NORMAN, Okla. (AP) James Bolden knows his opportunities to play for West Virginia often are limited, so he has to maximize the minutes he receives. His ability to do so helped the 13th-ranked Mountaineers immensely on Wednesday night.
The freshman guard scored a career-high 17 points in 10 minutes and West Virginia survived an off-shooting night to beat Oklahoma 61-50.
West Virginia (19-5, 7-4 Big 12) won for the first time ever at Oklahoma (8-15, 2-9) in five attempts and avenged an overtime defeat at the hands of the Sooners, who won 89-87 in Morgantown on Jan. 18.
The Mountaineers won despite shooting a season-low 37 percent from the field. West Virginia used its frenetic press to force 23 turnovers, 11 more than the Sooners committed in the previous meeting, and limited the Sooners to 33.3 percent shooting.
Bolden entered Wednesday having played only 107 minutes in 15 games. His previous career high had been nine points vs. VMI on Dec. 10, but against the Sooners he went 6 of 11 from the field and 3 of 6 from 3-point range. In the first half, he scored 15 of West Virginia’s 27 points.
“I just get in and do what I do in the time I get,” Bolden said. “When I’m called on, I’ve just got to be ready. I’ve got older guys in front of me . that are going to take the majority of the minutes. If I can get in, I’m going to try and contribute to the team.”
Kameron McGusty scored 11 points for the Sooners, who were so frazzled on offense that they burned all four of their timeouts by the 8:10 mark of the second half. Oklahoma lost its sixth straight since its win at West Virginia and posted a season low for points.
“West Virginia’s pressure bothered us a lot,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “We didn’t handle it nearly as well as you have to to have a chance to beat a good ball club.
“I just didn’t think we moved with the same conviction to be available. West Virginia is going to work hard. They usually do. They try to cut you with their pressure. It didn’t kill us there but it did tonight. I thought they definitely won that battle.”
Bolden kept West Virginia afloat in the first half and gave them a 27-25 halftime lead with a driving layup right before the buzzer.
“I think he is terrific,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said of Bolden. “He has been doing well in practice. You try to work those guys up.”
Nathan Adrian took over in the second half for the Mountaineers, scoring eight of his 13 points. His putback with 7:12 left gave West Virginia its first double-digit lead of the game at 48-38 and Jevon Carter followed with a 3-pointer from the corner for the Mountaineers.
Seven straight points by the Sooners – four by Khadeem Lattin, who tied a career high with 14 rebounds – pulled them within 51-45 with 5:15 left, but they came no closer as West Virginia outscored them 10-5 in the final 5 minutes.
“That’s what the Bob Huggins way is – we compete and play hard,” Bolden said. “We’ve just got to play hard for 40 minutes. If we do that and still play bad, you can get a win.”
Oklahoma jumped to an 11-2 lead in the first 4 minutes and led for all but a few seconds of the first half, despite going without a field goal for almost 8 minutes in one stretch.
West Virginia: Every team will have bad nights and the Mountaineers were fortunate to have survived one of theirs without taking a loss. They will have to play much better in upcoming games against Sunflower State foes Kansas State and Kansas.
Oklahoma: Once again – as in an earlier loss to Kansas – a young Oklahoma squad held tough for a half with a ranked Big 12 foe at home before fading down the stretch. The Sooners have been close in nearly every game during their six-game losing streak but haven’t made winning plays in the final minutes.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers could have dropped several spots with a loss, but now their poll fate for next week depends on how they fare Saturday at Kansas State.
West Virginia played without starting guard Daxter Miles Jr., who sat out with a sprained right ankle that he injured earlier this week in practice. The university listed Miles’ status as day-to-day. Tarik Phillip started in place of Miles. . McGusty extended his streak of double-digit scoring games to 11, the longest by an OU freshman since Jeff Webster had 22 straight in 1990-91. . The loss was Oklahoma’s 100th in Lloyd Noble Arena since the facility opened in 1975. The Sooners have won 533 home games during the same period. . Huggins has 810 career wins and needs two more to tie Rollie Massimino for eighth place on the all-time Division I coaching wins list.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers will host one of Huggins’ former teams, Kansas State, on Saturday before a trip to Lawrence, Kansas, to face No. 3 Kansas next Monday.
