LOS ANGELES (AP) Bryce Alford scored 22 points, Aaron Holiday had 16 and TJ Leaf added 14, as No. 2 UCLA held off Western Michigan 82-68 on Wednesday night to complete a perfect preseason.
The last time the Bruins (13-0) went undefeated in the preseason was also the last time they won the NCAA title (1994-95).
Western Michigan (3-8) was led by guard Thomas Wilder’s 22 points, with forward Tucker Haymond adding 16 points and Reggie Jones 12.
The Broncos hung tough with UCLA for much of the game, but the Bruins’ balanced attack finally wore down Western Michigan.
Leaf and Isaac Hamilton led UCLA with eight rebounds each, with Hamilton adding 11 points. Holiday had a game-high seven assists off the bench.
After being down by 12 at halftime, the Broncos scored the first eight points of the second half to pull within 45-41. The Bruins, however, answered with a 16-4 run to seal the win.
The Bruins started the game slowly, with turnovers and missed shots making them look a lot like a team that wasn’t taking the Broncos seriously. Western Michigan, showing no fear, jumped out to a 7-1 lead and was still ahead 21-17 midway into the first half.
UCLA regained its focus, and with Alford hitting three 3-pointers, took a 45-33 halftime lead despite 10 turnovers.
Western Michigan: The Broncos are still searching for their first win on the road, having started 0-4 away from home. They are 3-4 at Western Michigan.
UCLA: The Bruins entered the game ranked first in field goal percentage (55.4) and assists per game (23.8), and second in points per game (96.9), 3-point percentage (43.9) and assists-to-turnover rate (1.95).
Western Michigan is off for a week before returning home to host winless Alabama A&M on Dec. 29.
UCLA opens its Pac-12 Conference schedule next Wednesday at No. 20 Oregon.
VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP) Jay Wright offered a quick salute to 30 or so of the former Villanova players honored at halftime during an alumni celebration.
“Some former great players in the house today,” Wright said. “I don’t know if you noticed.”
Oh, sure, the Pavilion crowd gave polite applause for the lineup that included Chris Ford and Harold Jensen. But the true Villanova greats in the house and catching notice were the ones romping their way toward another effortless game during a record winning streak.
Josh Hart scored 20 points in another performance that bolstered his player of the year candidacy to lead No. 1 Villanova to its 18th straight win, 90-48 over American on Wednesday night.
“I’m really pleased with their humility and their drive to get better,” Wright said.
The Wildcats (12-0) fattened their flawless start on the strength of blowout wins against the Eagles, Wake Forest, Lafayette and the rest of a nonconference slate that posed little serious threat to pull off an upset. The national champion Wildcats rose to No. 1 in the AP Top 25 poll for the second time in program history over their unbeaten start and have not lost since the Big East Tournament title game.
Play time is over. Bring on the Big East.
“I judge where our program is by what we do in the Big East,” Wright said. “I think if we’re at the top of the Big East, our season is in pretty good shape.”
Hart, who made two 3-pointers and 7 of 14 shots overall, will have to stay at the top of his game at the start of conference season. The Wildcats open against DePaul, then play consecutive road games against ranked teams Creighton and Butler. Xavier, also a Top 25 team, is the fifth game on the Big East schedule and each team wants to wrest the conference title away from the Wildcats.
American (3-8) flirted with the idea of a competitive game over the first 10 minutes. The flow early had a familiar feel: Villanova, seeded third, rallied from a 14-point deficit to beat American in the opening round of the 2009 NCAA Tournament in Philadelphia. Playing on campus, the Eagles failed to put a serious scare into Villanova and snapped a modest two-game winning streak.
The Wildcats made 9 of 10 shots during a 21-2 run and scored on 15 of their first 20 possessions in the second half to blow this one open. Mikal Bridges and Eric Paschall scored 15 points each and Jalen Brunson had 14 points and six assists. The Wildcats shot 63 percent (15 of 24) in the second half.
“Coach challenged us to get in the game,” Hart said. “We didn’t come out, especially the three seniors, and set the tone early. Second half, he challenged us again. We had a good talk in the locker room.”
Delante Jones led the Patriot League’s Eagles with 12 points. American, which entered as a 32-point underdog, can take solace in the fact it played a solid first half against the Wildcats. American had the game tied midway through the first half and wouldn’t let Villanova build a double-digit lead until late in the half. The Eagles were done in by 10 turnovers in the first half.
