning streak that has turned `Bama into a solid candidate for the NCAA Tournament. The topper was a career-best 35-point performance in Wednesday night’s win over LSU when he helped secure the victory with an array of drives, free throws and pull up jumpers.

“Gosh, it’s more than anything been surreal,” Obasohan said earlier this week. “Kind of been a dream, from just the games that we’ve won to how we’ve been playing to how close we are as a team and how much fun we’re having. It’s all just been really surreal.

“You know when you come in envisioning something, like your best-case scenario kind of? This has surpassed all of that. I’m just grateful for every single moment.”

The native of Antwerp, Belgium, has gone from role player to the star of one of the Southeastern Conference’s hottest teams.

He’s sixth in the league in scoring with 16.7 points per game, a 10-point jump from last season. He’s also sixth in steals, and first-year Tide coach Avery Johnson proclaimed after the LSU game that Obasohan is “definitely one of the most improved players in college basketball.”

The muscular 6-foot-2, 210-pound Obasohan thrived at the end of last season after replacing an injured Ricky Tarrant. He started this season in modest fashion, leading Alabama (16-9, 7-6 SEC) in scoring in only one of the team’s first nine games. He’s been the Tide’s top scorer in eight of the last nine, averaging 22 points during that stretch.

It only seems like he suddenly burst onto the scene.

“More than anything I think it was just like a slow, consistent buildup this year,” Obasohan said. “There were certain things that I had to learn as a player, or even just as a person – to find whatever it is that is my constant, that keeps me going, whether things are going good or things are going bad.

“From an early age in my college career, I found out that the only thing that is constant is my faith.”

The big constants lately have been the Tide is winning and Obasohan’s play. The current streak includes victories over NCAA Tournament contenders Texas A&M, Florida and LSU. Obasohan again has picked up his game following an injury.

This time starting point guard Dazon Ingram was lost for the season with a broken left foot in early December.

Johnson, a 16-year NBA point guard, was familiar with Obasohan from watching son Avery Jr.’s Texas A&M games last season. He liked his physical play but thought he could play faster.

Obasohan demonstrated over the summer that he could also excel as a shooting guard.

“I like the way he’s gotten better and better every practice,” Johnson said. “He’s the guy I coach the hardest. Some guys, the way I coach Retin, would quit. He’s accepted tough coaching.”

Thrived under it, in fact. Obasohan has soaked in the advice and daily lessons of both Johnson and assistant Antoine Pettway, once a star point guard for Alabama.

He speaks more of his growth as a person and in his religious faith than any transformation on the court. No doubt, he had a big adjustment after arriving in the American Deep South from Belgium, getting a redshirt year to settle in.

“It was a huge transition from the culture to the people to food to even time,” Obasohan said. “We use military time. Here it’s a.m. and p.m. Celsius and Fahrenheit, pounds and kilos, inches and meters.

“Really, almost everything was different. It was a pretty big adjustment but I’ve enjoyed every single minute of it, and I really look at this school as a second home now.”

No. 20 Duke overcomes injuries, foul trouble to upset No. 5 North Carolina in Chapel Hill

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Grayson Allen scored 23 points, including a pair of free throws to give No. 20 Duke the lead for good with 1:09 left, and Brandon Ingram added 20 points and 10 boards as the Blue Devils overcame a ridiculous amount of adversity to beat No. 5 North Carolina in Chapel Hill, 74-73.

Already limited to a six-man rotation due to a broken foot suffered by Amile Jefferson, Duke lost starting guard Matt Jones to sprained ankle late in the first half. If that wasn’t bad enough, playing against a North Carolina team that was absolutely pummeling them in the lane, Duke’s starting center Marshall Plumlee picked up his third and fourth foul seconds apart with 14 minutes left.

And they were still able to knock off the Tar Heels on the road. You have to give Duke all the credit in the world for that. They got critical stops — more specifically, critical defensive rebounds — down the stretch and made just enough plays on the offensive end to get the win.

Give credit to Mike Krzyzewski, because he did what he’s done all season long: he gave the rock to his studs and let them loose. The knock on Duke, at least on the offensive end of the floor, is that they don’t have a point guard. To combat that, Coach K more or less dares defenses to try and slow down Allen (who’s averaging 20.6 points and 3.7 assists) and Ingram (17.2 points). Combined, those two took 39 points and got to the foul line 14 times on Wednesday.

That’s in stark contrast to North Carolina.

Brice Johnson was, once again, putting on a show. He had 18 points and 11 boards in the first half. With just under 11 minutes left in the game, when Plumlee reentered with his four fouls, Johnson had 27 points and 17 boards. In the final 11 minutes of the game, he got just one shot — a dunk off of a drop-off pass from Jackson — while UNC’s guards shot 1-for-14 from the floor.

“Brice really was something for a huge portion of the game tonight,” UNC head coach Roy Williams said after the game.

But he was nothing during the most important stretch.