Oklahoma: The Sooners’ next three games are against teams that beat them in the final seconds of earlier games – at Iowa State on Saturday, at home vs. Texas next Tuesday and at Oklahoma State on Feb. 18.
Kentucky has reached a crossroads of their season.
They steamrolled everyone in their path for the first month of the year. Losses at home to UCLA and at Louisville were explainable, particularly when there was a win over North Carolina in Las Vegas between them, and forgettable once SEC play started and the Wildcats were doing things like beating Texas A&M by 42 points.
But over the course of the last three weeks, the high-octane Wildcats have looked like a mustang on the highway being driven with the emergency brake on. As Drew Franklin of Kentucky Sports Radio put it, “Kentucky is a bad basketball team full of talented basketball players.”
“You won’t want to be at that practice tomorrow,” head coach John Calipari said in his postgame interview on ESPN after the Wildcats gave up 58 second half points in a 92-85 win over hapless LSU, the fifth straight game they’ve allowed more than 79 points to their opponent. “If someone wants to quit, they can quit. Because this has got to stop at some point.”
This is a team with as much talent as anyone in the country. This is a team that, at one point, looked like an unstoppable force.
How has it gone so wrong for Kentucky?
1. This just isn’t a good defensive team right now: That’s the crux of the issue for this team. They’re just aren’t getting enough stops. They’ve allowed an average of 86.2 points the last five games and, in the last four games, they’ve gifted their opponents an average of 54 points in the second half. They were beat up in the post by Tennessee. They were beaten in transition by Florida. Yante Maten of Georgia lit them up. LSU’s Antonio Blakeney scored 31 points, easily the best game he’s played this season.
“They couldn’t guard us for s***,” said a member of one staff that has faced Kentucky recently. Entering the game against Tennessee, the start of this recent slide, the Wildcats had totaled just 16 possessions of zone all season long. They’ve more than doubled that number in the last five games, with a total of 27 possessions coming against Georgia and Florida. Coach Cal relies as much upon a straight man-to-man defense as anyone, so while that number may not sound all that high in a vacuum, consider that in 2014-15, he played a total of 32 zone possessions.
Early on this season, Kentucky was able to thrive defensively because of the advantage they have physically. They were bigger, stronger and more athletic than anyone that they faced. Malik Monk, for example, didn’t need to understand how to scheme against a pick-and-roll when going up against Hofstra’s guards. The result was that Kentucky could force tough shots and turnovers which, in turn, allowed Kentucky to fire up their transition game, which is as terrifying in its speed, ferocity and directness as any in college hoops.
That’s the key to beating Kentucky.
You don’t let them beat you in transition.
“That was our No. 1 thing: make it a half-court game,” said an SEC coach who has scouted Kentucky this season. There are a couple of ways to go about this, the easiest of which is limiting the number of players that are going to the glass. Instead of sending three or four players to chase an offensive rebound, only send the two bigs. The more bodies behind the ball, the harder it is to get uncontested layups.
The other part of it is to avoid making the mistakes that lead to fast breaks. Don’t commit live-ball turnovers. Don’t take quick shots or forced jumpers. Run offense. Get the ball into the post. Because, unlike some of Kentucky’s best teams, this group will actually make mistakes defensively, which leads me into my next point.
2. This is what freshmen are supposed to be: One thing that got lost in Kentucky’s frenetic start to the season is that this lineup is as young as any that John Calipari’s ever had. His starting lineup includes four freshmen and a sophomore, and no one in that group is the kind of game-changing defensive presence that we’ve seen amongst Kentucky’s one-and-done players. There is no Karl-Anthony Towns. There is no Anthony Davis. There is no Willie Cauley-Stein or Nerlens Noel.
“They were as talented as they come, ahead of the game defensively as a freshman, and that’s a unique thing,” said an SEC assistant. “Most are ahead of the game offensively as freshmen. You don’t get freshmen that are like seniors as freshmen, and [Towns, Davis, Noel and Cauley-Stein] were killers on defense.”
