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Draymond Green’s texts lifted Denzel Valentine to a new level

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CHICAGO — Draymond Green left Michigan State in 2012 and went from second-round NBA draft pick to near max-contract player on the world champion Golden State Warriors. The player commonly known around East Lansing as “Day-Day” still remains a fixture with his former program. Returning to campus during homecoming weekend this fall, Green gifted his former program $3.1 million for a new practice facility. He continually keeps tabs on Michigan State’s current roster.

Sunday night, Green was awake and sweating through a night of the flu and decided to send a group text to the Spartans with the kind of smack-talking encouragement that only a renowned trash-talker like Green could conjure up. With a Champions Classic tilt with No. 4 Kansas looming, the verbal jabs in the group text resonated deeply with Michigan State senior guard Denzel Valentine.

“He said he had the flu and he was in bed and it was, like,  2 o’clock in the morning,” Valentine recalled of Green’s feverish, motivational group text. “And he was like, ‘I’ve got the flu and I was just thinking…’ [Green] named everybody on the team. ‘You’re not going to do this; you’re not going to do this; you’re not going to do this.’ He kind of challenged us a little bit. He went through every player on the team and he challenged us. And I got to thinking, ‘I want to prove Day-Day wrong because he’s always talking stuff.'”

Valentine used Green’s challenges as the fuel of a brilliant triple-double performance that lifted No. 13 Michigan State to 79-73 comeback win over the Jayhawks on Tuesday night. Finishing with 29 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists, Valentine became only the fourth player in program history to finish with a triple-double and he joins elite company in Green, Magic Johnson and Charlie Bell. Valentine and Magic Johnson are also the only two players to ever drop a triple-double against Kansas.

The inspired play of Valentine helped the Spartans overcome an 11-point second-half deficit with 9:43 remaining as the senior led his team on a comeback run and eventually willed his team to victory. Competing to the point of exhaustion at around five minutes left, Valentine saved his best for the final few minutes as his multiple go-ahead shots were enough to hold off Kansas as his teammates also stepped up after a sluggish first half.

“He sucked it up. He gives me credit; I give him credit,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said of Valentine after the game. “The kid, he’s like Draymond. There’s a million things that he’s not good enough at. But winning is something he’s good enough at. Work ethic is something he’s good enough at. And basketball IQ is something that he’s good enough at. And those things just won us a big game.”

This year’s Spartans are very clearly Valentine’s team and they’ll go as far as he can carry them. The parallels between this Michigan State roster and the Spartans during Green’s senior season is also noticeable. Both teams had uncertain play from young point guards and featured complimentary scoring options that haven’t been consistent through a full college season. Valentine, like Green, is also a uniquely gifted rebounder and passer from the wing — a regular potential triple-double waiting to happen.

Travis Trice and Branden Dawson have exhausted their eligibility from last season’s surprise Spartans Final Four run and Valentine has a major target on his back as an All-American candidate entering his senior season. Similar to Green during his final college campaign, Valentine lifted Michigan State to a huge win when his supporting cast wasn’t always reliable.

After a rocky first half with poor shooting and a performance that Izzo deemed, “soft,” Valentine wouldn’t let his team give in when things started to look down with a little under 10 minutes left. Coming out of a timeout and trailing 61-50, Valentine snared an offensive rebound and found senior guard — and former high school teammate — Bryn Forbes in the corner for a 3-pointer. That triggered a 22-point Michigan State stretch in which Valentine scored or assisted on every point over an eight-minute stretch. Suddenly, Michigan State was in control, and the final dagger came when freshman guard Matt McQuaid received a pass from Matt Costello and buried a 3-pointer to give the Spartans a 75-71 lead with 55 seconds remaining. 

“I’ll do whatever it takes to win. I don’t care what it is,” Valentine said. “I could be on the ball, I can be off the ball. I’ll check the best player on the [opposing] team. I’ll do this; I’ll do that. I just want to win. That’s my motto.”

“He put all his trust in me,” McQuaid said of Valentine. “When he passed me that one shot [with four minutes left] he said, ‘Shoot it!’ and it gave me a lot of confidence to knock it down.”

Besides filling up the stat sheet and taking over a tight game against a top-5 opponent, Valentine only turned the ball over one time in 38 minutes and stayed the course as the team’s emotional leader. Valentine spent the early portion of the post-game press conference looking around and smiling as he praised teammates and coaches about a great team win. Like any disciple of Izzo, Valentine knows a big win in November is nice, but the important thing is to focus on the next step of the championship picture.

