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No. 5 UCLA dominates offensive boards to edge No. 4 Arizona

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Thomas Welsh scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half and No. 5 UCLA dominated the offensive boards to beat No. 4 Arizona 77-72 in a Pac-12 showdown Saturday night.

The Bruins (26-3, 13-3) snapped Arizona’s 21-game home court winning streak and dropped the Wildcats (26-4, 15-2) into a tie with Oregon for first place in the Pac-12 heading into the final week of the regular season. The Ducks hold the tiebreaker by beating Arizona in the teams’ only meeting.

UCLA, avenging a 96-85 home loss to Arizona on Jan. 21, trailed 53-49 at the half but took control with a 19-4 second-half run.

Allonzo Trier scored a career-high 28 for the Wildcats. Parker Jackson-Cartwright added 11, and Lauri Markkanen had 10 for Arizona.

Five players reached double figures for the Bruins, led by Bryce Alford’s 15. TJ Leaf and Aaron Holiday added 12 apiece, and Lonzo Ball had 11 along with eight assists.

UCLA had 19 second-chance points to Arizona’s four. In the second half, the Bruins outrebounded the Wildcats 9-1 on the offensive boards.

The Bruins switched to a zone most of the second half and stretched the lead to 11 twice late in the game, the last at 73-62 on Welsh’s’ inside basket with 4:38 to play before Arizona managed one final charge, finishing the game on a 10-4 run.

Markkanen’s two free throws cut the Bruins’ lead to 75-72 with 29.2 seconds to play. Holiday missed the first of a one-and-one free throw opportunity and Arizona had a chance to tie it but Kadeem Allen, with a dislocated pinkie finger on his shooting hand, threw up an air ball from 3-point range.

After trailing by as many as seven points, Arizona outscored the Bruins 10-1 over the last 2 1-2 minutes of the first half to lead 43-39 at the break. Jackson-Cartwright scored seven in the surge.

UCLA took the lead for good, 54-53, on Welsh’s basket with 12:52 to play.

REVENGE

With the victory, UCLA had come back to beat all three teams that have beaten them this season. After a two-point loss at Oregon on Dec. 28, the Bruins came back to beat the Ducks in Los Angeles 82-79 on Feb. 9.

USC upset the Bruins 84-76 on Jan. 25 but UCLA came back to rout the Trojans 102-70 on Feb. 18.

PAC-12 REMATCH?

The outcome in Tucson could set the stage for a rematch between the two teams in the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournaments.

Assuming, both teams win out, Arizona would be the tournament’s No. 2 seed and UCLA the No. 3. Oregon would get the No. 1 seed and, barring upsets, would face the UCLA-Arizona winner in the conference title game.

UP NEXT:

UCLA: The Bruins return home to face Washington on Wednesday night.

Arizona: The Wildcats play their final regular-season game of the season at Arizona State on Thursday.

No. 5 UCLA wins at No. 4 Arizona thanks to defense, rebounding?

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The Showtime UCLA Bruins, the team that has defined the pace-and-space movement in college basketball, the nation’s most lethal offensive attack, landed their second elite road win of the season on Saturday night, going into Tucson and knocking off No. 4 Arizona thanks to their ability to grind out stops defensively, milk the clock and crash the offensive glass.

Yeah.

Who saw that happening?

The fifth-ranked Bruins avenged a beatdown that they took at the hands of Arizona a month ago, going into the McKale Center and handing the Wildcats just their second Pac-12 loss of the season, 77-72. The difference came in the second half, with just under 15 minutes left, when head coach Steve Alford made the change from a man-to-man defense to a 3-2 zone that just had Arizona completely flummoxed. The rhythm that the Wildcats had offensively completely disappeared, but that wasn’t just the work of UCLA’s defense.

Part of it was their offense, too.

Let me digress, for a second: Part of what makes Virginia’s defense so consistently successful is that the Cavaliers make you work on the defensive end of the floor, using up as much of the shot clock as possible. The reason is mostly that Tony Bennett wants his team to control pace and to work the ball around until they have the perfect shot, not just a good shot, but the by-product is that is just takes the air out of the ball for the team that is forced to spend that much time defending. Every. Single. Possession.

