John Calipari

Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie has a word with guard Rodney Purvis (44) during an NCAA college basketball game against Michigan on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015, in Paradise Island, Bahamas. (Brad Horrigan/The Courant via AP)
Brad Horrigan/The Courant via AP

College names surface in reports regarding Lakers coaching vacancy

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With some NBA head coaching jobs opening up, it’s that time of year when the names of prominent college basketball head coaches get mentioned for such opportunities. Of course we’ve all become used to the annual rumors involving Kentucky head coach John Calipari, who has yet to move away from one of the top jobs in the sport.

His name is one that has come up in recent reports surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers’ opening, with Connecticut’s Kevin Ollie and Villanova’s Jay Wright among those being mentioned by various outlets as well.

Ollie, who led his alma mater to a national title in his second season at the helm, was mentioned in reports by both Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com.

Ollie told ESPN’s Andy Katz on Monday that he has had no contact with the Lakers. He said he will always listen if called but it would take “something very special” to pull him away from UConn.

Ollie’s contract, which was signed after he led the Huskies to the national title in 2014, has a clause that would allow him to terminate his contract without penalty “on or after the one-year anniversary” of the departure of either athletic director Warde Manuel or UConn president Susan Herbst. Manuel left UConn in January to take over as athletic director at Michigan (his first official day was March 14), so a departure now would not meet the one-year requirement.

The buyout to leave for an NBA job would be $4 million until May 31, with the buyout amount dropping to $1 million after that date.

The latter report also named Wright, Calipari, Tom Izzo and Roy Williams as names the Lakers could consider for their opening. Wright led Villanova to its second national title earlier this month, and his Wildcats have won the last three Big East regular season titles.

NBA franchises have been more willing to look at successful college coaches in recent years, with Fred Hoiberg and Billy Donovan making the jump to the pros last season. Hoiberg took over in Chicago, but things didn’t go as planned for the Bulls as they missed out on the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-08 season. As for Donovan, he’s running the show in Oklahoma City where the Thunder are up three games to one on the Mavericks.

Both coaches took jobs with (at first glance) the talent needed to be successful, which is a far cry from the jobs Calipari and Rick Pitino took with the Nets and Celtics respectively during the mid-1990’s. Does the Lakers job fit that mold? Having won a total of 38 games in their last two seasons, not to mention needing to fill the hole left by the retirement of Kobe Bryant, one can argue that this would not be an optimal job for a college coach to take.

But with the Lakers being a franchise that’s won 16 titles, the appeal of leading such a storied franchise can’t be denied even with the recent struggles.

No. 16 Kentucky rolls Alabama 85-59 in SEC Tournament

(AP Photo/James Crisp)
AP Photo/James Crisp
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Despite statistical proof that playing Alabama brought out his best this season, Kentucky forward Alex Poythress summed up his outstanding play against the Crimson Tide as pure coincidence.

Wherever his motivation came from, the No. 16 Wildcats benefited.

Jamal Murray scored 23 points, Poythress made a career-best four 3-pointers and Kentucky had an easy time in an 85-59 rout of Alabama on Friday night in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

Playing about 50 miles southeast of his Clarksville, Tennessee, home, Poythress put on an offensive show in his final SEC tournament with 7-of-8 shooting including 4 of 5 from long range for 20 points. It was his third 20-point game this season and first since posting a career-best 25 at Alabama on Jan. 9.

Not that that meant anything.

“Sometimes it happens, sometimes it don’t, you know,” said Poythress, who averaged 19.6 points in three games against Alabama this season. “Everybody was just great offensively. We played a complete game today.”

Murray added perimeter shots as second-seeded Kentucky finished 13 of 22 from behind the arc to beat the 10th-seeded Crimson Tide (18-14) for the third time this season. The Wildcats advanced to Saturday’s semifinal against the Georgia-South Carolina winner.

Tyler Ulis added 17 points for the Wildcats, who beat the Crimson Tide by an average margin of 22 points this season.

Arthur Edwards had 20 points and Retin Obasohan 18, but Alabama couldn’t keep pace with the hot-shooting Wildcats.

The Crimson Tide certainly had no answer for Poythress, especially when he stepped out behind the arc.

“We came into the game trying to minimize his success in the paint and wanted to contest him at three,” Alabama coach Avery Johnson said, “but we didn’t expect him to shoot the ball like Jamal Murray. He made some shots. He had it going.”

Kentucky’s postseason prospects were already set, and the aim this weekend is to earn the highest possible seeding when the field is announced on Sunday. The Wildcats took an impressive first step toward being high in the bracket with 55 percent shooting from the field.

Alabama’s postseason chances remain up in the air, but the Crimson Tide’s second game in as many nights ended with 42 percent shooting and 13 turnovers. They were also outrebounded 31-27.

Kentucky wasn’t so good at the start, making just 4 of first 11 shots and showing a little rust from having not played because of their double bye. The Wildcats regrouped to hit 10 of their final 15 first-half shots to lead 37-27 at the break and were even better from behind the arc (6 of 10), with Poythress making a couple to help them gain some distance.