This team, with all those young guys, they don’t have those guys that are seniors on defense. Isaiah Briscoe is the veteran presence on the floor and he’s a sophomore 50 games into his college career. Derek Willis is a senior, but his ineptitude on the defensive end of the floor is the reason that he can’t crack the starting lineup in a team that’s desperate for perimeter shooting. The same can be said for Mychal Mulder. In theory, Dominique Hawkins would be the ideal player to put in that role, but if he’s on the floor that means that one of Fox, Monk or Briscoe isn’t, and that’s simply not a recipe for consistent success.
The larger point is that freshmen are supposed to make mistakes defensively. That’s what freshmen do. The bigs are learning how to do something other than be really big and play in front of the rim. Guards are learning about a myriad of different ball-screens coverages, their defensive rotations, specific game-plans for specific players. Once you get into the meat of league play, defending isn’t as simple as “just stop your man,” and at this level, an individual’s defensive mistake leads to a breakdown of the entire defense.
Point being, Kentucky doesn’t have bad individual defenders as much as they have young defenders, and young defenders make mistakes.
Which brings us back to the issue of Kentucky’s transition game, because their defensive issues are compounded by the fact that …
3. … Kentucky is predictable in the half court: It’s not a secret what they’re trying to do, as their offense is, essentially, one of three things: Fox trying to turn the corner going left, Monk getting run off of screens and hunting jumpshots, or Adebayo getting the ball thrown into him in the post.
All three players are difficult to stop individually, but defenses don’t usually play them individually. Kentucky’s perimeter shooting woes have been a talking point since before the season started, and where those issues manifest themselves is in the inability for Fox to get driving lanes and for Adebayo to get a shot at going 1-on-1 in the post.
Monk can win any game on his own, but ‘hero ball’ can also shoot the Wildcats out of a game.
“We knew how dangerous Monk is in the half court, but you’re going to live with him taking tough shots,” said an SEC assistant. “If he gets 25, making tough shots in the half court, you deal.”
Against Georgia, Monk had 31 of his 37 points after halftime in a come-from-behind win. Three days later, he has his worst game of the season and Kentucky got smoked at Florida.
The other issue?
There seems to be a lack of fight with this group. Talk to people around the conference and you’ll hear things like “don’t really see a lot of leadership” and “they seem disinterested.” Tennessee is totally outclassed in terms of talent but, as one person that scouted the Tennessee’s win said, “Tennessee just played harder.” In the loss to Florida, they got punched in the mouth and didn’t have an answer, as Florida dominated the glass, picked up every loose ball and lit up Kentucky in transition.
In other words, Florida did to Kentucky what Kentucky wants to do to everyone else.
4. This is the danger of expectations: To me, this was the biggest take away I had from reporting on Kentucky.
Let’s look at this in a vacuum. As of today, the Wildcats are 19-5 on the season. They’re sitting tied for first place in the SEC with a good shot at getting a top three seed in the NCAA tournament come Selection Sunday. They have game-changing talent all over their roster and a back court that will be outclassed by exactly zero teams.
All things considered, that’s not a bad year to have for a team that starts four freshmen and a sophomore.
But this is Kentucky, where sitting atop a power conference has people questioning whether or not the basketball team is actually good.
The bottom line is this: At some point, all teams get found out. Once a few games worth of film make it to synergy, the coaches in this profession are good enough to figure out A) what it is that you want to do and B) how to slow it down. The best of the best are able to win when their opponent knows exactly what’s coming and make their adjustments while on a winning streak.
Everyone else, including teams as good and as talented and as flawed as Kentucky, will take a few losses along the way. They’ll go through a slump, and that’s where the Wildcats are right now.
“There’s a lot of stuff going on on,” Calipari said, adding later, “[I] don’t want to shorten the rotation to five or six guys, but I will if I have to. I’d like to play eight or nine guys so they all get a chance to play, have fun, morale, all that. But you better deserve to be on that court.”
Duke dealt with this for a month before they made the decision to fully embrace playing small-ball. They’re 3-0 since the change. Kansas had their issues and they made the decision to play zone; it earned them a comeback win in Rupp Arena despite playing short-handed.