“We knew how good they were,” American coach Mike Brennan said. “Even if they are bad, they don’t play bad. It was a total buzz saw. I don’t think we were ready for it. I thought we hung in there and did some good things. It was just too much for us.”
Villanova is done with nonconference games until a Jan. 29 meeting with Virginia.
The Wildcats won their 44th straight game at the Pavilion and are inching closer to the school record of 46 straight wins from 2007-2011.
The Wildcats again were without national championship game star Phil Booth. Booth, who scored 20 points against North Carolina in the title game, missed his ninth straight game with left knee inflammation. There is no timetable on Booth’s return.
“We can’t progress to the next step until he is pain free,” Wright said.
Paschall has been a solid addition after sitting out last season as a transfer student, Paschall, the 2014-15 Atlantic 10 rookie of the year at Fordham, has hit double-digit scoring five times.
“Just playing with these dudes make it a lot easier,” he said.
American plays Loyola (Maryland) on Dec. 30.
The Wildcats open the Big East season at Dec. 28 at home against DePaul. Villanova has 12 straight wins in the series.
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) Caleb Swanigan had a career-best 32 points and 20 rebounds – his fourth consecutive double-double – and No. 15 Purdue defeated Norfolk State 91-45 on Wednesday night, the Boilermakers’ sixth straight victory.
Swanigan, who is averaging 23 points and 15.3 rebounds during the past four games, had 20 points and 14 rebounds in 17 first-half minutes, when the Boilermakers (11-2) built a commanding 53-25 lead over the Spartans (3-10).
A layup by Swanigan with 8:44 remaining gave the Boilermakers a 75-35 lead and established his career high, replacing the 27 points he scored in a March 2016 victory over Wisconsin in Mackey Arena.
Purdue, which also got 14 points and seven rebounds from center Isaac Haas, made 19 of 34 first-half shots (55.9 percent) and outrebounded Norfolk State 26-9 before halftime. Swanigan and Haas were a combined 12 of 14 from the field before intermission and 7 of 9 from the free throw line.
The Boilermakers led 8-7 with 15:26 left in the first half but countered with a 12-0 run over the next 2:58 to lead 20-7 and continued to pull away.
Purdue is 11-2 or better through 13 games for the fifth time in coach Matt Painter’s 12 seasons at his alma mater, led by a 13-0 start by the 2009-10 team.
Jonathan Wade had 13 points to lead the Spartans. He came in averaging 20. The Spartans are 0-10 against current members of the Big Ten.
Norfolk State: The Spartans have beaten only Division I opponent – Eastern Kentucky – and are woefully undersized when playing a Power 5 conference opponent with the size and strength Purdue features.
Purdue: As it has done throughout its six-game December winning streak, the Boilermakers continue to pound the ball inside to the 6-foot-8 Swanigan and the 7-2 Haas, whose size is too much for almost all mid-majors.
Norfolk State: The Spartans do not play again until a Dec. 30 trip to Bowling Green.
Purdue: The Boilermakers are off until Dec. 28 when they begin Big Ten play against Iowa in Mackey Arena.
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Coach Chris Holtmann expected more from No. 13 Butler on Wednesday night.
The crisp passes and fluid offense he witnessed in the Bulldogs’ previous two games were missing. Their usually devastating 3-point barrage was off the mark, and the energy was lacking. At halftime, Holtmann made it clear what needed to be done and the Bulldogs responded.
Andrew Chrabascz scored a season-high 28 points and Butler shot 69.6 percent from the field in the second half to pull away from Vermont, 81-69.
“We got exposed in some areas that are real concerns, that we’re going to need to shore up before we get into Big East play,” Holtmann said after earning his 100th career win, 56 of those since taking over at Butler three seasons ago. “I think they out-toughed us in a lot of ways, physically and that’s a concern. That’s a real concern.”
With three straight wins and a 36-game home winning streak over non-conference foes, Holtmann couldn’t complain about the result.
But with this being the only game on the schedule between Saturday’s upset of then-No. 9 Indiana and the start of conference play next week, Holtmann wanted to see a much stronger 40-minute effort.
Other than Chrabascz, who was 12 of 18 from the field, and Kelan Martin, who had 21 points and eight rebounds, the Bulldogs didn’t have another real scoring threat.