“I’m going to get better, our team is going to get better. I’m not even tripping about [the win] right now because we’re going to get better,” Valentine said.

After the memorable performance was completed, Valentine received an emotional hug from his dad, Carlton Valentine, himself a four-year letterwinner from the Michigan State basketball program. Just like Green and great Michigan State players before him like Magic and Charlie Bell, Valentine is an in-state player who takes an immense amount of pride in making sure his school is performing to the highest of expectations. Valentine said after the game that he never dreamed of putting up a line like 29-12-12. Forbes said it was the best performance he’s ever seen from his long-time friend. If Valentine continues to be a leader capable of regularly filling the box score, the Spartans are going to be tough to beat as they’ll inevitably improve as the season moves along.

“I just like guys that want to compete. I want guys where winning is important,” Izzo said. “Denzel has one of those qualities that not everybody has; where winning is important. Michigan State is important to Denzel. His dad played there, and this whole legacy thing, it’s important to him. No matter what Michigan State does in whatever sport. That doesn’t happen all the time. I like that more than anything.”

No. 14 Oregon ride Pritchard to beat No. 24 Arizona in OT

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TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) Payton Pritchard scored a career-high 38 points, Shakur Juiston added all of Oregon’s points in overtime and the 14th-ranked Ducks rallied to beat No. 24 Arizona 73-72 on Saturday night.

Pritchard had a terrific game in regulation and Juiston was the unlikely hero in overtime, scoring nine points, including a layup with 1.4 seconds left that was the winner. Arizona had one more great opportunity but Christian Koloko missed two free throws with one second left that could have tied or won the game.

Arizona led 64-58 with 3:27 left in regulation but the Wildcats went cold and Pritchard hit six straight free throws to pull the Ducks (21-7, 10-5 Pac-12) even with 15 seconds left. Arizona’s Josh Green missed two free throws with 2.5 seconds remaining that would have put the Wildcats ahead.

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Dylan Smith led Arizona (19-8, 9-5) with 18 points. Zeke Nnaji and Nico Mannion both scored 13. The Wildcats had a rough night at the free-throw line, making just 10 of 21 and missing the four crucial ones by Green and Koloko.

Oregon’s offense revolved around the great shooting of Pritchard. He gave the Ducks a huge boost by making several difficult 3-pointers, shooting over Arizona defenders who were right in his face.

The rest of the team didn’t have a particularly good night until Juiston’s clutch play in the final minutes. Oregon snapped a three-game road losing streak. Juiston finished with 14 points.

Pritchard scored 20 points in the first half as Oregon pushed to a 36-33 halftime lead. He hit 7 of 11 shots – including 4 of 8 from behind the 3-point line – before the break. Nnaji had eight points and five rebounds for the Wildcats in the first half.

BIG PICTURE

Oregon: The Ducks were competitive on the road and finally broke through with a big win. Oregon’s offense was stagnant outside of Pritchard and too many possessions consisted of four players watching the senior guard try to work his shot-making magic. Juiston’s overtime scoring was sorely needed.

Arizona: The Wildcats are playing well at the right time of the year but this one stings. Their newfound confidence will get a big test when they head to California and face USC and UCLA next week.

UP NEXT

Oregon: Hosts Oregon State on Thursday night.

Arizona: At Southern California in Thursday night.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

No. 23 BYU upsets No. 2 Gonzaga 91-78

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PROVO, Utah (AP) Yoeli Childs scored 28 points to help No. 23 BYU upset second-ranked Gonzaga 91-78 on Saturday night and end the Bulldogs’ 19-game winning streak.

Jake Toolson added 17 points and T.J. Haws had 16 points. BYU (23-7, 12-3 WCC) never trailed after halftime en route to winning its eighth straight game.

Killian Tillie scored 18 points and Corey Kispert added 16 to lead the Bulldogs. Filip Petrusev added 14 points and Admon Gilder chipped in 13. Gonzaga (27-2, 13-1) won the previous five meetings in Provo before Saturday.

Gonzaga trailed by 14 points early in the second half before mounting a comeback. The Bulldogs cut the deficit to 70-68 on a jumper from Drew Timme with 7:52 remaining. BYU did not let Gonzaga erase the lead entirely.

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Zac Seljaas made back-to-back baskets to give the Cougars a little breathing room again. Then Childs bookended a string of four straight BYU baskets with a layup and a jumper to put the Cougars up 87-76 with 3:15 left.

BYU got a big lift from Childs in the first half. The senior forward crashed the boards and made several critical baskets to provide a much-needed spark for the Cougars on offense.

