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No. 8 Kentucky uses barrage of three-pointers to outlast Virginia Tech

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Kentucky figured out its defense in the second half and used a barrage of three-pointers on offense as the No. 8 Wildcats were able to outlast Virginia Tech for a 93-86 non-conference win on Saturday afternoon.

Here are three takeaways from Saturday’s game.

1. Kentucky is really dangerous if the three-ball is dropping

Kentucky isn’t a terrible three-point shooting team. They just don’t shoot very many of them.

That changed on Saturday as the Wildcats went 11-for-22 from the three-point line in the win over Virginia Tech. To put that number in perspective, Kentucky was averaging 4.6 made three-pointers per game coming into this one. The Wildcats prefer to work the ball inside or attack the basket, hoping to crash the offensive glass if the first shot doesn’t go.

But with the three-pointer working for them on Saturday? Kentucky looked really tough on the offensive end, especially since Virginia Tech’s offense was rolling in the first 20 minutes and the Wildcats needed the three-ball to answer.

I don’t expect Kentucky to shoot nearly this well in many games this season, especially away from home. Freshman guard Hamidou Diallo was 4-for-7 from three-point range. This preseason, Diallo was getting benched by head coach John Calipari when he even attempted a triple. In other words, his performance was an outlier and Kentucky’s team performance probably was as well.

If the Wildcats are shooting like this, however, good luck stopping what they are trying to accomplish on the offensive end.

2. Even in a loss, Virginia Tech looked legitimate

One of the things I’ve harped on with Virginia Tech is the brutal non-conference schedule the Hokies have played. Starting 9-1 looks promising until you realize the best wins came over Iowa and Ole Miss and the loss came against Saint Louis.

But even though they ultimately fell at Rupp Arena, Virginia Tech looked like they’ll be a factor in the ACC this season. The first half, in particular, was very impressive for the Hokies as they shot 62 percent from the floor and withstood a barrage of Kentucky three-pointers to take a lead into the break. Kentucky made double the amount of three-pointers they usually make and the Hokies were still in this game until the very end.

Obviously, Virginia Tech still has work to do to be a contender in the ACC. They don’t have a ton of size to hang with some of the bigger teams in the country, which could be problematic against conference opponents like Duke. The Hokies also had some problems with turnovers as Kentucky’s 2-2-1 pressure really caused some issues for certain stretches. Virginia Tech had 19 turnovers on Saturday when they’ve averaged 13 on the season.

Not accustomed to facing teams like Kentucky, the Hokies were bothered at times by the length and athleticism of the Wildcats.

Here’s the thing though: would you want to face a veteran Buzz Williams team that doesn’t seem intimidated by anybody? Me neither. The Hokies won’t be a fun team to play in March.

3. Kentucky needs to focus more on Kevin Knox

To start the second half, Kentucky freshman Kevin Knox (21 points) was simply unstoppable. Scoring 11 points in a four-minute burst, Knox scored through contact, knocked down a three-pointer and also made a tough mid-range look.

And then Kentucky’s offense went away from him as lesser players tried to score using one-on-one moves.

The Wildcat offense went stagnant for a stretch before Diallo and Quade Green continued to shoot the ball well. It was puzzling to see their offense work during certain stretches. Kentucky obviously has tons of elite, five-star talent and they have to share the ball and some shots. But Knox wasn’t even getting touches after he made scoring look easy during the early part of the second half.

Since Knox has a tendency to float away from the basket and not demand the ball during stretches of play, Kentucky needs to make sure that they keep their biggest offensive threat engaged at all times. Thankfully in this game, players like Diallo and Green stepped up in the scoring column. But there is going to be a time when Kentucky needs Knox as a go-to scorer. They have to make sure to keep Knox fully engaged.

No. 25 Cincinnati sends Mississippi State to 1st loss 65-50

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HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. (AP) — No. 25 Cincinnati had plummeted to the fringe of the rankings and needed a confidence boost. The Bearcats got it against a previously unbeaten team.

