No. 5 Florida’s failure to close halves proves costly in Tucson

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TUCSON – No. 5 Florida led No. 8 Arizona 64-58 with 1:17 remaining, and it looked like the 14,000-plus Wildcat fans inside McKale Center would not go home with a win to cap a day that began with their football team’s comeback at the New Mexico Bowl.

Both teams had other plans however, as the Gators were reckless with the basketball late (three turnovers in their final five possessions) and the Wildcats was more than willing to take advantage.

Arizona scored the final seven points of the game, with Mark Lyons’ driving basket with seven seconds remaining proving to be the difference in the 65-64 victory.

Florida entered Saturday’s contest averaging just 12.4 turnovers per game, with their two worst performances in that category coming in decisive victories over Wisconsin (20 turnovers) and Florida State (15). Florida finished tonight’s game with 14 turnovers, but many of their miscues coming in the latter stages of each half.

Florida controlled much of the contest but the moments that were the exception proved to be costly, as Arizona outscored the Gators 15-0 when looking at solely the final 1:20 of each half.

“For me it’s a tale of two halves, closing out the halves so to speak,” said Florida head coach Billy Donovan. “I told the guys at halftime, ‘if you’re going to lose the game, make them beat us’ and I felt we beat ourselves tonight, especially in the first half.

“We didn’t close out very well, we didn’t execute well enough. We’ve had issues with turnovers; it’s been a problem for us and it started in the Wisconsin game.

Arizona trailed 32-21 with 1:20 left in the first half, but an 8-0 run thanks to a pair of Nick Johnson three-pointers and a Solomon Hill dunk closed the gap to three at the intermission. Florida turned the ball over five times to Arizona’s eight in the first half, but the Wildcats outscored the Gators 9-8 in the points off turnovers category.

The second half proved to be more of the same for Florida, as they took control of the game only to have it slip from their grasp down the stretch. Three consecutive turnovers followed by two missed shots in the final minute plus and the Gators were on their way back to Gainesville with a tough loss.

Erik Murphy (ten points in the first half with just one turnover; six points with four turnovers in the second) struggled against Arizona’s smaller lineup in the second half, a move brought on primarily by starting center Kaleb Tarczewski’s foul trouble.

Solomon Hill led Arizona with 18 points, Johnson added 15 and Lyons 14 capped by his drive to the basket in the final seconds.

While the comeback was an impressive one for the Wildcats, who handed the Pac-12 a needed Christmas present in the form of the league’s first win over a non-conference opponent ranked in the Top 10 since 2009 (USC beat Tennessee 77-55), the biggest story will be about how Florida allowed a statement victory to slip away.

How Florida addresses its issues with turnovers and closing out halves will ultimately determine whether or not a team that’s reached the Elite 8 in each of the last two seasons can take the next step.

“What I love about this team is that we are never satisfied,” said Rosario, who finished the game with a team-high 16 points. “We have a lot of areas we can improve upon, and we just need to keep pressing through the rest of the season.”

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Kevin Ollie alleges racial discrimination in new civil action against UConn

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Former UConn head coach Kevin Ollie is heading to court with the school over alleged racial discrimination. In a report from the Hartford Courant, Ollie has filed a civil action alleging that the school illegally attempted to deter him from filing a racial discrimination complaint.

Submitted on Tuesday in U.S. District Court, Ollie is claiming he was treated differently from predecessor Jim Calhoun, because Calhoun kept his job after receiving comparable recruiting violations.

Ollie was fired for those violations earlier this year as he’s been in a contentious back-and-forth battle with the school that has gone to court. The former head coach claims he informed UConn of his intention to file the complaint but the school said it would refuse to have a contractual-grievance arbitration process that would give Ollie the final $10 million on his contract.

Seeking an emergency injunction that would allow him to file the complaint while proceeding with an arbitration process.

UConn responded to the Courant on Tuesday through a spokesperson as they disputed Ollie’s account that race played a role in his firing.

“As UConn has stated from the outset, the university terminated Kevin Ollie’s employment due to violations of NCAA rules, pursuant to his employment agreement,” UConn spokesperson Stephanie Reitz said. “Any claim to the contrary is without merit.”

Ollie’s attorney told the Courant that the hope is to file and stay with a racial discrimination complaint, which could be addressed after the arbitration.

From the sound of it, UConn and Ollie are going to be in court for quite a bit of time as this whole firing process has been difficult from the start.

No. 15 Buckeyes overcome slow start, rout Youngstown State

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Kaleb Wesson had a career-high 31 points as No. 15 Ohio State overcame a terrible start and beat Youngstown State 75-56 on Tuesday night.

