Growth of supplemental guards key for Florida, UConn

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Saturday’s national semifinal between No. 1 Florida (36-2) and No. 7 UConn (30-8) will be a rematch of a game played back on December 2, with the Huskies winning 65-64 on a Shabazz Napier foul line jumper as time expired. But how much can be drawn from a game played four months ago, with both teams being much different outfits than they were on that Monday night? If anything it’s better to focus on how much the two teams have changed since that game, especially a Florida team that played the game at less than full strength.

Billy Donovan’s Gators were without backup point guard Kasey Hill, with the UConn contest being the fourth he would miss due to a sprained ankle. Add in the fact that fellow freshman Chris Walker had yet to be cleared by the NCAA, and Florida was without two players who have become solid reserves (to varying degrees) as the season’s worn on.

Obviously losing starting point guard Scottie Wilbekin late in that game due to a sprained ankle didn’t help the Gators’ chances of leaving Gampel Pavilion with the win either. Wilbekin played 35 minutes in that contest, which underlines the difference between the Florida team that left Storrs with a loss and the one that enters this weekend the prohibitive favorite to win the national title.

RELATED: CBTs preview of No. 1 Florida vs. No. 7 UConn

The Gators lacked depth, with Dorian Finney-Smith essentially being their lone option off the bench. Now they’re up to an eight-man rotation, and it can be argued that of the three reserves it’s Hill whose impact is the most important even with his averaging just 5.5 points per game. Hill’s presence has allowed Wilbekin to do more work off the ball within the Gator offense. Averaging 35 minutes per game in the NCAA tournament, those moments off the ball can prove valuable to Wilbekin as he has been Florida’s best offensive weapon.

Hill also opens things up for his teammates due to his quickness with the basketball, and in Florida’s Sweet 16 win over UCLA as he racked up ten assists.

“I think Kasey in the tournament, and even going back to the SEC has come on.  He’s played better,” Donovan said earlier this week. “He’s improved. He makes our team faster when he’s out there. I thought what he did in the UCLA game really helped us.  He manufactured a lot of easy baskets for us by getting down the lane. So him being available to play I think helps our team.”

With Hill, Finney-Smith, who accounted for three points and six rebounds in the first meeting with UConn, and Walker firmly entrenched in the rotation Florida now has the depth it did not enjoy back in December.

As for UConn they’ve made some changes to the rotation since December, most notably Omar Calhoun going from starter to seldom-used reserve. Niels Giffey, the top three-point shooter in the American Athletic Conference, and Lasan Kromah have both strengthened their respective grips on spots in the rotation and even Terrence Samuel has earned an increase in minutes due to his ability on the defensive end of the floor.

But if there’s one player to focus on when it comes to the difference between UConn now and what they were in December, it would be junior guard Ryan Boatright.

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Shabazz Napier’s sidekick, Boatright’s made strides in areas that aren’t always visible in the box score. His defense against Michigan State’s guards in Sunday’s East Region final was one reason why the Spartans spent the majority of their time hoisting up jumpers instead of committing to working the ball inside. Boatright’s shooting just 38.5% from the field in the NCAA tournament, which is actually better than his percentage on the season as a whole, but he’s contributed in other areas to make up for that. And while Napier’s leadership gets the headlines, Boatright has been important as well.

“He’s meant a lot. Ryan is growing up,” UConn head coach Kevin Ollie said on Monday. “Ryan is allowing us to coach him now.  He’s opening up. He’s trusting us more.  That’s always difficult for young kids sometimes, the trust issue. Maybe I should not take this shot. Maybe I should pass this good shot up for Amida to have a great shot. He’s started to do that.”

December’s matchup between Florida and UConn produced one of the best endings of the college basketball season, with a Shabazz Napier shot off of a loose ball being the difference. The Gators haven’t lost since, getting healthier and solidifying their rotation while winning 30 straight games. As for UConn the road to Arlington was tougher, but they’ve gotten hot at just the right time.

Scottie Wilbekin and Shabazz Napier will receive much of the attention, and rightfully so, but the development of their respective sidekicks (Hill and Boatright) is what sticks out when looking back on the first meeting.

