Arizona Wildcats

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Team of the Week: Butler Bulldogs

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Butler put together a fairly dominating performance on Saturday, beating No. 9 Indiana 83-78 in a game they lead by 14 at halftime. Kelan Martin led the way with 28 points for the Bulldogs, who suddenly look like a team that we need to talk about at the top of the Big East this season.

They’re one of just two teams this season to beat the Hoosiers, who own wins over top ten teams North Carolina and Kansas. They’re one of just two teams to beat Arizona this season. They’ve beaten Cincinnati. They’ve beaten Vanderbilt and Northwestern. They won at Utah. Their lone loss on the season came on the road to an in-state rival that will likely finish in the top four of one of the best mid-major leagues in the country.

They have a star in Martin. They have a pair of talented point guards, Tyler Lewis and Kamar Baldwin, who compliment each other so well. Andrew Chrabacsz and Tyler Wideman makeup an underrated front court. Chris Holtmann has proven to be one of the best young coaches in the game.

Look, I don’t think anyone believes Butler is going to win the Big East barring some kind of season-altering injury to Villanova.

But is there really any reason to believe that the Bulldogs can’t finish second in the Big East?

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THEY WERE GOOD TOO

  • Purdue: The Boilermakers came back from 17 points down in the first half to knock off Notre Dame in the Crossroads Classic on Saturday. Caleb Swanigan was the star, but credit has to be given to Vince Edwards as well. He played his best basketball of the season, finishing with 20 points and 10 boards.
  • Arizona: Give Sean Miller and Arizona credit. This team, with Ray Smith done for the year, Parker Jackson-Cartwright injured and Allonzo Trier out, just keeps winning. On Saturday, they handed Texas A&M a loss in Houston in the Lone Star Shootout, and while Lauri Markkanen, Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins all have continued to improve this season, it was Dusan Ristic who was the star on Saturday.
  • Seton Hall: The Pirates landed a key win in their push to get a bid to the NCAA tournament by handing South Carolina their first loss of the season. The Pirates may be without Isaiah Whitehead this season, but they still have a roster full of scrappy, athletic veterans that are not going to back down from anyone. I don’t know if anyone plays as hard as Angel Delgado.
  • Oklahoma State: The Cowboys picked up their biggest win of the season on Saturday, as they went into Wichita and knocked off the Shockers in a dominating performance. Brad Underwood has had this group playing better this season, but this was really the first time that the Pokes have landed a resulted that backs that up.
  • Northwestern: Is this going to be the year that the Wildcats finally make it to the NCAA tournament? They still have a ton of work left to do, but the job got a little bit easier on Saturday as Northwestern knocked off Dayton in the United Center in Chicago. Chris Collins has that team sitting at 9-2 on the season, with the losses coming by a total of six points against Butler and Notre Dame. They’ve beaten Texas, DePaul and Wake Forest already this year, but Dayton has a chance to be a top 25 win come Selection Sunday.

No. 19 Arizona outlasts Grand Canyon 64-54

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TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) Arizona bumped DeWayne Russell, followed him wherever he went, made it difficult for the nation’s second-leading scorer all night long.

Russell still managed to score 19 points, but the 19th-ranked Wildcats earned the victory.

Arizona overcame a rash of turnovers and a disjointed-at-times offense with a hounding defense, making Russell work for everything he got in a 64-54 win over Grand Canyon on Wednesday night.

“It was just knowing what he wants to do, where he wants to go and eliminating that,” Arizona’s Kobi Simmons said of stopping Russell.

Russell entered the game scoring 25.4 points per game and had 42 against No. 11 Louisville , one of the nation’s best defensive teams.

The slightly built senior guard is the focal point of every team’s defense and it was no different against Arizona.

The Wildcats (9-2) used a physical tactic against Russell, chasing and bumping him all over McKale Center while holding him to 8-of-21 shooting and 1 of 7 from 3-point range.

“DeWayne’s unbelievable,” Grand Canyon coach Dan Majerle said. “To be keyed on, especially with the team we have, they know he’s going to be the guy getting all the shots and he finds a way to get some shots up.”

Arizona needed that kind of effort on a night filled with turnovers and shots that wouldn’t fall.

The Wildcats built a 16-point lead in the first half, but allowed the short-handed Antelopes to claw most of the way back due to a rash of turnovers.

