Considering the location, the opponent and what was on the line on Wednesday night, and I think that what we saw from No. 8 Kentucky as they went into the Pavilion and knocked off Ole Miss, 99-76, in their brand new arena was their most complete performance of the season.
I know that might sound crazy considering that the Wildcats already have a win over No. 6 North Carolina this season, and blow out wins over the likes of Arizona State and Valparaiso.
But that win over North Carolina came on the shoulders of two players: Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox. Monk scored 47 points that day. Fox had 24 points and 10 assists. Combined, they were responsible for 87 of Kentucky’s 103 points. They carried Kentucky that day.
On Thursday night, the story was different. Fox was OK, finishing with seven points and seven assists, and while Monk finished with 34 points, it felt different than the game against Kentucky. He didn’t really get going until later on in the second half, and by then, Kentucky had already taken a commanding lead.
On Thursday, it was Isaiah Briscoe and Bam Adebayo that were the dominant forces. Briscoe finished with 19 points, 11 assists and 10 boards, just the third triple-double in Kentucky basketball history and the second this season. Adebayo and 25 points, playing what was by far his best game of the season. Derek Willis wasn’t really hitting shots – that will come, he’s too good of a shooter not to – but he rebounded the ball well, threw a handful of beautiful outlet passes and even blocked a few shots.
Why does this matter?
Because Adebayo hasn’t yet been able to find a way to impact a game like this for 40 minutes; he’s done it in spurts. Because this was the best game that Briscoe’s ever played in a Kentucky uniform and it came on the road against a pretty good SEC opponent; the knock on him has been that he can beat up on mid-majors but struggles against players with comparable size and athleticism. Because being able to trust Willis on the defensive end of the floor means that Kentucky can play with two shooters on the court on the offensive end.
Because the success of that supporting cast takes pressure, and some of the attention of a defense, off of this team’s stars, Fox and Monk.
VIDEO: Malik Monk with a ridiculous coast-to-coast bucket
With 2016 coming to a close, it’s time for us to take a look back and all the good things that happened to us. The most memorable moments, the best dunks and, today, the most thrilling, unforgettable college basketball games from the last 365 days.
This will be fun to reminisce about. Here are the top 12:
12. Duke 74, North Carolina 73: Duke played the majority of last season as, essentially, a six-man team, but on this Wednesday night in February, they were down to five guys as Matt Jones got injured in the first half. Those five – Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard, Brandon Ingram, Derryck Thornton and Marshall Plumlee – went into the Dean Dome and knocked off the Tar Heels, erasing an eight-point deficit with six minutes left and, with a defense that was as porous as swiss cheese, holding the national runner’s-up scoreless on two possessions in the final minute.
11. Kansas 90, Kentucky 84 OT and Oklahoma 72, LSU 70: There were people that doubted the SEC/Big 12 Challenge – Why would you play a day’s worth of non-conference games in the middle of the league schedule? – but these two games gave the entire ordeal meaning. It started with Buddy Hield vs. Ben Simmons, a great college player having an all-time great season going up against the Next Big Thing having a dreadful one-and-done year, and that game turned into a shootout that was ended on a game-winner from Isaiah Cousins and an ensuing possession that didn’t see Simmons touch the ball. Hield finished with 32 points.
As soon as that barn-burner finished, we jumped to Phog Allen Fieldhouse, where Kentucky gave Kansas all they could handle. Wayne Selden popped off for 33 points, making clutch shots down the stretch, as the Jayhawks held off a feisty Kentucky team in overtime. This performance helped spark a run for the Wildcats that saw them turn around what was, to date, a pedestrian season.
10. UConn 104, Cincinnati 97 4OT: You know something crazy has to happen for an early-round AAC tournament game to be considered among the best games in college basketball in 2016, and something crazy certainly did happen. The four overtimes were wild enough, but it was the end of the third overtime that is going to go down in the annals of UConn basketball history. Check this out:
9. Notre Dame 76, Stephen F. Austin 75: The Lumberjacks looked like they were on their way to the Sweet 16, becoming just the third No. 14 seed to get their in the last 20 year, before a freshman you never heard of – Rex Pfleuger – somehow tipped home a missed shot with 1.5 seconds left.
This was thrilling and tense and saw an underdog go head-to-head with a powerhouse program that made back-to-back Elite 8s. It was everything we love about March Madness. All it lacked was a true buzzer-beater.