This is what UCLA started doing. If they weren’t getting layups in transition, they were running their sets, working the ball into Thomas Welsh and T.J. Leaf, trying to get Lonzo Ball isolated against the smaller Parker Jackson-Cartwright, milking the clock for all that it was worth.

That was before the offensive rebounds.

TUCSON, AZ - FEBRUARY 25:  TJ Leaf #22 of the UCLA Bruins attempts a shot between Dusan Ristic #14 and Rawle Alkins #1 of the Arizona Wildcats during the first half of the college basketball game at McKale Center on February 25, 2017 in Tucson, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

UCLA grabbed nine of them in the second half — Arizona half just seven defensive rebounds in total, including three straight at the end of the game — and scored 14 second chance points in the second half. These weren’t just tip-ins at the rim. These were hustle plays, UCLA beating out Arizona’s big men to secure a board and work 30 more seconds off of the clock. Those are the back-breakers. Those are the plays that allow a visiting team to keep momentum in their favor and keep the home crowd from getting into the game. Those are the plays that helped prevent Arizona from looking like they had any clue how to attack a zone in the second half.

And that’s just not what we’ve become accustomed to seeing the Bruins do this season.

They run and they chuck threes and they let Lonzo Ball do what he can do and they don’t play much defense. That’s exactly who they were in the first half. They won this game because that’s who they weren’t for the final 15 minutes.

It brings us to a fascinating situation with the Pac-12.

Only one team from the conference is going to get a top four seed in the West Region. Whether it’s a No. 1, 2, 3 or 4 seed, you will only see one of Arizona, UCLA and Oregon — all of whom have essentially locked up a top three seed at this point — in the same bracket as Gonzaga on Selection Sunday. That’s how the bracketing rules work. This is incredibly advantageous because of where their games would be played: In Sacramento (or Salt Lake City) the first weekend, San Jose the second weekend and Phoenix for the Final Four. Not only would all of those games be fairly local — particularly for UCLA and Arizona — but they would be played on West Coast time, an underrated advantage for teams who don’t have to readjust their body-clock to a 10 p.m. ET tip-off time.

The only way that this scenario wouldn’t play out is if a Pac-12 team climbs up to the No. 1 seed line where undefeated Gonzaga also lurks, but as of today — which is a long, long, LONG way from Selection Sunday — it seems like those four No. 1 seeds are pretty set in stone.

UCLA has now won at Kentucky and at Arizona. That’s the best pair of road wins of any team in college basketball. They beat Oregon at home. They’re 26-3 on the season. If they’re going to win the Pac-12 tournament title, they’re probably going to have to go through Arizona and Oregon to do it.

And if they pull that off, the Bruins could very well end up being the top seed coming out of the conference.

They wouldn’t have to leave California until the Final Four in Phoenix.

And had they lost at Arizona on Saturday, I’m not sure it would have been possible.

So while the Bruins were already more-or-less out of the Pac-12 regular season title running, this win had oh-so-much more meaning that simply quieting a rival on their home floor.

No. 3 Kansas clinches outright Big 12 regular season title

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AUSTIN, Texas — Josh Jackson scored 18 points and Frank Mason III added 16 to help No. 3 Kansas beat Texas 77-67 on Saturday night to secure its 13th consecutive Big 12 regular season championship outright.

Devonte Graham and Dwight Coleby added 12 points apiece for the Jayhawks (26-3, 14-2 Big 12) who have won six straight games.

Jarrett Allen led Texas (10-19, 4-12) with 20 points. Andrew Jones added 18 for the Longhorns, losers of five straight games.

Texas committed 15 turnovers, six by guard Kerwin Roach Jr., and Kansas converted them into 28 points.

Kansas used a 12-0 push in the first half to take a 13-point lead before settling for a 40-31 edge at the break. Coleby, a little-used junior forward who averages 1.2 points a game, scored 10 in the half, converting 4 of 5 shots inside. Kansas had a 24-8 edge in points in the paint. His 12 points matched a career best.

Texas shot four air balls and committed nine turnovers in the half — five of them Kansas steals.

The Longhorns cut the lead to five with a 3-point basket by Jacob Young midway through the second half, but Kansas responded with an 8-1 run and eventually led by 15 with less than three minutes remaining. Mason and Jackson scored four points apiece during that span.