Arizona had 19 turnovers overall and struggled shooting in the second half before wearing down Grand Canyon for its 39th straight non-conference home win.

Simmons scored 13 points, and Rawle Alkins added 11 points and eight rebounds for the Wildcats.

“I thought it was a great challenge for our players, especially our freshmen,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “We’re going to run into some of this moving forward and some of the teams that play with their style, are that physical and that tough-minded are also going to be much bigger.”

Grand Canyon (5-5), which is in the final year of its transition to Division I, kept Louisville within reach until late last week and did the same against Arizona.

Russell almost singlehandedly kept the Antelopes in the Louisville game, but had help against Arizona in one of college basketball’s toughest road arenas.

Russell had 11 points in the first half, helping Grand Canyon trim a 16-point deficit to 32-25 by halftime.

Arizona had 12 turnovers in the first half and struggled to make shots early in the second, allowing the Antelopes to trim the lead to 44-40. Arizona tried to pull away after that, but Oscar Frayer stayed aggressive as the Wildcats keyed on Russell, scoring all of his 16 points in the second half to keep the game from being a blowout.

“We played really hard tonight,” Russell said. “That’s one thing we can definitely hang our hats on: We play hard.”

BIG PICTURE

Grand Canyon played well against a Top 25 team for the second time in a week and should be set up well for when the WAC season starts.

Arizona was not nearly as crisp as it was in a blowout win over Missouri the last time out, playing disjointedly on offense at times but well on defense.

FREE THROWS

Arizona’s size advantage led to a big disparity in free throws. The Wildcats went to the line 27 times and made 20, while the Antelopes took just 12, hitting six.

SCHEDULING TOUGH

Majerle has been aggressive about scheduling top-quality opponents for the Antelopes, hoping to prepare them for the jump to Division I next season while giving the program exposure.

Grand Canyon opened this season at top-ranked Duke, hosted Louisville earlier this season, and previously had games against Kentucky and Indiana.

“This should only help us,” Majerle said.

UP NEXT

Grand Canyon hosts Mississippi State on Saturday to kick off a four-game home stand.

Arizona plays at Texas A&M on Saturday, its final road game before the Pac-12 season starts.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: UT Arlington Mavericks

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The Mavericks entered the season as one of the mid-majors on every watch list, but they struggled early on.

They lost at Minnesota, at Arkansas and at FGCU in the first two weeks of the season, but for a team that spends the majority of their non-conference schedule on the road, it’s impressive to note that they haven’t lost since then.

They won at Fordham and North Texas. Then they won at Texas. Thursday, however, was their most impressive win of the season, and one of the most impressive that anyone has landed during non-conference play: The Mavericks went into Moraga and picked off then-No. 12 Saint Mary’s.

And they didn’t just win. They were up by double-figures for the last 25 minutes. They controlled the tempo and they totally flummoxed a really efficient and well-coached team, and they did it despite the fact that their best player, Kevin Hervey, is still feeling the effects of a torn ACL suffered last season.

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THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • Wichita State: The Shockers lost Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker this offseason, but it looks like Gregg Marshall’s team hasn’t lost a beat. With wins over Saint Louis and Oklahoma this week, the latter of which came in Oklahoma City, Wichita State moved to 9-2 on the season and put themselves into a good position to get back to the NCAA tournament. Picking off Oklahoma State next week in the Koch Arena would be huge.
  • Middle Tennessee State: If UT Arlington has been one of the best mid-majors in college basketball this season, the Blue Raiders aren’t all that far behind. This week, they won at South Alabama and beat Vanderbilt by 23 points at home. This came two weeks after they mollywhopped Ole Miss in Oxford, winning by 15 in a game they led 48-19 at the half. Believe it or not, this team might be better than the one that beat Michigan State last year in the NCAA tournament.
  • BYU: The Cougars needed to get a couple of wins this week, and they got them, beating in-state rival and Big Sky favorite Weber State and following that up with a win over Colorado (who was fresh off upsetting Xavier) over the weekend.
  • Florida State: The Seminoles not only got a win over in-state rival No. 21 Florida, they also got Johnathan Isaac back from a hip flexor injury that had held him out of the lineup for two games.
  • Arizona: The Wildcats have had a rough go of things early on this season. They’re working through a rash of injuries and a suspension to the guy that would probably be the best guard on their roster in Allonzo Trier. The good news? It looks like Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons are starting to figure things out. They both had 19 points in a win at Missouri on Saturday.