8. UCLA 97, Kentucky 92: We’ll remember this game as the moment that UCLA basketball was back. The Bruins reached three straight Final Fours under Ben Howland before the success stalled and, eventually Howland gave way to Steve Alford. Alford reached back-to-back Sweet 16s in his first two seasons, but his teams were just OK and, in year three, the Bruins went 15-17 and the over-reliance on Bryce Alford had Bruin fans ready to find a new coach, regardless of the price.
Then, after a hot start to the season, the Bruins went into Rupp Arena and smacked around Kentucky, who was then the No. 1 team in all of college basketball.
7. Middle Tennessee State 90, Michigan State 81: If you didn’t know any better, you would think that MTSU was the team that was the higher seed in this game. They never trailed against the Spartans. They shot 11-for-19 from three. They answered every Sparty run with a three or an and-one. And, in the process, they landed what is arguably the biggest upset in the history of the NCAA tournament.
6. Syracuse 68, Virginia 62: Virginia’s been a dominant force in college hoops for the last three or four seasons, but there’s a segment of the college basketball populace that won’t accept Tony Bennett as a ‘winner’ until he’s able to prove Virginia can have success in March. (Those are mostly the same people that didn’t believe Bo Ryan was any good until he got Wisconsin to back-to-back Final Fours.) Virginia was getting ready to shed that label, as they held a 15-point lead over Syracuse in the Elite 8 with just under 10 minutes remaining last March.
Then the wheels fell off, as Malachi Richardson spurred a 25-4 run to close the game and send the Orange on to the Final Four. The comeback isn’t only memorable because of the way the game played out, but because of the fact that Virginia is nearly impossible to make a run on. They play as slow and defend as well as anyone in college basketball. Coming back from 15 points against them is like coming back from 25 down against a normal team.
5. Kentucky 103, North Carolina 100: This game had everything. Two of college basketball’s biggest brands. Two of the best teams this season. Two teams that want to run-and-gun. A pair of back court stars on either team going back-and-forth, trading big shot after big shot. An iconic individual performance, the 47 points that UK freshman Malik Monk poured in. And, of course, a game-winning three with 15 seconds left from said freshman:
And it all happened on a neutral court that had equally-sizeable – and loud – crowds supporting each team. It does not get much better than this.
4. Northern Iowa75, Texas 72: With 2.7 seconds left, Texas guard Isaiah Taylor scored on a runner to tie a first round NCAA tournament game at 72. UNI inbounded the ball to Paul Jesperson, who took one dribble and casually fired up a prayer from half court … that banked in and sent the Panthers back to the second round of the NCAA tournament:
It also led to an iconic photo of the agony and ecstasy of the NCAA tournament … :
… but it would be far from the lasting memory that we had of the Panther tournament run.
3. Texas A&M 92, Northern Iowa 88 2OT: Just 48 hours after the most memorable moment in program history, the Panthers managed to put together the worst collapse in the history of college basketball, shucking a 12-point lead in the final 44 seconds. Perhaps the most impressive part of this game for UNI was that, after that collapse, they didn’t fold, forcing a second overtime before eventually succumbing to the Aggies.
Our Travis Hines wrote a really good story earlier this year on the Panthers and their attempt to bounce-back from such a catastrophic loss. It’s not an easy thing to do.
2. Kansas 109, Oklahoma 106 3OT: This might be the greatest regular season basketball game that I’ve ever seen, which isn’t quite as impressive as the fact that it actually was able to live up to the hype that it had coming in. This was No. 1 vs. No. 1; when the game was played, Oklahoma was No. 1 in the AP poll while Kansas was No. 1 in the Coaches Poll. The Sooners got 46 points from Buddy Hield – who got a standing ovation from the Phog Allen Fieldhouse crowd – but it wasn’t quite enough as the Jayhawks were able to pull out a win in the end.
1. Villanova 77, North Carolina 74: I’m not sure we’ll ever see a better national title game than the one that we were greeted with last season. A fantastically-played game for 40 minutes, Villanova opened up a 10-point lead with five minutes left before the Tar Heels started chipping away at the lead. UNC would eventually tie the game at 74 with 4.7 seconds left thanks to this ridiculous, totally-forgotten shot from Marcus Paige:
Dan D’Antoni is the head coach of the Marshall basketball team. He’s also the brother of Mike D’Antoni, the head coach of the Houston Rockets. Dan’s Thundering Herd play one of the most entertaining styles of basketball in the country, running and gunning and firing up threes as quickly as anyone.