The Crimson Tide meanwhile struggled more for baskets than the previous night against Mississippi, making just 10 of 26 from the field. Three-point shooting (5 of 12) provided a bright spot, and Alabama had just one fewer rebound than the Wildcats but needed big games from nearly everybody in order to pull off the upset.

Even at their best, the Tide faced an uphill battle keeping pace with Kentucky’s outside game that stayed hot in the second half. Ulis made back-to-back shots before Murray added one to build a 55-37 lead, and the Wildcats were well on their way toward a semifinal appearance.

“We shot the ball well,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said.

TIP-INS

Alabama: The Crimson Tide finished 9 of 25 from 3-point range.

Kentucky: Dominique Hawkins and Skal Labissiere each added seven points for the Wildcats, who also had 18 assists.

UP NEXT:

Alabama: Awaiting postseason announcement.

Kentucky: Faces Georgia-South Carolina winner in Saturday’s semifinal.

Texas A&M picks up much-needed win over No. 14 Kentucky

Kentucky's Tyler Ulis (3) and Texas A&M's Jalen Jones (12) go after a loose ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016, in College Station, Texas. (AP Photo/Sam Craft)
AP Photo/Sam Craft
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No. 14 Kentucky and Texas A&M entered Saturday’s game in College Station in far different states. John Calipari’s team was playing as well as any team in the country, as they’d won four straight games with each being decided by at least ten points. Texas A&M, on the other hand, had just ended a four-game losing streak and its chances of winning the SEC diminished as a result. An important game for both teams, it was Texas A&M that needed the momentum boost that can come with a big win.

And in somewhat controversial fashion the Aggies got the win they needed, beating the Wildcats 79-77 in overtime on a Tyler Davis put-back as time expired.

Davis’ shot capped a bizarre final ten seconds of overtime, beginning with Kentucky getting a stop up a point and freshman center Isaac Humphries being fouled. In his excitement Humphries spiked the basketball, but he and his teammates knew almost immediately what a risk that was. Humphries was given a technical foul, resulting in the Aggies getting two free throws themselves.

Danuel House made both of his, and with Skal Labissiere splitting his the game was tied. Now here’s the question: was the decision to give Humphries a technical foul the correct one? In many instances a player spiking the ball occurs in a fit of anger, and it’s generally understood that doing so will result in a technical. But Humphries clearly wasn’t angry, so could there have been a better understanding of the moment by the official?

This will be discussed for quite some time, but of greater importance for Kentucky down the line is what happened on the backboards.

Texas A&M grabbed 20 offensive rebounds, which works out to an offensive rebounding percentage of 40 percent, and scored 22 second-chance points. With the Aggies looking stagnant on offense at multiple points in the game, those extra opportunities proved to be quite valuable for them.

The Wildcats weren’t helped by the fact that Derek Willis, who’s been their best front court player in recent weeks, left the game with a sprained ankle in the second half. The positive for Kentucky was that Humphries produced his best game as a Wildcat, grabbing 12 rebounds with ten of them coming on the defensive end. The negative: the other Wildcat bigs combined for seven defensive rebounds, with Marcus Lee responsible for four of them.

Kentucky’s entire front court combined to grab 17 defensive rebounds. Texas A&M’s tandem of Davis (nine) and Tonny Trocha-Morelos (four) combined to grab 13 of the Aggies’ 30 offensive boards. Add in a game-high 24 points and eight rebounds from Jalen Jones, and Texas A&M was able to win the game despite the fact that Danuel House and Anthony Collins combined to shoot 3-for-20 from the field.

Texas A&M did their best to dare a Kentucky player other than Tyler Ulis (22 points, 11 assists) or Jamal Murray (21 points) to beat them, alternating between man-to-man and triangle-and-2 looks to make the two standouts shoot challenged mid-range shots. But Ulis and Murray still managed to make plays, nearly leading Kentucky to a win that would have preserved their two-game lead atop the SEC standings.

Ultimately, a technical foul and Kentucky’s inability to close out the game’s final possession with a rebound did them in.

No. 20 Kentucky lets 21-point lead slip away, falls at Tennessee

Kentucky head coach John Calipari asks for a call during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Kansas in Lawrence, Kan., Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
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Leading Tennessee 34-13 with 5:46 remaining in the first half, No. 20 Kentucky looked poised to not only rebound from their loss at No. 4 Kansas but do so in impressive fashion. Things didn’t stay that way however, as the Volunteers finished the half on a 23-8 run to close the margin to six. Rick Barnes’ team continued its run of good play in the second half, going on to beat the Wildcats 84-77 in Knoxville.

Just a couple days after playing one of their best games of the season and appearing to have turned a corner even in defeat, the young Wildcats showed that there’s still plenty of progress to be made.

The difference came at the foul line, where Tennessee outscored Kentucky 30-18 with Kevin Punter responsible for 10 of those points. Punter, who adjusted his shooting motion during the offseason, has been one of the nation’s most improved players. And against Kentucky the senior produced 27 points, and while he shot just 7-for-19 from the field Punter’s ability to create plays off the bounce applied pressure to Kentucky’s half-court defense.