College Basketball Talk Top 25: Duke is back in the No. 1 spot

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I made some changes in my top 25 this week, and I did it for one reason and one reason only: I think Duke is the best team in college basketball.

And I get it. I might be the only one that ranks Duke No. 1 this week, because there are so many other teams with valid argument to be ranked above Duke.

  • Villanova was No. 1 last week and all they did was beat a city rival and then knock off No. 21 Notre Dame.
  • Kansas has already beaten Duke this season on a neutral court.
  • UCLA owns the most impressive win of the season, picking off Kentucky in Rupp Arena. Duke has beaten Florida, Rhode Island and Michigan State and played Kansas tough.
  • Baylor has the best résumé of anyone to date.

But these rankings are supposed to be used to determine who is the best team in the country, right?

RANKINGS: AP Poll | Coaches Poll | NBC Sports Top 25

And I think that Duke is the best team in college basketball. We all had them there in the preseason, before all of the injuries. Now that they’re getting back to full strength, we’re just going to ignore that fact because Frank Mason II hit a jumper and Villanova hasn’t given us a reason to drop them?

I guess I understand the logic, but it just seems silly to rank someone else No. 1 when you don’t think they’re the best team in the country.

Anyway, here is the NBCSports.com Top 25:

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1. Duke (10-1, Last Week: 4)
2. Villanova (10-0, 1)
3. UCLA (10-0, 2)
4. Kansas (9-1, 3)
5. Kentucky (9-1, 5)
6. North Carolina (10-1, 6)
7. Gonzaga (10-0, 7)
8. Baylor (8-0, 8)
9. Creighton (10-0, 9)
10. Indiana (8-1, 10)
11. Wisconsin (9-2, 11)
12. Louisville (9-1, 12)
13. West Virginia (8-1, 15)
14. Purdue (8-2, 14)
15. South Carolina (8-0, 17)
16. Xavier (8-2, 13)
17. Saint Mary’s (7-1, 14)
18. Virginia (8-1, 18)
19. Butler (9-1, 19)
20. USC (9-0, 21)
21. Notre Dame (9-1, 24)
22. Cincinnati (7-2, 19)
23. Oregon (9-2, NR)
24. Arizona (8-2, NR)
25. Texas A&M (7-2, NR)

DROPPED OUT: No. 21 Florida, No. 23 Syracuse, No. 25 Iowa State
NEW ADDITIONS: No. 23 Oregon, No. 24 Arizona, No. 25 Texas A&M

Alkins leads No. 20 Arizona past Missouri, 79-60

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COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) It’s an old cliché winning on the road in college basketball is no easy task.

As a visiting opponent, having only seven players on scholarship doesn’t make it any easier.

It didn’t seem to faze No. 20 Arizona, which looked polished and poised as it defeated Missouri for the third consecutive season, cruising to a 79-60 victory Saturday in its first true road game of the season.

Rawle Alkins led the way for the Wildcats with 19 points and nine rebounds. Kobi Simmons had 19 points on 8-of-15 shooting, and Kadeem Allen added 17 points, seven rebounds and four assists.

“We’re going through a lot right now,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “How we practice and every game, it’s just really crucial for us. I think that in short time, I’m hopeful we can get some guys back, but in the meantime, this was a meaningful game. … I’m proud of our guys’ effort and approach tonight.”

The Wildcats (8-2) jumped out to an 8-0 lead in the first 3:12, eventually taking a 25-8 lead with 10:29 remaining in the first half. From that point, Missouri outscored Arizona 28-16 in the half, including a 7-0 run to end the opening 20 minutes.

The Tigers (5-4) continued to chip away at Arizona’s lead, eventually cutting the deficit to 45-41 early in the second half. However, the Wildcats responded with a 26-4 run that included a Missouri scoring drought of 6:59, halting any momentum the Tigers had mustered.

“I thought we did great job of coming back,” Missouri coach Kim Anderson said. “I was really proud of our guys and the way they competed. In the second half early, we had some chances, and then they went on a great run and for all practical purposes, put the game out of reach.”