BIG PICTURE

Kansas: The Jayhawks have won 12 of their last 13 games against Texas, including seven straight, giving them a 29-8 edge since the Big 12 began competition in 1996-97. Texas did, however finish in a first-place tie with the Jayhawks during two of these 13 straight Kansas Big 12 regular season championships — in 2006 and 2008. The Longhorns beat Kansas in Austin both seasons.

Texas: The Longhorns are 4-4 in Big 12 home games. Before Saturday, their largest margin of victory or defeat was four points.

UP NEXT

Kansas is at home against Oklahoma on Monday. The Jayhawks beat Oklahoma 81-70 on Jan. 10 with Mason scoring 28 points, including five 3-point baskets.

Texas is at Texas Tech on Monday. The Longhorns beat the Red Raiders 62-58 on Feb. 1 in Austin. Eric Davis Jr. made a big 3-point basket with 28.8 seconds remaining for Texas, which does not have a road win this season.

Baylor’s Kim Mulkey was out of line with her comments on Saturday

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Today was Senior Day for Baylor’s women’s team, and legendary head coach Kim Mulkey took that as an opportunity to rail against people that have spoken and written negatively about the university in the wake of a scandal involving an alleged 52 sexual assaults by football players over a four-year period.

“If somebody’s around you and they ever say, ‘I will never send my daughter to Baylor,’ you knock them right in the face,” Mulkey said (my emphasis added). “Because these kids are on this campus. I work here. My daughter went to school here. And it’s the best damn school in America.”

She ended that speech by dropping the mic she was speaking into:

But that wasn’t the end of it.

It got worse.

“I’m tired of hearing it. I’m tired of people talking about it on a national scale that don’t know what they’re talking about,” Mulkey said in a press conference after the game. “If they didn’t sit in those meetings and they weren’t a part of the investigation, you’re repeating things that you’ve heard. It’s over. It’s done.”

Here’s the worst part: “I work here every day. I’m in the know. And I’m tired of hearing it. The problems that we have at Baylor are no different than the problems at any other school in America. Period. Move on. Find another story to write.”

Kim, you cannot do this.

People that work for Baylor athletic department cannot complain about the criticism they get, the negative publicity they get, when their employer was party to an alleged 52 sexual assaults over a four-year period, according to a lawsuit filed against Baylor last year.

And the people in that athletic department cannot claim that their problems “are no different than the problems at any other school in America” when those 52 alleged assaults were committed by 31 different players and only two of them were dismissed from the program. And they cannot make those claims when their problems cost the football coach, the school president, the school’s athletic director and the school’s Title IX coordinator their jobs.

And the people that work in that athletic department damn sure cannot tell people that they are wrong and claim that “I work here, I’m in the know” when said lawsuit alleges that at least one victim was paid off with free tuition and that others were “encouraged by Baylor employees to leave school without further investigation.” The people that worked there, that were in the know, were the ones that allowed this to happen.

I can understand where Mulkey’s frustration lies.

She’s coaching a women’s team at a school that has spent the better part of two years in the news for being unable and unwilling to protect their women. There is no doubt that hurts recruiting. Hell, one of the most enticing rumors of this year’s coaching carousel is that Scott Drew is going to try and parlay this season into a different job because of the stench of the Baylor brand.

So I get it.

I’d be frustrated, too.

But the idea that it is any way is the media’s fault is ridiculous. If it didn’t become a massive, national story, Art Briles would probably still be coaching a program that didn’t care about fielding 31 players with a sexual assault allegation to their name.

Bubble Banter: Michigan, Providence and Rhode Island land massive wins

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The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here. This is where the seeds you see listed below come from. This post will be updated throughout the day. 

WINNERS

Michigan (RPI: 51, KenPom: 27, No. 9 seed): Congratulations, Michigan. After smacking around Purdue the Wolverines are locked into a bid.