They’re fifth nationally in tempo. A crisp 41.9 percent of their field goals attempts come from beyond the arc. They make 39.0 percent of those threes. Marshall hasn’t quite gotten the results yet – they’re 7-6 on the season – but they took Cincinnati to overtime and they lost to Pitt 112-106, both games coming on the road.
On Wednesday night, after D’Antoni was asked by a reporter why they never get the ball into the paint, he launched into an epic, analytics-based rant about the value of the three-ball which included the line, “I haven’t finished my daggone analytics story yet. Do you have to go to bed or something?”
Check it out:
VIDEO: Monmouth coach King Rice’s teary postgame press conference
The road that King Rice took to get to where he is today was long and winding.
Today, the former North Carolina point guard is leading one of the best mid-major programs in the country, but that wasn’t always a given. In 1996, he was in rehab after a DUI he received as an assistant coach at Illinois State. In 2003, he was out of college coaching and was relying on his mentor, Roy Williams, to help him land a job.
There is a lot that goes into the King Rice story, but just a basic understanding of what he went through should tell you all you need to know about why he was so emotional following UNC’s 102-74 win over the Hawks on Wednesday night.
CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) Southern California had lost seven games in a row at Gill Coliseum, and that streak provided fuel for Trojans players Wednesday night.
“It was one of the main things we talked about coming into this trip,” forward Chimezie Metu said.
Metu had 19 points and eight rebounds, and No. 22 USC stayed undefeated with a 70-63 victory over Oregon State in the Pac-12 opener for both teams.
Jordan McLaughlin added 10 points, eight rebounds and four steals, and Jonah Mathews had 10 points for the Trojans (14-0, 1-0).
USC coach Andy Enfield said it was great to start the Pac-12 schedule with a win.
“It was a very physical game, a lot of free throws, a lot of fouls. We had to play more of a slower game than we’d like to, but we grinded it out,” he added.
Stephen Thompson Jr. scored a career-high 24 points, and Drew Eubanks had 15 points and 15 rebounds for the Beavers (4-10, 0-1).
Southern Cal went on a 13-0 run about midway through the first half to take a 24-9 lead. Oregon State was held scoreless for nearly five minutes during the surge.
The Trojans led 34-17 at halftime.
Southern California led by double digits most of the second half, but Oregon State was able to cut the deficit to six in the final minute on a layup by Eubanks.
The Trojans shot 27 for 33 (82 percent) from the free throw line compared to 13 for 24 (54 percent) for the Beavers.
“We came out flat and waited until we got down to show some fight and intensity,” Oregon State coach Wayne Tinkle said.
With about 7:30 left, Eubanks and Southern California’s Charles Buggs got tangled up on a rebound. Buggs fell to the court, Eubanks stepped on him and Buggs reacted angrily. During an ensuing scrum, Oregon State’s Tanner Sanders left the bench and was ejected. Eubanks was given a technical foul.
After the game, Eubanks said he unintentionally stepped on Buggs. Enfield said he thought it was intentional, given the technical call.
Southern California: Co-captain Bennie Boatwright missed his seventh straight game due to a knee sprain, but is expected back in mid-January. … Southern California’s 14-0 start is its best since the 1971-72 squad began the season 16-0.
Oregon State: Leading scorer Tres Tinkle missed his eighth consecutive game with a fracture in his non-shooting hand. He could return next week. … Eubanks has 39 blocks, matching his total from last season.
The win over Oregon State likely will be seen as business as usual, but the Trojans’ next game against No. 21 Oregon could provide extra validation for their strong start.
Enfield said Friday’s game against the Ducks will be a challenge. “We’re 14-0 and they’ve won 34 straight at home, so something has to give,” he added.
McLaughlin can score in bunches, but he took only two shots from the field. That was fine with Enfield, who pointed to a packed stat line for the point guard. “He was playing the game like he should. He controlled the game, he made the right decisions, he made the right plays,” Enfield said.
FREE THROW WOES
Thompson shot 69 percent on free throws last season, but this season has been a real struggle. He went 3 for 10 at the line Wednesday to leave him at 53 percent overall.
Southern California plays at No. 21 Oregon on Friday. The Ducks are 12-2 after defeating No. 2 UCLA on a last-second 3-pointer Wednesday night.
Oregon State hosts No. 2 UCLA on Friday. The Bruins are 13-1 and will have plenty of motivation coming off their first loss of the season.