Jacob Evans III had 24 points and eight rebounds as Cincinnati recovered from its back-to-back losses and handed Mississippi State its first defeat, 65-50 on Tuesday night.

The Bearcats (8-2) were coming off losses to crosstown rival Xavier and Florida that dropped them from No. 11. They ended the slump with a solid defensive showing against the Southeastern Conference’s last unbeaten team, blocking 11 shots.

“We needed to get this win for us to build our confidence and get this thing back on track,” Evans said.

Mississippi State (8-1) was off to its best start since 2003-04. The Bulldogs struggled to make shots in their first game against a ranked team. They missed 10 straight in the first half and 14 in a row in the second as Cincinnati blew open a close game.

“I think we took a multitude of things away from them,” said Kyle Washington, who added 16 points. “We knew what we wanted to do on defense. We were locked in on how they played well as a team. We just wanted to take all of that away.”

Aric Holman matched his career high with 18 points and had 10 rebounds for Mississippi State, which shot a season-low 30 percent from the field. The Bulldogs weren’t ready for Cincinnati’s defense.

“We lost the game tonight because of our inability to attack that zone,” coach Ben Howland said. “We were standing way too much, not enough ball movement, not enough cutting and getting the ball inside.”

Cincinnati has won 31 straight home games , the longest streak in the nation. The Bearcats are playing this season at BB&T Arena at Northern Kentucky University while their on-campus arena is renovated. They went 18-0 at Fifth Third Arena last season.

BIG PICTURE

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs can’t get that breakthrough win against a ranked team. They have dropped 18 in a row against teams in the Top 25. Their last such win was 67-57 over Arizona on Nov. 18, 2011.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats’ offense was stymied during the losses to Xavier and Florida. Cincinnati shot 41 percent from the field against Mississippi State but scored 22 points off 14 Bulldogs turnovers.

“This was a defensive victory, no question about it,” coach Mick Cronin said. “We’re still searching on offense a little bit at times.”

DRY SPELLS

Mississippi State went nearly 7 minutes without a field goal in the first half, managing only one free throw, as Cincinnati took control. The Bulldogs’ 14 straight misses in the second half helped Cincinnati pull ahead by 19 points. The Bulldogs shot 45 percent or better in their eight wins, including four games at 50 percent or better.

FIRST TRIP

It was the first road game for Mississippi State, which was picked to finish 12th in the SEC preseason poll. Howland figured it will help get the Bulldogs ready for conference play.

“Cincinnati is like an upper-echelon SEC team, so it’s very similar,” Howland said.

QUOTE OF THE GAME

Cronin on the back-to-back losses: “I was just concerned about the guys’ confidence level. It’s hard to shield them from the social media and the outside world. Young people live in that world, and I’m sure the sky was falling in that world because we lost a few games.”

UP NEXT

Mississippi State plays at UT Martin on Saturday.

Cincinnati plays UCLA at Pauley Pavilion on Saturday, a rematch against the team that knocked the Bearcats out of the NCAA Tournament 79-67 in the second round last season.

Balanced effort pushes Arizona past No. 7 Texas A&M

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Having struggled in non-conference play, most notably going 0-3 at the Battle 4 Atlantis, Arizona needed a quality win for its non-conference profile. The Wildcats picked up that win Tuesday night, as they beat seventh-ranked Texas A&M 67-64 at the Valley of the Sun Shootout in Phoenix. DeAndre Ayton, Brandon Randolph, Dusan Ristic and Dylan Smith led the way offensively for the Wildcats, scoring 13 points apiece, with Ayton adding ten rebounds.

Texas A&M’s Tyler Davis led all scorers with 21, but it wasn’t enough as the Aggies suffered their first loss of the season. Here are three takeaways from Arizona’s win over Texas A&M.

