No. 4 Louisville advances but will need more from Russ Smith next week

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With Midwest Region No. 4 seed Louisville and No. 5 seed Saint Louis being two of the best defensive teams in the NCAA tournament field, it was somewhat predictable that both teams would have a tough time scoring. That turned out to be the case for much of the afternoon, but a 15-4 second half Louisville run gave the defending national champions the separation they needed to beat the Billikens by the final score of 66-51.

Louisville finished the game shooting 44.6% from the field, with senior guard Luke Hancock’s 21 points leading four Cardinals in double figures. Hancock hit two of his four three-pointers during the decisive run, with Chris Jones (11 points) and Montrezl Harrell (ten points, 11 rebounds) also factoring into the equation.

Rick Pitino’s will make its third consecutive Sweet 16 as a result, with this being the second time in the Hall of Fame coaches’ storied career that he’s accomplished that feat (1995-97 at Kentucky). And a stat that should make Louisville fans feel even better with an eye towards next week in Indianapolis: Pitino has a record of 11-0 in Sweet 16 games.

But if the Cardinals are to make a run at another national title they’ll need more from senior guard Russ Smith, who struggled this weekend in Orlando.

Smith, averaging 18.3 points and 4.6 assists per game entering Saturday, scored 11 points on 3-for-10 shooting against Saint Louis’ tough man-to-man defense. Add in his showing against Manhattan and the All-American shot 6-for-19 from the field, a far cry from the 47.2% he’s shooting this season.

How much is the sore left thumb bothering Smith? The tape job proved to be a nuisance early, with Smith removing it during the first half of Saturday’s game. These next few days will give Smith some valuable time to recuperate, and whether the opponent is No. 1 Wichita State or No. 8 Kentucky the Cardinals will need their star guard to be at his best. And looking back on Smith’s games against Manhattan and Saint Louis, the shooting numbers aren’t the ones that would be a cause for concern looking forward.

In those two games Smith accounted for ten assists and 13 turnovers, breaking even of his assist-to-turnover ratio against the Billikens (seven assists, seven turnovers). Smith’s assist-to-turnover ratio this season: 1.7. Granted he went up against two good defensive teams, but that’s going to be the case throughout the remainder of the tournament.

Louisville took care of Saint Louis thanks to their defense, limiting SLU to 39.6% shooting and forcing 18 turnovers, with their offensive balance coming through in the second half. The goal this time of year is a simple one: survive and advance, and they managed to do so with Smith not playing his best basketball.

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.