Add in a double-double from Armani Moore, the 6-foot-4 forward who more than held his own against the bigger Wildcats with 18 points, 13 rebounds and four assists, and Tennessee was able to change the flow of the game late in the first half and build on that in the second stanza.

This is a big win for Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes, as he looks to provide some much-needed stability for a program that has lacked that in recent years. Beating Kentucky won’t make much of a difference on Tennessee’s résumé; at this point in the season they’ll need to win the SEC tournament to hear their name called on Selection Sunday. But it does provide tangible evidence to the players (not to mention recruits) and fan base that the program is headed in the right direction.

That doesn’t help Kentucky however, and the Wildcats are still having issues when it comes to defending without fouling. Some may be quick to point out the “quality” of the whistle in recent games, but it should be noted that sending opponents to the line has been an issue throughout the year for the Wildcats. Kentucky entered Tuesday ranked 241st in defensive free throw rate (40.1), too high for a team that plays half-court man-to-man defense most of the tim.

Be it defending without fouling or communicating consistently on the defensive end, these are adjustments that have taken longer for Kentucky to work through than some anticipated before the season began.

But how much longer can John Calipari afford to wait for the Wildcats to play with consistent focus, taking care of the “small” details that can be the difference between simply playing in the NCAA tournament and excelling once there? The personnel questions are what they are at this point, with the front court production being inconsistent and the guards led by Tyler Ulis having to do much of the heavy lifting.

But Kentucky had a chance to put their foot on Tennessee’s neck late in the first half, and instead they let the Volunteers back into the game. That proved costly in Knoxville, and as a result the Wildcats dropped to two games behind first-place Texas A&M in the loss column.

‘Aggressive Wayne’ changes the equation for No. 4 Kansas

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With the two winningest programs in the history of college basketball meeting at Allen Fieldhouse, the expectation was that No. 20 Kentucky and No. 4 Kansas would put forth a good show. The two teams more than lived up to the expectations, but ultimately it was the play of Kansas junior guard Wayne Selden Jr. that made the difference.

Selden scored a career-high 33 points, shooting 12-for-20 from the field, to lead the Jayhawks to a 90-84 overtime victory.

Kansas managed to come back in spite of some subpar foul shooting, as they shot just 30-for-47 from the foul line for the game. In the second half, as the Jayhawks looked to cut into a Kentucky lead that grew to as much as eight points, Bill Self’s team made a habit of splitting trips to the foul line. But as Kentucky’s big men battled foul trouble and freshman guard Isaiah Briscoe cramps, the Jayhawks were able to mount a rally to grab the lead.

The spark was Selden, a gifted off guard who far too often seems to blend into the action as opposed to using his talents to assert himself. That wasn’t an issue against the Wildcats, as Selden was in attack mode from the start. That took its toll on Kentucky defensively, with Selden scoring Kansas’ next ten points after Kentucky took an eight-point lead with 13:54 remaining.

Kentucky played well, with point guard Tyler Ulis scoring 26 points and dishing out eight assists to lead the way. Kentucky’s a much-improved team over the last two weeks, and a big reason for that has been the play and intangibles supplied by Ulis. Coaches want leaders to emerge over the course of a season, and not only has Ulis done that but he’s also managed to take his teammates along with him.

The front court still need to be more consistent moving forward, but the progress shown by this group was evident even in defeat. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they didn’t have enough left in the tank to slow down Selden and the Jayhawks as they made their run.

Selden’s production not only applied pressure to Kentucky’s defense in the second half but it also gave his teammates the confidence needed to make plays themselves. That’s the kind of player he can be, and it’s what makes his periods of simply blending into the action so frustrating.

Kansas has talent, depth and experience, all of which was on display at various points in Saturday’s win. But if Bill Self’s team is to not only extend its streak of consecutive Big 12 regular season titles to 12 but also play deep into March, they need Selden to consistently be the “take charge” offensive option he was against Kentucky.

With the offense Kansas runs he doesn’t have to look for 25 shots a night, and the system wouldn’t work as well if he did to that level. But an aggressive Wayne Selden Jr. opens things up for the other Jayhawks, making them an even tougher team to defend as a result.

No. 20 Kentucky blows out Missouri, 88-54

Kentucky's Tyler Ulis, left, passes around Vanderbilt's Luke Kornet during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, in Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/James Crisp)
AP Photo/James Crisp
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Tyler Ulis scored 20 points, Derek Willis added a career-best 18 and No. 20 Kentucky used an early 20-0 run to blow past outmanned Missouri 88-54 on Wednesday night.

The Wildcats (16-4, 6-2 Southeastern Conference) had it easy in improving to 9-0 against the Tigers and winning their third straight overall. Kentucky spotted the Tigers an opening layup by Wes Clark before the big spurt that quickly put the game out of reach, twice stretching its lead to 40 points in the second half.

Good shooting was the key again for Kentucky, which made 52 percent from the field after hitting 55 percent against Vanderbilt.

Willis also grabbed 12 rebounds for his second double-double in four games. Isaiah Briscoe had 15 points, Skal Labissiere 12 and Jamal Murray 11 to round out Kentucky’s double-figure scorers.

Clark had 11 points for Missouri (8-12, 1-6 SEC), which sustained its biggest loss this season.