Miami freshman Deng Gak done for season with knee injury

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CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Miami freshman forward Deng Gak will miss the rest of the season with a left knee injury, the latest blow to the Hurricanes’ depth up front.

Gak was hurt during a loss to Yale on Dec. 1 and is expected to be sidelined for six months. He averaged 2.5 points and 4.1 rebounds in eight games.

The Hurricanes are also without forward Dewan Hernandez, who has been sidelined since the start of the season as the school and NCAA review his eligibility.

Miami (5-4) has lost four consecutive games and next plays Houston Baptist on Dec. 19.

Wednesday’s Things to Know: No. 24 Houston stays unbeaten, Louisville escapes, DePaul and Chicago State get testy

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Wednesday night in college basketball saw a slow one thanks to finals weeks and winter breaks. Only two ranked teams played and a lot of teams had buy games. But there were still some things to learn on the night — including perhaps the American’s best team early this season. 

No. 24 Houston earns impressive comeback win over LSU

Houston stayed unbeaten while extending its home win streak to 22 games as they came back from double digits to knock off LSU for an 82-76 win.

The Cougars moved to 9-0 on the season thanks to a balanced effort as they won despite Corey Davis Jr. (eight points) battling foul trouble. Galen Robinson Jr. paced Houston with 18 points while Armoni Brooks and Cedrick Alley Jr. finished with 13 points each. Houston’s defense also did a great job of limiting LSU star guard Tremont Waters to 10 points on 3-for-13 shooting as he couldn’t get it going.

At this point in the season, you could argue that the Cougars are the best team in the American. Fresh off of last season’s NCAA tournament appearance, Houston is unbeaten with wins over Oregon, on the road at Oklahoma State, and now a comeback win over LSU. None of those three wins are against elite opponents, but they’re the type of wins Houston needed to give itself a more likely chance at an at-large bid.

Now, as long as Houston doesn’t bottom-out in the American, they should be in contention for another NCAA appearance after an impressive start.

Louisville holds off Lipscomb

Although Wednesday didn’t have a lot of ranked teams playing, Louisville received a serious test when they hosted Atlantic Sun favorite Lipscomb. The Cardinals didn’t play their best game, but still managed to pull together a 72-68 win.

Jordan Nwora paced the Cardinals with a game-high 22 points while Dwayne Sutton (14 points, nine rebounds) and Malik Williams (10 points, 12 rebounds) were also productive in the win. While Louisville still needs more quality wins to make the NCAA tournament, this is the type of victory that could come in handy. Lipscomb could be a potentially dangerous mid-major team with solid computer numbers, so this is a decent win for the Cardinals.

Things get heated in Chicago

The end of a DePaul blowout win over Chicago State got interesting on Wednesday night. With the Blue Demons ahead by 40ish points, head coach Dave Leitao exchanged words with Delshon Strickland.

Benches somewhat cleared, both coaches were ejected, and the game ended in somewhat surreal fashion with both teams refusing a postgame handshake.

No. 11 Texas Tech goes up big at half, beats NW State 79-44

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Jarrett Culver scored 15 points, Tariq Owens had 14 points and eight rebounds and No. 11 Texas Tech ran out to a 43-point halftime lead in a 79-44 victory over Northwestern State on Wednesday night.

The Red Raiders (9-0) matched their best start since 2008-09. All of the wins have been by double digits, and they had a 10-point lead less than five minutes into this rout.

Coming off a six-day break for final exams, Texas Tech relied on a defense that ranks among the best in the country against the offensively challenged Demons (2-8).

C.J. Jones scored 11 points for Northwestern State, which shot 15 percent (4 of 27) in the first half and trailed 53-10 at halftime. The Demons warmed up a bit after halftime, outscoring the Red Raiders 34-26 while shooting 35 percent.

Matt Mooney made all three of his 3-pointers within the first six minutes and scored 11 points along with Deshawn Corprew. Mooney was 3 of 4 from long range as the Red Raiders matched a season high with 10 3s on 23 attempts.

Culver had six rebounds and five assists, and Davide Moretti led the Red Raiders with seven assists while scoring seven points.