Kentucky’s 2014 team – the last Cal-coached team to start four freshmen and a sophomore, the team that entered the year with hopes of going 40-0 and entered the tournament with 10 losses, finishing six games behind SEC champs Florida – had ‘the tweak’ before making their run to the national title game.
Calipari has been talking this week about a ‘reboot’.
Will that be enough for this group to fix what ails them?
VIDEO: VCU wins a game by taking a charge on an inbounds pass with 0.4 seconds left
If VCU head coach Will Wade hasn’t bought a Powerball ticket, it may be a good time for him to do so.
On Wednesday night, the Rams picked up a win on one of the oldest and most basic plays in college basketball. Let me set the stage for you: VCU and Georgetown Washington are locked in a barn-burner. With 10 seconds left, VCU’s JeQuan Lewis misses a free throw that sets up a possession that ends with GW’s Yuta Watanabe hitting what should have been a game-winning three:
Time expired, but 0.4 seconds were put back on the block, which means that VCU basically needed a miracle in order to survive their road trip to Foggy Bottom, and a miracle is exactly what they got. On the ensuing inbounds, Lewis redeemed himself for the missed free throw drawing a foul – it’s technically not a charge because Lewis is on offense, but he took a charge – on the man defending the inbounder.
Tennessee (RPI: 37, KenPom: 36, first four out): The Vols kept themselves in tournament contention with a win over Ole Miss on Wednesday. It’s not a profile-changing win, but it does provide another top 100 win. Tennessee’s biggest issue at this point is that they already have 10 losses and the season and still have to play at Kentucky and at South Carolina. There isn’t much room for error with this group, regardless of how tough their schedule has been.
Miami (RPI: 54, KenPom: 39, play-in game): The Hurricanes picked up a massive win on Wednesday, landing just their second top 50 win of the season. Miami’s biggest issue right now is that they just don’t have enough good wins, and with four games left against Louisville, Duke, Virginia and Florida State – with all but Duke coming on the road – there are a lot of tough games left on their schedule. Miami has the feel of a team that’s going to head into the ACC tournament needing to win a game or two to get a bid.
Seton Hall (RPI: 36, KenPom: 52, play-in game): The Pirates got taken to overtime at home by Providence, but they survived thanks to a game-winning bucket from Myles Powell. It adds another top 100 win to their profile and, more importantly, the Pirates still haven’t lost at home to anyone not named Butler. The Pirates will earn their bid in the next two weeks, when they get Creighton, Villanova and Xavier in consecutive games.
Cal (RPI: 39, KenPom: 53, No. 10 seed): The Golden Bears moved to 18-6 overall and 9-3 in the Pac-12 with just one bad loss to their name. But there isn’t much meat to their profile. Their only top 50 win is at USC, and the only two chances they have left come at Arizona this weekend and against Oregon in two weeks at home. They need at least one of those two wins.
Minnesota (RPI: 22, KenPom: 38, No. 9 seed): The Gophers added another win over Iowa in overtime, this time at home. I continue to believe Minnesota is safer than a No. 9 seed. They have four top 50 wins, three of which were away from home and two of which were true road games. They also only have two sub-50 losses, both on the road, and a non-conference SOS of 18.
Oklahoma State (RPI: 28, KenPom: 21, No. 9 seed): The Pokes are still in a really good spot on the bubble – losing to Baylor anywhere isn’t going to hurt one’s profile – but this was a golden opportunity to steal a win that could have, in theory, moved them off the bubble for now. As of today, eight of their nine losses came against top 50 opponents and four of their six best wins came away from home. This is a good position for them to be in, but the only other chance Oklahoma State will have to get an elite win comes at home against Kansas in the season finale.
Virginia Tech (RPI: 38, KenPom: 54, No. 8 seed): The Hokies are still in a good spot despite losing at Miami on Wednesday. A road loss to a top 50ish team isn’t a stain on their profile and they still have those eight top 100 wins, including a home win over Duke. If Buzz Williams’ club can hold serve at home the rest of the way, they should be just fine on Selection Sunday.
BYU point guard L.J. Rose to undergo knee surgery Friday