Providence (RPI: 55, KenPom: 56, play-in game): We always talk about how frustrating it is that no one seems to play their way onto the bubble and then into the NCAA tournament, but I think Providence has done just that. They erased a late, 12-point deficit in a win over Marquette on Saturday afternoon, their fourth straight win on the season. All four came against likely tournament teams, meaning the Friars five top 50 wins, ten top 100 wins and games left against DePaul and St. John’s. But they also have already lost to DePaul, St. John’s and Boston College. The margin for error is thing, but as of today, I think they’re going to end up being in.

Rhode Island (RPI: 47, KenPom: 55, next four out): The Rams landed a massive win on Saturday, picking off VCU at home in a game URI absolutely had to win. They now have a pair of top 25 wins and four total top 100 wins, which I’m not sure is enough to make up for the two sub-100 losses on their résumé. The Rams have two landmines left on their schedule, so for my money, URI is going to have to win land a win over either VCU or Dayton in the league tournament to have a real chance.

Wichita State (RPI: 44, KenPom: 12, No. 10 seed): The Shockers took down Missouri State on the road, meaning that they are going to head into the Missouri Valley tournament having just a single league loss to their name. This team’s status hasn’t changed in weeks: They have just one quality win and none of their non-league wins have turned out to be all that impressive, but they are No. 12 according to KenPom.com. That may be enough to get them in, but Gregg Marshall probably shouldn’t test that theory out.

Illinois State (RPI: 35, KenPom: 43, No. 12 seed): The Redbirds did what they needed to do, knocking off Northern Iowa on the road to enter the MVC tournament with just the one league loss to Wichita State. If those two programs play each other in the title game, there’s a good chance the MVC could end up with two tournament teams.

Vanderbilt (RPI: 45, KenPom: 51, next four out): A blowout win over Mississippi State sets Vandy up for a season-changing week: They play at Kentucky and host Florida. The ‘Dores probably need to win both, considering they already have 13 losses on the season — including one to Missouri — and will take another loss in the SEC tournament, but the chance is there. Two wins, get a bid.

Arkansas (RPI: 33, KenPom: 49, No. 9 seed): The Razorbacks, on the other hand, should feel pretty good about their spot on the bubble right now after winning at Auburn on Saturday. I’m not quite ready to call them a lock just yet, but I think one more win somewhere — at Florida, Georgia, first SEC tournament game — gets it done.

Indiana (RPI: 100, KenPom: 46, bubble): The Hoosiers are somehow still in the mix after beating Northwestern at home on Saturday night. This is according to people that are the best in the business at doing this. Personally? I’m not sure there’s much the Hoosiers can do to turn this thing around.

Seton Hall (RPI: 48, KenPom: 57, play-in game): Seton Hall beat DePaul. A loss to DePaul would have likely sent them to the NIT. Go 1-1 next week (Georgetown, at Butler) and Seton Hall is dancing.

FILE - In this Feb. 9, 2016, file photo, Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall directs his team during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Drake, in Des Moines, Iowa. At this time of year college basketball coaches often sound like political candidates looking for votes as they tout their teams' NCAA tournament worthiness. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

LOSERS

TCU (RPI: 53, KenPom: 43, first four out): TCU lost a heart-breaker at home to West Virginia on Saturday afternoon, airballing a wide-open, buzzer-beating three that would have gotten the Horned Frogs a win that could have put them on the right side of the bubble. At this point, with just two top 50 wins and five top 100 wins, TCU is going to have to win out and do some work in the Big 12 tournament to have a chance. They simply do not have enough quality wins to make up for their 12 losses, and beating Kansas State and Oklahoma won’t change that.

VCU (RPI: 25, KenPom: 42, No. 9 seed): VCU lost at Rhode Island on Saturday, which is not a bad loss and certainly isn’t going to keep VCU out of the tournament. What it does, however, is reduce their margin for error. For my money, the Rams need one more win this season to lock up a tournament bid.

Kansas State (RPI: 59, KenPom: 30, play-in game): Playing a game that more-or-less had their NCAA tournament lives on the line, Kansas State went into Norman and lost by 30 points to a bad Oklahoma team that doesn’t have their star point guard after he tore his ACL. That’s not a good look, is it?

Marquette (RPI: 68, KenPom: 31, No. 10 seed): Marquette had a chance to just about lock up a bid at Providence, leading by 12 down the stretch. But they game that game away, meaning that their bid is going to be earned next week, when they get Xavier on the road and Creighton at home. A split should probably be enough — they have three top 30 wins, including Villanova, and seven top 100 wins — with just one bad loss.