Childs capped a 13-4 run that gave BYU a 21-18 lead with back-to-back baskets. Gonzaga briefly regained a 25-24 lead on back-to-back baskets from Kispert and Petrusev. The Cougars surged back ahead before halftime thanks to Childs.

He accounted for three buckets on a run of five straight possessions that ended in baskets for BYU. It helped the Cougars claw out a 38-32 lead.

Gonzaga struggled to keep pace with BYU after going without a field goal over the final 4:36 of the first half.

The Cougars kept building on their momentum early in the second half. 3-pointers from Kolby Lee and Toolson highlighted a run of four straight baskets that put BYU up 58-44.

A win over a Gonzaga team that spent part of the season ranked no. 1 overall will go a long way to helping the Cougars lock up an NCAA Tournament bid in March.

UP NEXT

Gonzaga hosts San Diego on Thursday.

BYU visits Pepperdine on Saturday.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

Saturday’s Things To Know: Three of the nation’s top four teams lose

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It was a wild Saturday in college basketball, as it started with No. 3 beating No. 1 and ended with the final undefeated team in the country losing right before the No. 2 team in the nation took their second loss.

Here are the ten things that you need to know:

1. NO. 3 KANSAS BEAT NO. 1 BAYLOR IN WACO

It’s weird when the highlight of a college basketball Saturday happens in the first game, but that was precisely the case today, as Udoka Azubuike put together one of the most dominant performances on both ends of the floor that we have seen this season in a 64-61 win over the No. 1-ranked Baylor Bears in Waco.

I wrote all about that game and Azubuike right here.

2. UNLV ENDED SAN DIEGO STATE’S UNDEFEATED SEASON

That sucks. My column.

3. OH, AND GONZAGA LOST, TOO

If it wasn’t enough that the No. 1 team in the country and the lone remaining unbeaten team in the country both lost on Saturday, No. 2 Gonzaga lost as well. The Zags went into Provo and got dropped, 91-78, by No. 23 BYU.

Yoeli Childs led the way for the Cougars with 28 points, 10 boards, three assists and a pair of steals while Tyler Haws and Jake Toolson combine for 33 points and 14 assists. It’s precisely the kind of marquee win that BYU needed on their resume if they want to climb up to the No. 5 or 6 seed line on Selection Sunday.

It certainly was a statement of intent by BYU, but I’m not all that worried about Gonzaga after this loss. The Cougars are a dangerous team when Haws and Toolson are making shots. The Marriott Center is a wild environment for a game of this magnitude. There were 20,000 fans going absolutely bonkers, and if the Zags had made a couple of the open threes that they missed late in the second half, when they had cut a 14 point lead to just two points, maybe this game would have been different.

Put another way, Gonzaga is not going to shoot 5-for-25 from three all that often. Corey Kispert is not going to shoot 1-for-10 from three all that often. Everyone has off nights, and when it happens on the road against a ranked team, you lose.

Even if you’re Gonzaga.

4. PAYTON PRITCHARD WENT NUTS

No. 14 Oregon and No. 24 Arizona played another overtime thriller on Saturday night. Oregon won, 73-72, but this one had too many twists and turns in the final minutes to hash it all out here. Just know this: Arizona had two free throws to win the game in regulation and Josh Green missed both. In overtime, they had two more free throws with 1.1 seconds left down by one, and Christian Koloko missed both.

You don’t see that happen often.

The bigger story, however, was the play of Payton Pritchard, who made sure to remind everyone that he is still in the National Player of the Year race. He finished with 38 of Oregon’s 73 points. He was 12-for-27 from the floor. He had six boards and four assists and he turned the ball over just twice despite being asked to have the ball in his hands on just about every possession.

He was dominant. He hit big shots. He made big plays. And he’s done it all season long.

I don’t know if I would have Pritchard as the National Player of the Year, but it’s hard to talk myself out of him being a first-team All-American this season.

5. PROVIDENCE IS THE WEIRDEST TEAM IN THE COUNTRY …

I’m not sure there is a team in the country that had a more disappointing run through the non-conference portion of the schedule.

The Friars, who were thought to be a borderline top 25 team entering the year, lost to Northwester, Penn, Long Beach State and Charleston. They got smacked by in-state rival Rhode Island. They got blown out by Florida. Entering the month of February, the Friars were sitting at 11-10 overall and 4-4 in the Big East having lost three straight games.

Then everything changed in February. They won at Butler. They beat Creighton, the only team to do so since January 15th. They beat Seton Hall in a game they led by as many as 25 points. They won at Georgetown. And, on Saturday, they blew out Marquette, winning 84-72 in a game they led by as many as 20 points despite allowing Markus Howard to go for 38.