Now there’s two ways to look at this. On the one hand, Johnson was going off and when you have a guy that’s playing like that, you want to get him as many touches as possible, right? The problem is that Johnson isn’t really a guy that creates offense for himself. He goes and gets offensive rebounds. He finishes off pick-and-rolls. He throws down massive dunks when his teammates drive and find him at the rim.

In other words, the issue isn’t that plays weren’t called for Johnson, it’s that UNC’s guards opted to settle for jumpshots rather than drive the ball into the lane and find the guy that Duke quite literally did not have the personnel to stop.

Marcus Paige and Joel Berry II were 4-for-22 from the floor. As a team, UNC shot 1-for-13 from three.

We know what we’re going to get with Duke moving forward: Are they going to get Jones and Jefferson healthy, and when/if they do, are they going to be able to defend.

The question marks with UNC are a bit different. On paper, this team looks like they should be playing for a national title, but what have they done this season that should make us trust them in big moments and big games?

I’ve called the Tar Heels soft before.

And I wasn’t just talking about their physicality.

Brunson’s 25 points lead No. 1 Villanova over Temple 83-67

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) Jalen Brunson scored a season-high 25 points against his dad’s old team, leading No. 1 Villanova over Temple 83-67 Wednesday night.

Daniel Ochefu had 16 points and nine rebounds and Kris Jenkins added 15 points as the Wildcats (23-3) won their sixth in a row. Villanova took its 14th straight game in the Philadelphia Big 5 to claim its third consecutive city series title.

Brunson is the son of former Temple star Rick Brunson. The freshman guard drew jeers from the crowd after spurning his father’s alma mater for Villanova.

The booing didn’t affect his aim, though. He made 9 of 11 shots, including 4 of 5 on 3-pointers.

Trey Lowe scored a career-high 21 points for Temple (16-9).

The Wildcats got a huge lift from Brunson, especially after halftime when they shot 53 percent from the field. He scored 17 following the break.

Villanova scored the first seven points of the second half for a 42-23 lead. The Wildcats took their biggest lead on Darryl Reynolds’ two free throws that made it 63-40 with 10:10 remaining.

Temple responded with 13 of the next 15 points and was within 65-53 after on Lowe’s 3-pointer from the right wing. The Owls never got closer than 11.

Villanova was up 35-23 at halftime despite just two points from Josh Hart, who entered averaging 15.2 points per game. He finished with four points.

TIP-INS

Villanova: The Wildcats improved to 47-43 in the all-time series. . The Wildcats’ three losses have come to Providence at home, at Virginia and to Oklahoma in Hawaii.

Temple: Denver Broncos placekicker and Temple alum Brandon McManus was in attendance. . The Owls fell to 2-15 all-time against No. 1 teams, with the wins coming over Kansas during the 1995-96 season and Cincinnati during 1999-00. Temple also lost to then-No. 1 North Carolina in its season opener this season, 91-67. . The standing-room only crowd of 10,472 set a record for Temple’s Liacouras Center.

UP NEXT

Villanova: Hosts Butler on Saturday afternoon.

Temple: At Houston on Sunday night.

Myles Davis’ triple-double leads No. 8 Xavier past slumping No. 23 Providence

Xavier's Myles Davis (15) drives against Providence's Kris Dunn (3) and Kris Dunn, second from left, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016, in Cincinnati. Xavier won 85-74. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
(AP Photo/John Minchillo)
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Trevon Blueitt scored 17 of his 23 points in the first half as Myles Davis added 11 points, 12 boards and 12 assists — his first career triple-double — as No. 8 Xavier knocked off No. 23 Providence, 85-74, in a game that was never really in doubt.

This was the kind of performance we’ve come to expect out of Xavier. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: This is one of the deepest, most complete and most balanced teams in college basketball. They’re every bit the part of a Final Four contender.

No, the story of this game was Providence.

Specifically, the effort the Friars gave on the defensive end of the floor.

To date, that’s where this team has excelled. We know all about their limitations offensively at this point. They’re a two-man team. It’s Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil … and everyone else. When ‘everyone else’ shows up to play — when Rodney Bullock is a double-double threat that is hitting jumpers, when Kyron Cartwright and Junior Lomomba are creating off the bounce, when the supporting cast is hitting their threes — the Friars can legitimately beat anyone in the country.

They beat Arizona in a game played in southern California. They beat Villanova at Villanova. Those are really, really good wins.

But that hasn’t been the case of late. By the time Providence next takes the court, it will have been a month since the Friars beat someone not named Georgetown. They’ve lost five of their last seven games and suddenly find themselves inching their way closer and closer to the bubble.

And the concern on Wednesday is that they got worked over this badly on a night where they hit 12 threes. That’s what happens when you give up 52 first half points and allow a team to hit seven threes in twenty minutes. That’s what happens when a defense that ranked among the top 25 in the country decides not to show up until after the intermission.

I still think that Providence is a dangerous team as long as they have Dunn and Bentil, but the best way to describe what this team is at the moment is “unraveling”.