1. Arizona won despite an off night from Allonzo Trier.

The junior guard entered Tuesday’s game averaging 23.9 points per game, shooting 57.1 percent from the field, 39.5 percent from three and 78.0 percent from the foul line. Texas A&M managed to neutralize Trier, as he was just 2-for-7 from the field and finished the night with seven points to go along with three rebounds, three assists and three turnovers. Given Arizona’s struggles to get consistent offense from players other than Trier or Ayton in games against quality competition, the Wildcats finding a way to win despite the team’s leading scorer having an off night is a positive development.

In addition to Smith, who scored in double figures for the first time as a Wildcat, Randolph reached double figures for the third time in the last four games. Randolph, a part of Arizona’s highly regarded recruiting class, scored a total of six points in Arizona’s first four games. There’s still a lot to be improved upon, but grinding out a win despite Trier going cold is a positive for the Wildcats.

2. Tyler Davis may not be as high on draft boards as Robert Williams III, but he’s a tough cover for just about any front court.

Tuesday’s matchup between Williams and DeAndre Ayton was the one many NBA Draft types were looking forward to, as both have the potential to be lottery picks in June. But there’s something to be said for a veteran big man as well, with Tyler Davis being the one player Arizona did not seem to have an answer for defensively. Davis made nine of his 12 field goal attempts, doing much of his work on the low block.

Whether it was Ayton, Dusan Ristic or any other big man, Arizona could not do much to put Davis in situations where he would struggle to get a quality look at the basket. With Williams still being a work in progress when it comes to his offensive skill set, having a big man who can consistently produce offense on the low block will certainly help Texas A&M in its quest to win the SEC.

3. Arizona needs to be a bit more judicious with its shot selection.

Entering Tuesday’s game 31.9 percent of Arizona’s field goal attempts were three-pointers, a mark that ranked 280th in the country according to Ken Pomeroy’s numbers. Against Texas A&M the Wildcats attempted 22 three-pointers, making seven, with nearly 47 percent of Arizona’s field goal attempts coming from beyond the arc. And outside of Dylan Smith, who made all three of his three-pointers, Arizona combined to shoot 4-for-19 from three.

Texas A&M’s front court can make it difficult on opposing teams when it comes to finding quality looks around the basket, but there were also instances in which Arizona settled for perimeter shots. The eventual return of Rawle Alkins should help with this, but there’s also no excuse for six of Allonzo Trier’s seven shot attempts being three-pointers.

If Arizona is to reach the expectations set for them before the season began, they’ve got room to grow on both ends of the floor. That being said, building on Saturday’s win over UNLV with this quality result should help the Wildcats moving forward.

Sexton leads No. 24 Alabama past Louisiana Tech 77-74

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Collin Sexton and Dazon Ingram were hard to stop on drives to the basket, and there was no defending their free throws.

Sexton made four foul shots over the final 8 seconds, and Ingram had two big ones also, to lift No. 24 Alabama to a come-from-behind 77-74 victory over Louisiana Tech on Wednesday night.

“We can make free throws and we know that,” Ingram said. “We work hard in practice on making them and if we don’t make them then Coach Avery (Johnson’s) going to make us run. We just had to really lock in when they were needed down the stretch.”

The Crimson Tide (6-1) overcame an 11-point deficit over the last 14 minutes and held off the previously unbeaten Bulldogs (5-1).

Louisiana Tech’s Jacobi Harris missed a 3-pointer from the right wing and Jalen Harris grabbed the rebound and hit a layup with 2 seconds left to make it a 1-point game. Riley Norris heaved the inbounds pass across midcourt to Sexton, who made two free throws with just over 1 second left.

Ingram and Sexton, the Southeastern Conference’s leading scorer, led Alabama with 22 points each. Ingram made two foul shots with 27 seconds remaining and Alabama hit its last 13 free throws.

Johnson praised Ingram especially and also Sexton “for the way they dominated getting to the basket and making shots for us and making good decisions.” They were especially successful in the final minutes at the line.