They have seven Quad 1 wins, which is incredible when you consider that they still have a lot of work to do to get into the NCAA tournament.

I would not want to have to face the Friars in March.

6. … BUT UCLA ISN’T FAR BEHIND

Back in December, as the calendar was getting ready to turn, UCLA fans were trying to fire their new head coach, Mick Cronin. After losing to Cal St. Fullerton — who is horrendous — the Bruins were sitting at 7-6 on the season with a pair of losses to mid-major programs in Pauley Pavilion; back in November, they lost to Hofstra at home.

And it only got worse from there. After winning at Washington to open Pac-12 play, the Bruins reeled off three straight losses. They were sitting under .500 on the season in mid-January, and it was the best thing to happen to them?

Because it was the spark that UCLA needed.

Since losing to Stanford at home on January 15th, UCLA has won nine of their last 11 games. After winning at Colorado on Saturday, the Bruins have now won five straight games. They swept Colorado. They won at Arizona. And, sitting at 17-11 on the season, they can probably play their way into the NCAA tournament in they can beat Arizona State and Arizona at home and win at USC.

7. MEMPHIS KEPT THEIR AT-LARGE HOPES ALIVE

The Tigers are hanging on by a thread, but they are still hanging on right now.

Memphis knocked off No. 22 Houston, 60-59, in the FedEx Forum on Saturday afternoon. They still have some work to do if they are going to go dancing, but with a pair of Quad 1 wins and trips to SMU and Houston with a home date against Wichita State left, the Tigers still have a chance to get this done.

8. IMMANUEL IS QUICKLEY BECOMING A STAR

No. 10 Kentucky survived Florida, 65-59, on Saturday in large part due to the play of Quickley, who finished with 26 points. He’s been easily the most consistent player on this Kentucky roster, and he has made a habit of hitting the biggest shots over the course of a game. On Saturday, it was three straight triples to turn a 44-41 deficit into a 50-44 lead.

And then there is this stat from Kyle Tucker of The Athletic: Quickley, who is averaging 15.2 ppg on the season, is averaging 15.5 ppg in the second half of the last six games.

9. VIRGINIA IS THE HOTTEST TEAM IN THE ACC

Kihei Clark led four players in double figures with 17 points and Virginia went on the road to knock off Pitt, 59-56, meaning that they have now won four straight games and seven of their last eight. With just four games left in the regular season, the Wahoos have a chance to prove themselves in the final two weeks: They still get Duke and Louisville at home.

10. MICHIGAN IS THE HOTTEST TEAM IN THE BIG TEN

The Wolverines have now won five straight games after going into Mackey Arena and dropping a hammer on Purdue. They’ve won seven of their last eight games. This week, they went into the RAC and won as well, meaning that the Wolverines went 2-0 in arenas where the road team had been 3-27 combined on the season.

Isaiah Livers played on Saturday. He was on the floor for 36 minutes. He finished with 19 points on 5-for-11 shooting with six boards and a pair of blocks.

Michigan is back, baby.

UNLV hands No. 4 San Diego State its first loss, 66-63

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SAN DIEGO — Elijah Mitrou-Long scored 19 points, including two free throws with 11.5 seconds left, and UNLV handed No. 4 San Diego State its first loss of the season, 66-63 on Saturday night to end the Aztecs’ 26-game winning streak.

San Diego State, which had been the nation’s only undefeated team since Jan. 15, erased most of a 14-point deficit when it pulled to 64-63 on Malachi Flynn’s 3-pointer with 14.5 seconds left. Mitrou-Long was fouled by Matt Mitchell with 11.5 seconds left and made both free throws.

Flynn missed a contested 3-pointer with 3.3 seconds left and the ball went to the Runnin’ Rebels. After a long pass down the court, Mitchell ended up with the ball and his desperation shot at the buzzer fell short.

SDSU (26-1, 15-1 Mountain West) unveiled the regular-season conference banner before the game and then looked nothing like the team that raced to the best start in school history. The Aztecs trailed by 14 midway through the second half and were down 11 with 4:32 to go.

They were uncharacteristically porous on defense and sloppy on offense, missing easy shots and committing careless turnovers.

SDSU had been projected as the No. 1 seed in the East in the NCAA Tournament. Providing the Aztecs don’t stumble again, the loss could keep the Aztecs in the West as the No. 2 seed. Gonzaga is the projected No. 1 seed in the West, where the regionals will be at Staples Center up the freeway in Los Angeles.