Clemson (RPI: 61, KenPom: 37, next four out): The Tigers have lost five games by one or two points and 11 games by six points or less after losing at home to Florida State on Saturday. They had their chances to earn an at-large bid, and frankly, are probably good enough to have done so. But if they’re going to get into the NCAA tournament, they’re going to have to get an automatic bid.

Pitt (RPI: 63, KenPom: 66, next four out): The Panthers probably needed to win at home against North Carolina to put them in real contention. As of now, they very likely need to get the automatic bid.

No. 6 Oregon wins another nail-biter, 75-73 over Stanford

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STANFORD, Calif. (AP) Oregon survived its Bay Area trip by the slimmest of margins.

Jordan Bell scored on a putback with 14 seconds left to give the sixth-ranked Ducks their second straight nail-biting victory in a rare Bay Area sweep as Oregon beat Stanford 75-73 on Saturday.

“It stresses Coach out,” guard Dylan Ennis said. “It shows us that we can just get gritty, get down and get the win. … Hopefully if we’re down like that again we can fight back and do the same thing.”

Bell’s game-winner followed Dillon Brooks’ last-second, tiebreaking 3-pointer three nights earlier at California to give Oregon (26-4, 15-2 Pac-12) its second sweep of its conference Bay Area rivals since 1976. The other came two years ago.

Tyler Dorsey scored 15 points to lead Oregon, while Brooks added 14.

“It’s been a tough road trip for us, two close games,” coach Dana Altman said. “That’s life on the road. We found a way.”

Reid Travis had 27 points and 14 rebounds to lead the way for the Cardinal (14-14, 6-10), but committed a turnover on the final possession to end any comeback hopes on senior day that honored Christian Sanders, Marcus Allen and Grant Verhoeven.

“There’s a little extra when you see guys like Christian, Marcus and Grant shedding tears when they’re getting called up,” Travis said. “It’s the last time they get to compete on this court. … Just looking at that, there’s no choice but to be motivated.”

Stanford trailed by as many as 12 points in the first half but battled back to tie the game five times in the second half. But it took until that fifth equalizer for the Cardinal to take their first lead since being up 9-8 early in the first half.

Travis’ jumper in the lane made it 71-69 with less than 3 minutes left but the lead was short-lived as Brooks hit a jumper at the other end to tie it.

The game was tied at 73 when the Ducks managed four offensive rebounds on one possession before finally converting on Bell’s shot with 14 seconds left. It capped a wild sequence that started when Ennis shot an airball on a 3-pointer. Payton Pritchard caught the ball in the air and shot it to the rim before the shot clock expired. Bell was there to put back the second miss for the game-winner.

“It was going so fast I don’t even know what happened,” Altman said.

Travis lost the ball in the paint at the other end to seal the victory for Oregon.

BIG PICTURE

Oregon: The Ducks capped a 7-1 February with just their second road sweep of the conference season as they peaking at the right time of year. Their only loss in that span came on a late 3-pointer by Lonzo Ball in an 82-79 loss at UCLA. Oregon has one more road game left to finish the regular season at last-place Oregon State, and remains in contention for a Pac-12 title and a top two seeding in the NCAA Tournament.

Stanford: The Cardinal were unable to follow up home wins against California and Oregon State when faced by tougher competition from the Ducks. That has been an issue all season for Stanford, which fell to 0-8 against ranked opponents.

THEY SAID IT

“Something hit my elbow. It might have been the wind, but I don’t shoot airballs on game-winners.” – Ennis.

POUND THE BOARDS

Oregon had just eight rebounds for the entire first half before getting the four offensive boards on the final possession of the game. The Ducks were outrebounded 37-25 for the game but were outscored by only four points on second-chance opportunities.

CEREMONIAL DAY

Stanford also held a halftime ceremony for former coach Mike Montgomery, who was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame this past November. Montgomery is the winningest coach in school history with 393 of his 677 wins coming for the Cardinal.

UP NEXT

Oregon: Visits Oregon State on Saturday.

Stanford: Visits Colorado on Thursday.