“(Ingram) wasn’t perfect but boy he sure made them when we needed it,” Johnson said.

After Ingram’s makes, Louisiana Tech’s Joniah White grabbed an offensive rebound and drew the foul on the other end, making both foul shots with 9 seconds to play.

Louisiana Tech’s Derric Jean, who had hit the game-winning 3-pointer against Evansville, fired a Hail Mary pass on the final sequence. Harris just got off a potential tying 3-pointer that bounced off the rim.

“It’s a play that we practice,” Bulldogs coach Eric Konkol said. “We didn’t have a timeout and said if he makes the second free throw this is what we need to do. We really tried to get a tip out to one of our shooters at the arc. I thought it was down. It was close. I’m not sure if his toes were on the line or not. I know he was right there. They executed exactly the way we practice.”

Donta Hall had 15 points and seven rebounds for the Tide.

Daquan Bracey scored 21 points to lead Louisiana Tech. Jacobi Boykins had 14 points and Harris and Jy’lan Washington 12 apiece.

Alabama scored the final eight points of the first half, cutting a 10-point deficit to 38-37. The Bulldogs came out of the locker room hot after that with a 10-0 run.

Alabama was coming off an 89-84 loss to No. 12 Minnesota after going the final 10-plus minutes with three players due to injury and ejections of the entire bench. Sexton set an Alabama freshman record with 40 points in that game.

BIG PICTURE

Louisiana Tech: Led most of the way in a bid for its first regular-season win over a ranked team since 1984. First true road game of the season. It was the program’s first game against a ranked opponent since 2011.

Alabama: Is 6-1 for the first time since 2012-13.. Alabama didn’t lead from the opening 2 minutes until the final 6. Herbert Jones fouled out. Sexton was 6-of-19 shooting.

FOUL SHOTS: Alabama made 16 of 18 free throws in the second half (88.9 percent). Sexton finished 9 of 11 from the line and Ingram was 13 of 17.

“They’re tough, tough drivers,” Konkol said. “We shut them down at times, but we defended and fouled them at times as well. They were able to shoot a whole lot of free throws and that hurt, especially Ingram.”

MISSING 3s: Louisiana Tech made just 4 of 23 3-point attempts and missed all 11 attempts after halftime. Boykins was 2 of 11 from beyond the arc.

UP NEXT

Louisiana Tech hosts Division II Miles College on Saturday night.

Alabama continues a three-game home stand against UCF on Sunday.

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More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_Top25

No. 13 Notre Dame drubs LSU 92-53 to reach Maui title game

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LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) — T.J. Gibbs scored 26 points, Matt Farrell added 17 and Notre Dame dominated LSU 92-53 on Tuesday night to reach the Maui Invitational championship game.

The Irish (5-0) expectedly breezed through their opener against Division II Chaminade did the same thing to LSU in their first game against a power program this season.

Notre Dame shot well, shut the Tigers down on defense and were in control from the opening tip in a superb all-around game.

Bonzie Colson had 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Irish, who shot 52 percent and hit 15 of 32 from 3-point range.

Next up: A top-of-the-marquee title game against No. 6 Wichita State on Wednesday night.

LSU (3-1) lost starting guard Brandon Sampson to an ankle injury in the game’s opening minute and struggled without one of its top defensive players.

The Tigers had trouble slowing the Irish on defense and labored from the perimeter on offense, hitting 6 of 23 shots from the 3-point arc while shooting 36 percent overall. Duop Reath led LSU with 17 points.

LSU beat Michigan 77-75 in its Maui opener behind the stellar play of Tremont Waters. The talented freshman point guard had 21 points and set up the go-ahead basket with a spectacular over-the-shoulder, no-look assist from his knees.

Notre Dame had a much easier road to the semifinals, dominating Chaminade from the start of an 83-56 rout.