Holtmann also didn’t like seeing Vermont (8-5) score 34 points in the paint and play to a 32-32 rebounding draw. While that was good enough Wednesday, it won’t be soon.
“I think we know what’s coming,” Holtmann said.
Drew Urquhart and Trae Bell-Haynes scored 14 points each to lead the Catamounts, who took advantage of Butler’s sluggish start to keep the score close most of the first half.
Chrabascz changed everything with a 3-pointer in the middle of a 7-0 run. Butler followed that with another 6-0 flurry that pushed the led to 38-24 with 1:30 left in the half, and Vermont couldn’t got closer than eight the rest of the game.
“You’ve got to play almost flawless to beat this Butler team. They don’t beat themselves,” Vermont coach John Becker said. “We were close but not quite good enough yet.”
Vermont: This team is built around defense, and there’s little doubt the Catamounts can shut down teams. To take that next step and beat tougher opponents, though, Vermont must play more consistent offensively – something they struggled with as leading scorer Payton Henson sat out with a knee injury. Becker said Henson could miss up to a month.
Butler: For the second straight season, the Bulldogs head into conference play with an 11-1 record. But this year’s resume looks a little stronger. They’re 3-0 against ranked teams, 2-0 against the top 10 and added a win over the preseason favorite to win the America East Conference.
BACK HOME AGAIN
Former Indiana All-Star Josh Speidel was one of four Vermont players appearing in their home state. The group was comprised of Ernie and Everett Duncan, who played prep ball in Evansville, and senior guard Dre Wills, who grew up in Indy.
But it was Speidel, the freshman forward who sat on the bench dressed in street clothes and with his trademark bow tie, who had the starring role. He continues to rehab from a traumatic brain injury he suffered as the result of as serious car crash during his senior season at Columbus North High School. Butler’s fans gave Speidel a loud ovation during a special pregame introduction.
“There’s no place like home,” Speidel said.
TAKING A BREAK
The loudest ovation of the night came during a media timeout in the first half when an image of former coach Brad Stevens and former assistant coach Micah Shrewsberry appeared on the video board at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Stevens and Shrewsberry both work now for the Boston Celtics, who are in town to play the Indiana Pacers on Thursday night.
Vermont: Will take an eight-day break before heading to Siena on Dec. 29.
Butler: Opens Big East play Dec. 29 at St. John’s.
One of just two Cardinals from Louisville, Snider went for 22 points, six boards and five assists as No. 10 Louisville made a statement with a 73-70 win over their archrival, No. 6 Kentucky.
It was Louisville’s first second marquee win of the season, and it dropped the Wildcats to 2-6 in road openers under John Calipari.
Here are the five things we can takeaway from that game:
1. Louisville is a different team when their guards are making perimeter shots: That’s been the knock on them all season long. Entering Wednesday’s game, the trio of Donovan Mitchell, Quentin Snider and Deng Adel were shooting under 32 percent from three and none of the three were shooting better than 37 percent from the floor, and that’s after they had spent the last couple of weeks actually knocking down jumpers.
On Wednesday, the Cards shot 6-for-14 from beyond the arc, which was, percentage-wise, their best three-point shooting performance of the season. But it was also the most promising because none of the threes they shot were forced and all three of those guards knocked down a pair. They were able to get to the rim and make plays off the bounce, in part because Kentucky had to respect that five of those threes went in in the first half.
On a night where the Cardinals went 5-for-11 from deep in the first half, they attempted just three second half threes.
2. Quentin Snider had himself a day: Entering the season, all the talk surrounding this Louisville team was about how good Mitchell and Adel had the potential to be; some of it was about how they could end up being good enough to make up for the fact that the Cardinals were starting Snider at the point. Entering this game, the talk was about De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk, and how in the world were the Louisville guards going to be able to deal with that duo.
And by the middle of the second half on Wednesday, the story was Snider, whose 22 points were a career-high. He was the best player on the floor for either team, which isn’t hyperbole and is about the most shocking thing to come out of this game. That’s not because Snider isn’t good – we’ve seen him have big games before – but more that he’s never found a way to be much more than a tease.
This is what I mean: Last season, Snider went for 20 points on two different occasions. The games were about two weeks apart, and came in the middle of a seven-week stretch where they were the only two games in which he cracked double-figures. Snider had a slow-start to this season, but he’s scored at least nine points in every game for the last month, he’s averaging 16.7 points in his last three and has hit at least two threes in each of his last four games.