Amauri Hardy scored 17 points and Bryce Hamilton added 11 points and 10 rebounds for UNLV (15-14, 10-6).

Flynn scored 24, Mitchell 13 and Jordan Schakel 10 for SDSU.

SDSU pulled to 62-60 on Flynn’s two free throws with 1:47 left and Arop Aguek’s layup with 25.6 seconds left. Mitrou-Long then made two free throws with 19.9 seconds left for a four-point lead.

Hardy’s jumper gave UNLV a 44-30 lead three minutes into the second half before SDSU pulled within seven, thanks to Flynn’s layup and Jordan Schakel’s 3-pointer. But Hardy then made a jumper from the free-throw line and a layup to put the Runnin’ Rebels back up by double digits.

UNLV took advantage of numerous SDSU breakdowns to take a double-digit lead midway through the first half and pushed it to 37-25 at halftime on a steal and slam dunk by Mitrou-Long.

SDSU had the lead just once, at 14-13 after Flynn’s 3-pointer, and then allowed UNLV to go on a 10-0 run. Mitrou-Long started it by converting a 4-point play when he hit a 3-pointer and was fouled by Flynn. Cheikh Mbacke Diong scored inside and then Hardy hit a floater and Mitrou-Long made a layup.

SDSU’s only points in a four-minute span were two free throws apiece by Mitchell and Flynn. UNLV kept connecting, though, getting a bank shot by Hamilton and a 3-pointer by Mitrou-Long to take its first double-digit lead, 28-18 with 7:12 before halftime.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Aztecs will drop from their No. 4 spot in the Top 25, which matched the highest ranking in school history.

BIG PICTURE

UNLV: The Runnin’ Rebels lost at home to SDSU by just four points on Jan. 26. They came out strong on the road and let SDSU have the lead just once in the first half, at 14-13 after Flynn’s 3-pointer.

SDSU: Matt Mitchell was recognized before the game for reaching the 1,000-point plateau, which he accomplished in the previous home game, Feb. 11 against New Mexico.

UP NEXT

UNLV hosts Boise State in its home finale on Wednesday night.

SDSU hosts Colorado State in its home finale on Tuesday night.

UNLV ends No. 4 San Diego State’s undefeated season

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And then there were none.

On the night that San Diego State celebrated winning the Mountain West regular season title, the dream of an undefeated season died, and T.J. Otzelberger killed it.

Elijah Mitrou-Long led the way with 19 points off the bench, hitting four clutch free throws in the final minutes, while Amauri Hardy went for 17 points and Bryce Hamilton chipped in with 11 points and 10 boards as UNLV handed the No. 4 Aztecs their first loss of the season, 66-63. The Rebels were able to hang on despite the fact that they did not make a field goal in the final 10:44 of the game, which should tell you how the first 30 minutes of the game went.

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The Aztecs came out flat. They led for the first 1:41 of the game, but that’s it. UNLV jumped out to a 37-25 halftime lead, pushed it to 14 points during the second half and SDSU was not able to get it to a single possession game until the final 30 seconds. If the game was a minute longer, maybe they win, but that’s not how basketball is played.

And if I’m being honest, I think this sucks.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled for Otz and the entire UNLV program. Those kids played their tails off and deserved to win that game. They showed up for 40 minutes and completed an off-the-butt inbounds against a press with 15 seconds left on the clock. San Diego State spent too long celebrating a league title to be up for it.

It is what it is.

Weird things happen when 21-year olds play basketball.

But it doesn’t change the fact that the most entertaining and exciting storyline of this college basketball season died on Saturday night. I was all in on the Aztecs making a run at a perfect season. I wanted to see them get through the Mountain West unscathed. I wanted them to survive challenges in the second round of the tournament, roll into Madison Square Garden and take down some East Coast powerhouse en route to Atlanta. I wanted to write columns about how Brian Dutcher was able to reinvigorate a program that had stagnated a bit under Steve Fisher and argue about whether or not this SDSU team would be able to beat Kawhi Leonard’s SDSU team. I wanted to see Kawhi sitting right behind me on press row when the games actually tipped off.

In a year where there are no great teams, no great players and no one that is must-see TV, all I wanted in my life was the greatest possible storyline.

San Diego State becoming the first team to go undefeated since Bobby Knight’s 1976 Indiana team in the same year that Knight finally returned to Indiana was that.

So while you might think that, given how annoying San Diego State fans are on any and all social media platforms, I want to dance on the grave of the SDSU undefeated season, you’re wrong.

This sucks.