The Tigers had a tough break on their first possession of the semifinals, when Sampson came down on someone’s foot and rolled his left ankle. He had to be helped off the court, leaving LSU without arguably its best defensive player.

The Irish took advantage, scoring at the rim and the 3-point arc during a 15-2 run that put them up 25-10. Farrell had the highlight-reel play of the spurt, bouncing a pass between the long legs of 6-foot-11 Reath to set up Martinas Geben for a dunk.

Notre Dame didn’t let up, hitting seven 3-pointers, 15 of 31 shots overall and holding the Tigers to 1-for-8 shooting from the arc for a 40-24 halftime lead.

The Irish continued to stretch the lead in the second half, using a 6-0 burst midway through to go up 61-35.

THE TAKEAWAY

Notre Dame turned its first game against a power program into a laugher with a strong effort on both ends of the court.

LSU was hurt by the loss of Sampson, but it may not have mattered the way the Irish played.

UP NEXT

Notre Dame plays No. 6 Wichita State in Wednesday’s championship game.

LSU gets Marquette in the third-place game on Wednesday.

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For more AP college basketball coverage: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_Top25

No. 16 Aggies win Progressive Classic behind Williams

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NEW YORK (AP) — Robert Williams had 21 points and 10 rebounds to lead No. 16 Texas A&M to a 98-87 victory over Penn State in the championship game of the Progressive Legends Classic on Tuesday night at Barclays Center.

Duane Wilson led the Aggies (4-0) with 22 points while Tyler Davis chipped in 15, Admon Gilder had 14 and Tonny Torcha-Morelos finished with 11.

Despite getting a career-high 31 points from Tony Carr, Penn State (5-1) lost its first game of the season. Lamar Stevens added 25 points for Penn State.

The Aggies took a 42-40 lead into halftime due to Williams’ two-hand follow jam with 4 seconds left in the half. Seven of the eight players who got into the game in the first half for Texas A&M scored, led by Williams’ 12.

And the Aggies needed every point, as Carr was a one-man offensive onslaught for the Nittany Lions. Carr had 21 points in the opening half on 7-of-8 shooting including 2 for 2 from 3-point range. He made 5 of 6 free throws.

Texas A&M took a 63-51 lead on Wilson’s scoop layup 6:41 into the second half. Wilson’s layup was the culmination of a stretch in which the Aggies outscored the Nittany Lions 21-11.

Following Wilson’s layup, Penn State coach Pat Chambers called time out. DJ Hogg hit a 3 for the Aggies, Gilder made two free throws and Williams finished a 2-on-1 break with a two-handed jam off an alley-oop pass which pushed the lead to 70-53.

Penn State used an 8-0 run to cut the deficit to 70-61.

After a layup by Gilder pushed the lead to 72-61, the Nittany Lions scored the next five points on a layup by Carr and three free throws from Stevens. That was as close as they would get.

Williams was named tournament MVP, and was joined on the all-tournament team by Wilson, Carr, Stevens and Oklahoma State’s Jeffrey Carroll.

BIG PICTURE:

PENN STATE: The positive for Penn State is that Carr and Stevens combined for 56 points. The negative? The rest of the Nittany Lions totaled 31.

TEXAS A&M: The defensively stout Aggies were able to flex their offensive muscle against Penn State. Texas A&M made 33 of 54 shots (61 percent) from the field and knocked down 26 of 29 (89.7 percent) free throws.

NOTABLE:

PENN STATE: In the Chambers Era, the Nittany Lions are 4-3 all-time in games played in New York City, and 2-2 at games held at Barclays Center.

TEXAS A&M: The Aggies improved to 4-0 all-time against the Nittany Lions. Texas A&M is 2-0 at neutral site venues against Penn State.

UP NEXT:

PENN STATE: Hosts Oral Roberts on Friday.

TEXAS A&M: Hosts Pepperdine on Friday.

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For more AP college basketball coverage: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_Top25