And he capped it with this performance.
If he can be a guy that is a consistent source of offense and perimeter shooting, it takes a whole lot of the burden off of Adel and Mitchell.
Speaking of Deng Adel: He had himself a day as well, finishing with a career-high 18 points in what was a breakout performance for the sophomore. He’s been a guy that’s run hot and cold this season. You can see the talent that he has when he plays like he did on Wednesday which is why it’s frustrating to look at his numbers this season and see that he’s shooting 35.5 percent from the floor and 28.9 percent from three.
3. Spin zone!: Let’s take this loss for Kentucky in perspective:
The Wildcats were playing their first true road game of the season. It was the first true road game in the college career of four of their starters, including their superstar back court.
Malik Monk was off. He was 6-for-17 from the floor, 3-for-14 on jumpers and 1-for-9 from three on a night where Louisville’s defense kept him out of a rhythm and forcing tough jumpers off the dribble.
Bam Adebayo looked dominant when he got touches, but he also looked like a freshman playing on the road for the first time. He had a couple of sloppy turnovers, he got burned in ball-screen actions on Louisville’s final two field goals and he was 1-for-6 from the free throw in the second half.
As a team, Kentucky shot 19-for-29 from the line.
As a team, Louisville shot 42.1 percent from three. They entered the game 248th nationally in three-point percentage.
And despite all of that, Kentucky lost by just a single point to a top ten team on the road.
Losing this game damages Kentucky’s chances of getting a No. 1 seed, but it should only reinforce the idea that this team is more than good enough to win a national title.
4. Kentucky won’t hit their peak until they get more out of their supporting cast: I said it after the win against North Carolina and Kentucky fans crushed me for it, but I’ll say it again: Kentucky needs to get more out of players not named Fox or Monk, particularly offensively. They combined to create 87 of Kentucky’s 103 points against North Carolina, which is terrific when they’re rolling and a red flag on the nights they’re not.
It looked, early on, like that was going to be Bam Adebayo’s breakout game. He had 10 points midway through the second half and was 5-for-5 from the floor with a trio of absolutely monstrous dunks, but that dissipated down the stretch as Bam missed free throws and was left in the dust when he switched on Louisville’s guards. He’ll get there, but he’s not quite there yet. Isaiah Briscoe played a really good floor game – he had five boards, three assists and helped shut down Mitchell – but that’s who he is against this level of competition. Kentucky can’t hold out hope he’s going to average 18 points against teams that can match his size and strength.
To me, the answer is either Derek Willis or Mychal Mulder. Both of those guys are snipers from beyond the arc, which will help create more space in the half court. Willis already rotates with Wenyen Gabriel at the four, but Mulder played the first really meaningful minutes of his career against the Cardinals. It worked, as he hit a pair of triples in nine minutes of action.
Whoever it ends up being, Kentucky needs to find another consistent source of points outside of their big two.
5. We need to consider Louisville an ACC title contender: They’ve been terrific defensively all season long. There’s a reason they entered Wednesday night as the No. 1 team in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, and they’re not going to drop after holding the Wildcats before 1.0 points-per-possession. But with the way that their guards played on Wednesday – and the way that trio has been playing of late – maybe they’re not as much of a liability as we thought.
But that’s not the only reason.
Duke is in something close to disarray right now. Grayson Allen is tripping people again, Luke Kennard is telling reporters that the team isn’t about winning and Harry Giles III has yet to get himself into a rhythm. North Carolina looks to be damn good, but there’s nothing about them that says they’re markedly better than Louisville, if at all.
And Louisville has that defense, and man, is that defense good.
Rick Pitino has so many different looks that he uses. Sometimes it’s a man-to-man press. Sometimes it’s a 2-2-1 press. Sometimes they trap in the back court. Sometimes they fall back into a man and sometimes it’s a 2-3 zone. Sometimes that half court defense changes midway through a possession. Sometimes the Cardinals are playing man on one side of the court and zone on the other.
It’s not easy to figure out, and that’s before you factor in the crazy amount of length and athleticism that the Cardinals have up and down their lineup.
This is a good team that seems to be peaking at the right time.
POSTERIZED: Bam Adebayo puts Anas Mahmoud into the rim