Kevin Puryear had a team-best 11 points and seven rebounds. Leading scorer Frankie Hughes was held in check by the Wildcats’ backcourt, scoring 10 points on 2-of-13 shooting. Russell Woods had eight points and six rebounds, and Cullen VanLeer added eight points, all in the first half.

A reported crowd of over 10,000 was on hand for the only currently ranked opponent on Missouri’s home schedule.

VanLeer attributed the Tigers’ comeback efforts to the home crowd energy.

“The magnitude of the crowd was really nice to have. We appreciated everyone that came out. We were upset we couldn’t get the win today, but hopefully we can continue to get bigger crowds and it’ll help us get rhythm and flow in the game,” VanLeer said.

Arizona dominated the glass, outrebounding Missouri 46-28, its worst rebounding margin of the season.

The Wildcats led wire-to-wire despite nearly doubling Missouri’s turnovers, 15-8, and committing 22 fouls to the Tigers’ 11. Missouri shot 66.7 percent from the free throw line, including 9 of 17 in the second half.

BIG PICTURE

Arizona: The Wildcats entered the game shooting 36.6 percent from 3-point range, but caught fire early against the Tigers, shooting 54.2 percent. Missouri made just 1 of 8 3-point attempts in the second half while the Wildcats made 6 of 10. Missouri was coming off a season-high 3-point output against Miami (Ohio).

Missouri: A tenacious on-ball defender, Missouri point guard Terrence Phillips has struggled with foul trouble in recent games. In Monday’s 81-55 win over Miami (Ohio) Phillips played only 10 minutes in the second half, finishing with four fouls. He picked up his third foul 3:56 into the second half, limiting him to just 16 minutes against the Wildcats.

PIVOTAL MOMENT

Woods received a bounce pass in the lane on a fast break and gathered for a two-handed slam in front of the Missouri student section that would have cut the deficit to 45-43, but missed the dunk. On the ensuing Arizona possession, Woods was whistled for a foul, leading to two free throws by Arizona forward Dusan Ristic, who finished with 12 points and six rebounds.

LET DOWN

Freshman 7-footer Lauri Markkanen entered the game as Arizona’s leading scorer and rebounder, averaging 17.8 points and 7.2 rebounds. Against Missouri, the native of Finland had a season-low eight points to go with six rebounds, and fouled out with 2:53 remaining.

Puryear discussed his approach to defending Markkanen.

“Just being physical with him,” Puryear said. “Not letting him get comfortable with where he was on the floor with the ball. He likes to operate in the mid-post area, so I tried to eliminate that.”

UP NEXT

Arizona: hosts Grand Canyon on Wednesday.

Missouri: hosts Eastern Illinois next Saturday.

No. 8 Gonzaga outlasts depleted No. 16 Arizona

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No. 8 Gonzaga jumped out to a 23-9 lead and held on as No. 16 Arizona rallied down the stretch, beating the Wildcats 69-62 in Los Angeles on Sunday night.

The Bulldogs got 18 points and a pair of blocks from 7-foot-1 center Przemek Karnowski’s whose impact on this game cannot be measured by the box score. Karnowski is an unbelievable passer out of the post, but he’s also a terrific scorer that almost has to be double-teamed. And when that double-team comes, the ball is out of his hands and into the hands of an open teammate.

The big man is also a force on the defensive end of the floor, where his size allows him to take up space in the lane and his length causes all kinds of problems for players trying to finish in the paint.

That’s worth noting because he isn’t anywhere near to being the most-heralded player on that roster. That title probably goes to Nigel Williams-Goss, who was all-Pac 12 at Washington. Or Jordan Mathews, who averaged 13 points the last two seasons at Cal. Johnathan Williams III was a top 50 prospect. Zach Collins was a McDonald’s All-American. Josh Perkins was recruited by Kentucky.

Point being, this is a very good Gonzaga team, one with talent and depth.

And Karnowski is as important as anyone on the roster.

It’s also worth noting here that Arizona put up an impressive fight for a team playing with seven guys right now. Parker Jackson-Cartwright sprained his ankle Wednesday night. Allonzo Trier still isn’t playing. And the Wildcats fought back from 14 points down in the first eight minutes to make this a game down the stretch.

Arizona has a lot of issues right now.

But there’s still talent on this roster and this is still a team of kids that are going to battle every time they take the floor.