Wesson was dominating in the second half, scoring 26 points as the Buckeyes were again forced to win in come-from-behind fashion. The sophomore topped his previous career-best 22 points, achieved in Saturday’s game against Bucknell.

The Buckeyes (10-1, 2-0 Big Ten) shot poorly in the first half and were forced to rally against a mid-major opponent they should have handled easily from the beginning.

Ohio State trailed 25-22 at the half, but took the lead with a Wesson put-back three minutes into the second half and took control from there.

Luther Muhammad and C.J. Jackson each had 11 points for Ohio State, which has won three in a row after losing their only game of the season Nov. 28.

Darius Quisenberry had 17 points, and Naz Bohannon added 11 for the Penguins (5-9), who have lost five of their last six.

The first half was a nightmare for Ohio State. The Penguins went on a 14-2 run to open the game as the Buckeyes missed shot after shot. Ohio State shot 24 percent from the floor and 1 for 11 from beyond the 3-point line before intermission. The score was so close mostly because Youngstown State wasn’t much better, hitting just 33 percent of its shots.

Wesson took a seat with 5:40 left in the first half when he picked up his second foul and got his third early in the second half before going on a scoring tear.

BIG PICTURE:

Youngstown State: Took advantage of Ohio State’s poor shooting to lead the entire first half, but couldn’t keep up once Wesson and the Buckeyes got themselves unglued.

Ohio State: After nearly losing to Bucknell on Saturday, the Buckeyes took another opponent too lightly and were getting stung for a while. They are making too many mistakes against teams they should be dominating.

UP NEXT:

Youngstown State: Hosts Detroit Mercy on Dec. 28.

Ohio State: At UCLA on Saturday.

No. 2 Duke emerges from exam break to beat Princeton 101-50

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DURHAM, N.C. — RJ Barrett continued his rookie-season scoring rush, finishing with 27 points to help second-ranked Duke beat Princeton 101-50 on Tuesday night.

Fellow freshman Zion Williamson had 17 points and 10 rebounds in the Blue Devils’ first game in more than a week due to an exam break. Duke (10-1) got off to a cold start and didn’t take its first lead until more than 14 minutes in, but eventually got rolling and handed the Tigers their most lopsided loss in program history.

Duke scored on 10 of 11 possessions to close the first half, then on four straight out of the break to take a 48-28 lead. The Blue Devils shot 64 percent after halftime as the game turned into a rout.

Myles Stephens had 19 points for Princeton (5-5), which scored the game’s first eight points and led 18-16 before Duke put together an 11-0 run to take over.

BIG PICTURE

Princeton: Those opening few minutes had to be encouraging for the Tigers, who avoided early turnovers and caught Duke with some backdoor cuts to build a lead in front of a hostile Cameron Indoor Stadium crowd. They just didn’t have an answer once Duke’s shots started falling and the Blue Devils did a better job of closing off those lanes. Princeton shot just 30 percent and surpassed its previous worst margin of defeat of 45 points, set against Penn in December 1908.

Duke: The Blue Devils hadn’t played since beating Yale here on Dec. 8, and it took a while for the offense to get into gear. Things went to script once that happened. Barrett came in averaging an Atlantic Coast Conference-best 24.2 points and finished 11 of 21 from the field. Meanwhile, Duke’s athleticism and length helped its defense finish with 12 steals, 14 blocks and 23 points off turnovers.

UP NEXT

Princeton: The Tigers visit Lafayette on Friday.

Duke: The Blue Devils face No. 12 Texas Tech in New York’s Madison Square Garden on Thursday.

VIDEO: Backboard nearly takes out Zion Williamson on blocked shot

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Zion Williamson was almost taken out by a backboard as Duke played Princeton at home on Tuesday night. Playing at home, Williamson went for a block as his arm and face appeared hit the backboard and caused him to fall to the ground.

Williamson was okay, but the startling block is yet another freakish play that the freshman forward has made on the defensive end this season. Although mostly known for his dunks, Williamson is showing himself to be one of the scariest shot blockers in college hoops this season.

No. 2 Duke has a big lead on Princeton in second half.

West Virginia reinstates big man Derek Culver

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West Virginia announced some positive news on Tuesday as freshman big man Derek Culver has been reinstated to the team.

Previously suspended earlier this season on Nov. 15 for a violation of team rules, the 6-foot-10 Culver is the highest-rated freshman in the Mountaineers’ freshman class as he’s got a chance to become a rotation player.

Rated as a four-star prospect coming out of high school, Culver did a postgrad year at Brewster Academy last season as he’s been someone West Virginia has been looking forward to adding for the past two classes. If Culver comes along and is able to contribute then he’ll alleviate some pressure from Sagaba Konate and potentially adding some life into a 6-4 West Virginia team.