Northwestern State had 14 of its 19 turnovers before halftime, and Texas Tech scored 17 points off turnovers in the first half.

BIG PICTURE

Northwestern State: The Demons had two scoring droughts of six-plus minutes in the first half. One of the bright spots in the second half was freshman Dalin Williams, who grew up not too far north of Lubbock in the Texas Panhandle. He scored nine points.

Texas Tech: The first half was as well as the Red Raiders have played. But they sputtered some in the second half, a trend they will have to stop with a schedule that includes Duke in New York City as a tuneup for the rugged Big 12 season.

UP NEXT

Northwestern State: After seven road games in their first 10, the Demons play Southern-Shreveport on Saturday in the first of three home games before the start of Southland Conference play.

Texas Tech: The Red Raiders play a final game in their old home arena of Lubbock Municipal Coliseum on Saturday against Abilene Christian. It’s the second straight year of a “throwback” game. Texas Tech’s home from 1956-99 will shut down for good next summer.

San Diego State’s Jalen McDaniels sued for allegedly filming, sharing sex videos

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San Diego State sophomore forward Jalen McDaniels has been sued in Washington civil court for allegedly filming a sexual act with a female high school classmate and sharing the video with friends.

The act allegedly occurred in 2016 while the two were seniors at Federal Way High School outside of Tacoma. A different women will also allegedly be filing a similar lawsuit against McDaniels next week using the same attorney.

According to a report from Mark Zeigler of the San Diego Union-Tribune, Federal Way police investigated the cases twice, once in 2016 and again in fall 2018, but only last month recommended two counts of voyeurism against McDaniels. The King County prosecutor declined to press charges, so the civil lawsuits appear to be the next step.

Filing attorney Joan Mell had her clients hold a news conference on Wednesday afternoon to announce the civil suit — naming McDaniels directly for the first time. Previous allegations in October and November only identified a star basketball player from Federal Way’s 2016 team, but not McDaniels directly.

The suit is asking for damages  for severe emotional distress past and future.” According to Zeigler, it does not list specific monetary amounts.

“Jalen needs to figure out that women matter,” said Mell, the attorney for the two women. “It’s not about the money. If his paycheck to these women is 5 cents and he has to own the fact that it was wrong, good for him. Because that’s what needs to be heard. He needs to acknowledge that you cannot do that, and no other woman should be vulnerable or victimized by Jalen McDaniels.

“If he says he recognizes that’s wrong, he’s going to get the benefit of not dragging everybody through a long, extended process and the damages are going to be a whole lot less.”

San Diego State has released a statement saying that McDaniels will play on Wednesday night, even as McDaniels goes through an ugly case in public. The sophomore is an NBA Draft prospect as he’s putting up 14.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game for the Aztecs.

Report: NCAA rule limits high school event access in new June period

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The NCAA added two live period weekends in June as an opportunity for college coaches to watch elite recruits play with their high school teams. Designed to give colleges more access with scholastic ball instead of grassroots, the events appear to have some serious limitations with which players might be able to be seen.

According to a report from ESPN’s Jeff Borzello, the new June period will only allow for college coaches to support NFHS-sanctioned events — which also includes only one association per state. This limits a lot of states, including private schools in New York, elite national high schools like Oak Hill and La Lumiere, and the elite prep school circuit in the Northeast.

“There is only one member [association] in each state that has NFHS membership,” NFHS director of sports and officials Theresia D. Wynns said to ESPN via email. “Only the schools that are a part of the members of that NFHS member can participate in the June evaluation period.”

This theoretically limits exposure opportunities for a number of prospects. The new rule also allows for a lot of problems to potentially arise. What if recruits jump to a scholastic program to play for the summer, only to transfer to another program before the school year begins?

Also, many states are set up to properly play events together during the month of June? Once the rules were initiated, some states were fine because their calendars align with how the NCAA set things up. Others will be trying to adjust or won’t have good events for their players.

It makes for an intriguing first June period coming up this year, as we’ll have to see if any changes get made before then. There will be a lot of new wrinkles to get used to for these events.